As it was for all of us who watched the pilot for Pitch, FOX’s new one-hour drama about the first female player in Major League Baseball, the revelation of Ghost Dad threw us a, ahem, curveball. We had just spent 40 minutes watching the evolution of the relationship between protagonist Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) and her hard-nosed father/mentor, Bill (Michael Beach). Bill was a failed ballplayer and was determined that Ginny live the dream he never could. He taught her how to throw a screwball. He worked her to the breaking point. When she flamed out in her big-league début, he was there to play catcher late into the night, demanding she throw screwball after screwball until she couldn’t any longer.
And then in a flash(back), Bill Baker went through the windshield of his truck on a dark North Carolina back road, and we all gasped to realize that Ginny had been talking to Ghost Dad the whole time.
The problem of Ghost Dad has many permutations, and since we are an analytically driven publication, we decided to tackle this problem the only way we know how — with numbers.
On a recent episode of “In Play, Pod(cast),” Nick Stellini and I began to hash out what we are calling Ghost Dad Average (GDA). It’s a pretty simple calculation. I added up the amount of screen time Ghost Dad got per episode, divided that by the total amount of screen time, and then multiplied that by 42. The standard length of a one-hour broadcast network drama, once the commercials are taken out of consideration, is 42 minutes.
So, similar to ERA, we set GDA on a per-42-minute basis. Ghost Dad appeared in seven minutes, 45 seconds of the pilot episode. Since then, he has yet to make an appearance, driving his GDA way down.
It’s early yet—we’re only three episodes through a 10-episode season—but that leaves us with a GDA of 2.47 so far.
This is only the beginnings of our inquiry into the value and explanatory power of GDA, of course. As Nick astutely pointed out in our discussion, what is the league-average GDA? How far back should we take our sample? Do we include movies as well as TV shows when analyzing GDA?
Furthermore, it’s clear now that we will have Ghost Dad and Flashback Dad henceforth this season. I decided to measure Flashback Dad as Ghost Dad in the pilot, because we were unaware that they were two different people. Going forward, is it more appropriate to measure GDA strictly from the appearance of Ghost Dad in the present, thus ignoring the flashbacks?
Furthermore, at what point does GDA stabilize and become meaningful? Is it half a season? A full season? Multiple seasons? In other words, is GDA more like swing rate or BABIP? If GDA measures only Ghost Dad in the present, will that leave our sample size too small to learn anything from the metric?
Finally, does GDA tell us anything independent of other metrics we could use to measure story, screen time, and character development within Pitch? Should we consider a linear mixed-model approach to control GDA for other factors like the burgeoning romance between Mike Lawson (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and Amelia Slater (Ali Larter), or perhaps the ratio of flashbacks to present-day storylines?
It turns out that co-creator Dan Fogelman gave an interview in Entertainment Weekly, after the pilot aired, that there will be no more Ghost Dad. “At the end of the pilot, it’s ‘We did it, pop,’ and there’s more hope,” Fogelman said. “‘What more can I do?’ She feels assured of herself at that point ... [W]e’re not having a ghost version of him talking to her throughout. We’re never doing that part again.”
So that means that GDA will only get smaller and smaller as the season progresses. But the question remains: How does the initial presence of Ghost Dad cascade as a narrative and thematic tool throughout the rest of the show? Is Ginny truly content with her journey, as Fogelman suggests? Or does Ghost Dad still lurk inside of her?
This is where we want to get you involved, dear reader. We want your input in the comments section — and on Twitter — on how best to improve GDA. Do you have any good examples of movies or shows with an expressed GDA value? One would have to assume that the extreme outlier on one end would be the Bill Cosby-starring, Sidney Poitier-directed Ghost Dad, from 1990. On the other, we’d have, say, any Adam Sandler flick of your choosing.
So fill up the comments with your ideas. We want to build the best version of GDA we can, so that it can help us break down each episode of Pitch, week in, week out. As Ghost Dad would say: