A documentary TV series chronicling Barry Bonds' upcoming 2006 baseball season will take an honest look at the steroid scandal surrounding the slugger, but his lawyers can review the episodes before they air, the producer said Thursday.
The 10-part series Bonds on Bonds, promising an inside glimpse at one of the most private and prickly figures in professional sports, premieres next Tuesday on ESPN2, with subsequent episodes telecast weekly on the main ESPN network.
The program was conceived as a documentary following the San Francisco Giants outfielder's week-to-week quest to surpass Babe Ruth's lifetime home-run tally of 714 home runs after missing most of last season with a knee injury.
Director-producer Mike Tollin said the series would not shy away from how Bonds, 41, copes with renewed scrutiny over whether steroids fueled his athletic performance, including a new probe launched Thursday by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.
"I've been given a...great deal of creative freedom and I feel very good about the opportunity to tell a story that's fair and honest and objective," Tollin told Reuters in a telephone interview.
ESPN spokesman Rob Tobias said that while the production aims to document Bonds' pursuit of Ruth's milestone, "you cannot ignore what's going on around him, so those things will be touched upon in the show."
Plans for the documentary were set well before the latest accusations against Bonds surfaced in recent weeks in a new book, Game of Shadows, which portrayed him as an unscrupulous athlete who turned to steroids because he was jealous of home-run slugger Mark McGwire.
DENIES USING PERFORMANCE DRUGS
Bonds has denied knowingly using performance-enhancing drugs, and he has sued the book's authors and publishers over their use of closed-door grand jury testimony as a source of information. A California judge rejected Bonds' request to block profits from the books' sales.
"To his credit, he's honored his commitment and gone forward with it," Tollin said of his cooperation with the TV project. "Barry has been very generous with this time, and very gracious about allowing me to tell the story as we see it."
Asked whether he and fellow filmmaker Brian Robbins had been asked to pull any punches in covering the steroid issue as part of their series, Tollin said: "We have not."
But he added that Bonds' lawyers are included in "a pretty extensive review process built into the show...because of the scrutiny he's under and the issues."
Legal experts say Bonds could face a criminal probe into whether he lied to a federal grand jury investigating the BALCO laboratory steroid scandal that landed his personal trainer in jail last year.
The leftfielder, holder of a record seven Most Valuable Player awards, currently has 708 home runs, just six shy of Ruth's No. 2 spot in the Major League home-run standings. Hank Aaron holds the all-time record with 755 career homers.
Plans for the documentary call for two film crews to follow Bonds four to 12 hours a day, with highlights edited together for each weekly episode.
In a footnote to the ESPN series, former US Sen. George Mitchell, chairman of ESPN's corporate parent, Walt Disney Co. , was named to head the investigation launched by Selig.
In September, ESPN extended its contract with Major League Baseball to broadcast regular-season games for eight years.