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'Bachelorette' showrunner, a big Bills fan, wants more reality from 'Embedded'

I wrote last week that the second episode of the Facebook Watch series “Buffalo Bills: Embedded” was an improvement on the premiere.

With the third of the four episode series premiering tonight, it is time to hear what a big-time reality TV producer and big Buffalo Bills fan thinks of the series from Pegula Sports and Entertainment (PSE).

Bennett Graebner, one of the showrunners of ABC’s “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” is today’s guest columnist.

In an email requested by me, Graebner gives his critique of “Embedded” and compares it to the HBO series: “Hard Knocks: Training Camp of the Cleveland Browns.”

I thanked him for his comments – and for giving me a day off.

In any event, here is Graebner’s critique of “Embedded,” which is mostly a rave with a few suggestions to improve the program:

First off, I’m impressed by "Embedded." I don’t know who is behind it, but they very clearly know what they are doing. From the camera work to the audio (audio is like the offensive line — you only notice it when it makes a mistake) to the editing, it’s professionally done. Kudos to the "Embedded" team, especially considering the inevitable comparisons they knew it would draw to the much-acclaimed "Hard Knocks" on HBO.

Interestingly, unlike "Hard Knocks," the producers of "Embedded" have chosen not to use a narrator and not to use formal interviews. There are some on-the-fly interviews, as we call them, but for the most part the producers use the reality to move the narrative forward. It would have been easy to employ the same narrative devices as "Hard Knocks," and I applaud the producers for choosing to make the more interesting choice and allow the reality to carry the story.

As a fan of the Bills, I love getting a glimpse behind the curtain. While watching, one can’t help but get excited for this team. McDermott is a real leader! Jerry Hughes could be a coach some day! Those guys in the secondary really do love each other!

Where "Embedded" does fall a little short for me is in conflict and character. In "Hard Knocks," the majority of the conflict comes from the question of who will make the team. We don’t get any of that in "Embedded" (maybe in future episodes?), and that’s a shame.

In the second episode of "Embedded," for example, we see the coaches critique a number of players from the defense. This is a solid jumping off point, but we get primarily positive reviews and only reviews of the top players. They surely reviewed the other players, but producers chose not to include this in the edit. I can only assume this was omitted because they want to stick to positivity, and they don’t want to show management’s hand when it comes to the back half of the roster. Unfortunately, that’s the most interesting material. That’s where the conflict is. I already know Micah Hyde is good and the coaches think he is good. I already know Kyle Williams is a team guy and the coaches love him. I want to hear what the coaches think of the second and third tier players. Who is struggling? Who is on the verge of losing their job? Too bad they won’t let us see that.

As for character, it’s there, but it’s only surface level. The first episode focuses on McDermott. He comes across as smart, dedicated and professional. I feel lucky to have him as coach of my team. But I never really get the chance to know him, to truly know the man behind the coach. In all of the reality in that first episode, he’s in coach mode. He’s "on." What’s he like when he’s not on? That’s what I really want to see.

The best moments of reality TV take place when people aren’t "on" and are just being themselves. On "Hard Knocks" these moments are captured by rigged cameras, or by the long lenses the show so often uses. Remember Corey Coleman walking into Hue Jackson’s office and asking to be traded? Rigged camera. Coleman wasn’t "on." Great moment. Real moment.

We often struggle with this early in the shooting of "The Bachelor." Eventually, however, the people on the show become so used to the cameras that they forget they are even there and they are just themselves. Maybe over the next few episodes of "Embedded" we’ll get more glimpses into who these Bills players and coaches really are.

All in all, however, I’m impressed by "Embedded." It’s well done, and of course that’s while working with a budget that is probably one tenth the budget of "Hard Knocks." "Embedded" is really a pleasant surprise. Here’s hoping the Bills season is the same.

Inside the Bills: How 'Embedded' came to be


On a side note, I also asked him if Buffalo native Jason Tartick is going to be the next “Bachelor,” as rumored on social networks.

It was like asking Bills coach Sean McDermott who is going to start the season opener at quarterback.

I didn’t get an answer. The decision on “The Bachelor” will have to be made soon, perhaps before the Bills season opener.


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