- Virginia produced an 18-part series on the Cavaliers' football team
- The show airs at 9 p.m.Mondays on Comcast Sports Net
- Next week's episode focuses on hiring of assistant coaches
Neither "Law & Order" nor "Dancing with the Stars" need fret about their ratings. And no one associated with University of Virginia football should prepare an Emmy acceptance speech.
But Monday's cable debut of an 18-part series inside the Cavaliers' operation was revealing, professional and promising.
"Virginia Football: The Building of a Program" is, in large measure, an infomercial. Airing at 9 p.m. Mondays on Comcast SportsNet, the show features new coach Mike London and continues the school's offensive to recover from the public-relations and competitive failings of the Al Groh regime.
The first 30-minute episode, available online at VirginiaSportsTV.com., served as an introduction. But to their credit, Virginia administrators did not sugarcoat the 3-9 record of 2009 that prompted Groh's dismissal.
Empty seats, fed-up fans and clips of losses to William and Mary, Duke and Virginia Tech are part of the video montage. There's even the close of Groh's bizarre, swan-song news conference, in which he recites a poem after the season-ending home loss to Virginia Tech.
An attempt to embarrass the man who's now defensive coordinator at ACC rival Georgia Tech? Or an acknowledgement of his devotion to the cause?
The test now becomes whether future segments — next week's on the hiring of London's assistants could be intriguing — are equally forthcoming.
Regardless, the series exposes 4.5 million homes in the Cavaliers' recruiting base of Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and North Carolina to London's efforts. Cameras and microphones are everywhere, from meetings to practices to weight sessions.
Which is precisely what Jon Oliver, the school's executive associate athletic director, envisioned when he brainstormed the reality TV idea. Well, he also imagined goosing weak ticket sales.
"With a new coach coming in who we think is going to do a great job, but with fans having a general malaise about the program and a wait-and-see mode, we thought they'd want to learn about him and see how he built his staff and interacts with the kids," Oliver said.
His models were two HBO projects — "Hard Knocks," the insider look at an NFL training camp, and " Jimmie Johnson: The Road to Daytona."
"I was not a NASCAR fan," Oliver said of the Johnson show. "But after watching, I found myself following races."
Not coincidentally, Oliver reached out to the NASCAR Media Group to produce Virginia's series, which runs until the week after the season-opener against Richmond, the team London coached the past two seasons.
Most important, Oliver found a reasonable price tag of just under $300,000, which he said will come from the athletic department's advertising budget.
"The first price I was quoted (by another outfit) was $1.5 million," Oliver said, "so the idea almost fell off the planet."
As with Oliver's idea to stage a spring scrimmage in Hampton Roads — again, for recruiting and PR — London quickly agreed to the television series. No surprise. He's a natural in front of the camera and understands that after three losing seasons in the last four and 10 losses in the last 11 to Virginia Tech, he needs all the help he can get.
In the first episode, London compares the big whistle's office to the one he occupied as a Virginia assistant coach.
"The chair's a little bigger, and you have more room to pace," he said. "I felt out of place for a little bit, but I got used it."
It's not Erin Andrews dancing a waltz, but it's not bad.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime
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