By Mike Gustafson//Contributor | Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Every swim season is like a TV show: There is comedy, drama, inspiration, heartache, character arcs, plot lines, turning points, and grand finales. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a swimming season depicted on network TV yet, either in scripted form or reality form. All the elements are there. (And if any executive is out there reading this and nodding along, hit me up. I HAVE IDEAS.)
There are also definitive roles within each swimming season. Each person plays a certain character, a certain part. Some are supporting actors. Some are static characters. Some characters change as the season goes on. Some learn from their mistakes. Some don’t. Each part comes together to give every swim team and swimming season its dramatic effect. So, in light of the recent Emmys, here’s what you would see if swimming had its own TV show…
The Setting: A Pool.
Growing up, we swam in many different pools, YMCAs, and community centers. There’s ample room for comedy, of course: Swimmers interacting with other swimmers, teams interacting with other teams, and lifeguards and pool faculty interacting with each other. Similar to other shows that center around one setting, like “The Office” or “Cheers,” the pool would be the main setting. It’s a community center, but it’s also a weird setting where people shed their clothing and come together to go back and forth in a chlorinated concrete hole for hours on end. That in itself is odd and funny. Add in potential competition, conflict, and a mix of a diverse range of humans, and you have a great setting.
The Main Character: Coach
The coach would, obviously, be the anchor, the lead role, the person who centers all of the plotlines and the setting itself. The only question is: Would this coach be more of a Michael Scott kind of character from “The Office,” or be the kind-yet-tough-minded coach from “Friday Night Lights?” Probably some kind of fusion. I imagine the Coach would be young, trying to make a career out of it, a former swimmer who has passion for the job and tries desperately to transfer that passion to every swimmer on the team. The Coach would be knowledgeable about swimming and have all the tools to make a great swim team. Only, as anyone knows, that takes time.
There would be The Superstar, who has been breaking records since age 8. There would be the New Kid, the basketball drop-out who decides (or is forced to by parents) to swim and realizes there is potential to be the new superstar. Other characters: The Slacker, The Way-Too-Fired-Up-For-Warm-Up-Swimmer, The Nerd Who Knows Too Much About the Science of Swimming, The Future Coach, The Swimmer Always On The Verge of Quitting, The Senior, and an entire assortment of scared and nervous freshmen. High school teams would play differently than age group teams, but these characters would likely be the same on either. Each lane would have its own unique band of conflict. Each team would have its own group of friends: For example, The freshmen who band together to survive this year would eventually become friends with the seniors… but only after proving themselves, of course.
The Swim Parents
You can’t have a TV show about swimming without swim parents. #SwimParents might be its own reality show one day. Something just happens to the brain when sitting in a pool for hours on end watching endless prelims of the 500 freestyle. You can get a little stir crazy. (Again, lock humans in a concrete chlorinated facility for hours on end and see what happens.) I have seen teams of swim parents band together, and I have seen teams of swim parents tear each other apart. It’s almost always funny, and it’s almost always dramatic. Swim parents can be fun, can create too much pressure for kids, can lead awkward cheers, can have no idea what the sport is even after years of watching it, can be so invested that they know every single split time from their kids’ rivals from random dual meets years ago, or can be just supportive role models for other swim parents. They volunteer at meets and run team boards and must be included in any TV show about a swim team.
The Pool Faculty/Lifeguards/Janitors
Anyone who has ever been a lifeguard knows that it’s an odd job. On the one hand, you’re tasked with the ultimate responsibility of saving lives and preventing injuries. On the other hand, you see some weird stuff, experience an insane amount of downtime, and you are paid minimum wage basically to save everyone’s life. Add in a pool manager and a disgruntled janitor to the mix, and there’s some comedy and drama potential.
The Ticking Clock: A Swimming Season
The hard part, sometimes, when watching TV shows is that there is no cliche “ticking clock.” A ticking clock is the metaphorical tension applied when there is an overall end-of-show or end-of-season event driving all of the show’s action. Think: “The Office” is in financial trouble and will close by the end of the week if they don’t turn it around. In any swim season, the beautiful thing is that there is quite literally a giant ticking clock hanging above all of their heads. Every season has its own arc towards the championship meet, and mini-clocks regarding upcoming meets, practices, and even individual sets.
Beyond the Cliches: Inspiration and Disappointment
The biggest reason I’m surprised there is no swimming TV show on the networks? NBC is the ultimate Olympic voice, swimming is the most popular sport, and they spend so much money on short three-minute profile pieces in the hopes of getting the general public excited about the sport itself when spending a fraction of that money on a scripted swimming season could have even more payback. You could educate the public about the nuances of the sport while entertain people who both know the sport and don’t know it. Beyond the money aspect, you could genuinely move people. Sports has a unique capacity to inspire. Anyone watching Friday Night Lights knows how scripted TV can capture sports’ ability to inspire. The unfortunate thing about swimming, when it comes to attracting larger audiences is that swimming only really shows its “ultimate” inspiration and disappointment to the mainstream public once every four years. A TV show wouldn’t have to be a cliche, either. It could be cutting-edge, address serious topics, and create some good conversation about competition, passion, parenting, time management and what’s important, and that old-fashioned goal setting. And for all reasons above, it could also be very, very funny.
As any swimmer knows, every season is like a TV show. All of the elements are there, from leading roles to a unique setting to ticking clocks to character arcs. So if there is a random NBC executive out there reading this, or an aspiring swimmer looking to break into film, go make it happen (and make me a creative executive) and in five years, who knows? Maybe swimming will have more representation on the Emmys than the Espys.