Esquire Network president’s defense of Friday Night Tykes

With most shows take a break instead of competing against the Olympics, Esquire’s Friday Night Tykes is breaking until Feb. 25, but will marathon its first five episodes tonight starting at 5; they’re also online. The show continues to have real-world impact: Last week, two of the coaches featured on the show, Junior Broncos’ Charles Chavarria and Northeast Colts’ Marecus Goodloe have been suspended because of “violations of the coaches’ code of conduct.”

As I’ve written before, I think the show is both important and disturbing, and I talked recently with Esquire Network President Adam Stotsky about the show, and he defended it as a series that is “not a reality show” but is a documentary that is just “presenting what we captured.”

The show came from 441 Productions, whose executive producer Matt Maranz pitched the network on it. “He had met some really interesting and compelling characters … and thought that would make for a great story,” Stotsky said. Maranz actually started pitching the series in 2010 and networks rejected it until Esquire’s head of original programming, Matt Hanna, picked it up.

The controversial nature of Friday Night Tykes‘ content was obvious from the start. “Internally, we had the same debate and discussion that is playing out with the public. It’s tough to see kids put through this kind of regiment,” Stotsky said.”We felt it was an important story to tell for the brand because again, it’s not a story of kids playing football. It’s really a story about how hard we’re pushing our kids, and to what end. And that story, we believe, is really important and really compelling and really of interest to the audience we’re trying to reach.”

Stotsky told me that not contextualizing or judging what was on screen–by using, say, interviews with experts, as a documentary might–was intentional. “What we wanted to do was not editorialize, but let the story and the drama–the real drama–play itself out. It’s a doc; it’s not a reality show. We didn’t want to manipulate and over-extenuate issues or sensationalize. We’re presenting what we captured.” He also said, “We didn’t create that action. We just captured and we’re exhibiting it for the consumption and subsequent discussion that it will bring.”

I returned more than once to how the network ensured they would do that responsibly, especially considering that they have cast members who are children.

“We think about that all the time, but the focus of the show is not on the kids. You get to know some of the kids, but really the focus of the show is on the parents, it’s on the coaches, it’s on the league as a whole. The overriding issue of parenting, safety in youth athletics, how we’re raising our kids,” Stotsky said. “We’re not trying to make stars out of these kids. I think that’s where you could potentially get into trouble, but that’s not what we’re doing with this show.”

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.