During the premiere of “The Agent,” a surprisingly good Esquire network docuseries about sports representatives, a key participant explicitly states the obvious: Courting college players to become clients is “a lot like dating,” he says — only these suitors see dollar signs, not hearts, dancing around the objects of their affection. Sparely told and tapping into the fascination with all things football, the show should be a winner for a network that has thus far struggled to tackle its programming identity. If nothing else, it’s an excellent illustration of all the stooping and butt-kissing that precedes the contract signing.
Esquire has rather lazily described the program as featuring four agents who provide glimpses of a “real-life ‘Jerry Maguire,’” relying on Hollywood pitch-meeting shorthand as a crutch. Actually, the series isn’t one of those reality shows that simply replicates a movie — much to its credit — as it flits around the country, following its geographically scattered quartet while they seek to identify and corral talented players.
For those who follow football, not a lot here will be new, necessarily, but it’s still a look behind the curtain of what amounts to a fascinating mating ritual, with the agents trying to sell the kid and his parents on what they can do for them as a client, without being too pushy or overbearing. And of course, there’s should be additional interest in Hollywood circles because of the insight into what exactly an agent does, although the power dynamic is somewhat flipped here, since at this stage, anyway, the 21-year-old players are holding all the cards.
Each of the agents also employs a slightly different style. One, for example, immediately goes beyond the contract to highlight endorsements and marketing deals — not merely to sweeten the pot for the client, but because his 3% commission on the playing contract can jump to a higher percentage on those other relationships. There’s also a rather sobering moment as an agent watches a player he’s been pursuing get injured during a televised game, seeing the prospect he’s already invested time and energy in writhing on the ground, and potentially watching his chances of a pro career dealt a major setback.
Produced by Herzog & Co. (also behind CNN’s “The Sixties” and its sequel), “The Agent” began filming in September 2014 and, over 10 episodes, will lead up to the recent 2015 NFL draft. That also means the program will run into the fall, when college and pro football will return to suck up oxygen.
For Esquire, which has labored to fulfill its male-oriented niche, this represents a conspicuous step in the right direction. The question now, beyond whether the audience responds, is much like that facing the teams that hold the keys to these agents and players’ futures: whether one shrewd draft pick can begin to lay the foundation for a winning game plan.