HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - HBO is developing a reality franchise that would allow viewers to track the progress of a minor league baseball team -- and then control its destiny via the Internet.
Tentatively dubbed "General Manager," the project would combine elements of "Bull Durham," "The Real World" and fantasy baseball. It is on deck for a summer 2003 start.
"It's fantasy baseball with flesh and blood," said Sean Bailey, who will executive produce with his Live Planet partners Chris Moore, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. "The creative aspiration of the show is to put (viewers) in the general manager body of a real team."
Live Planet and HBO previously teamed on "Project Greenlight," which followed a rookie filmmaker's attempts to make his feature debut.
Unlike most reality shows -- which shoot footage weeks or months in advance of air -- "General Manager" would unfold in close to real time. Cameras would follow team members both on and off the field, tracking their daily dramas -- from who's in a slump to who's hitting the bottle or sleeping around.
On the Net, viewers will be able to keep track of the team's on-field performance and then vote each week on key matters, including the starting lineup and which players should be cut or traded.
Should HBO give the final OK to the series, now in the early stages of development, Live Planet would likely produce 13 half-hour episodes. Production could be altered by the team's performance; a playoff berth, for example, could result in the addition of an extra episode.
Live Planet is already in talks with several indie minor league baseball teams about coming on board as the focus of "General Manager"; it hopes to narrow the field to one team within the next few months. Considering the giant publicity push a team would get from the show, it hasn't been hard finding willing participants.
For the most part, the TV and Internet portions of "General Manager" will remain separate -- though what Netizens decide to do will obviously impact what viewers see on HBO.
The Net component will come into play on-air at the end of each episode, when viewers will be told of several choices they can make regarding the team and will be directed to a Web site to cast their votes. They'll then see how those choices play out in the following week's episode.
"The TV show is the life stories and drama of the players," Bailey said. "The Net will be about game choices and stats."
"General Manager" starts off with a huge potential viewer base. In addition to the legion of baseball fans, an estimated 20 million-25 million people participate in online fantasy baseball leagues -- including Bailey.
While it is the first series to give viewers control of a baseball team, other shows have taken a verite approach to the sport. In 1996, for example, the St. Louis Saints were the subject of an ESPN series called "Baseball, Minnesota."
As for Live Planet, the company's TV division is humming, with the drama/reality hybrid "Push, Nevada" in contention for fall at ABC and a possible second edition of "Project Greenlight" being mulled by HBO.