With NBC Makeover, VERSUS NHL Coverage Has Never Looked Better
October 7, 2011 9 Comments
For all intents and purposes, the NHL on VERSUS is dead.
Oh sure, that cursory VERSUS logo that you see at the top of the post is on the top left-hand corner of the scoreboard graphic, and the studio color scheme remains largely VERSUS’ red and black, and the channel is still called VERSUS on your channel listing, but that is beside the point. The NHL on VERSUS no longer exists. The folks at NBC Sports Group – whom run both NBC and VERSUS – would like you to believe you are watching The NHL on NBC on VERSUS, kind of like how you’re always watch ESPN on ABC, but in reverse.
The NHL on VERSUS used 100% NHL on NBC graphics, aside from the VERSUS logo appearing once in a while. There were even promos for the new NBC dramas Prime Suspect (which was awkwardly airing at the same time, Thursday at 10 p.m. ET, as the games that were promoting it) and Grimm on the boards. It was the NBC innovation of Inside the Glass, which had never been used when VERSUS was separate from the NBC Sports Group. The name NBC Sports Network won’t be official until January 2nd, but we all pretty much know what it’ll look like when it does.
Which isn’t a problem, because if the opening night doubleheader is to be believed, The NHL on VERSUS is probably the best it has ever been, as we enter the NHL’s seventh season with the network, throughout multiple names and graphic changes. Everything is much more professional, graphics are cleaner and tighter, and the presentation just feels a little bit grander, as if the network has found a way to try and present these games as more important. NBC was aces on Thursday night, letting everyone know that the change (from VERSUS to NBCSN) will be for the better.
Let’s start off in the studio: people may not like Mike Milbury, but there isn’t the forced, nonsensical banter between Mad Mike and Keith Jones that there was between Jones and Brian Engblom, who has found a much more useful slot inside the glass (more on that later). Liam McHugh, who pretty much hosts everything on VERSUS (between the NHL and college football, McHugh will log about 17 hours of studio time with the network this week), is solid and dependable and showing off why VERSUS has him hosting pretty much everything. He and Milbury and Jones keep it very light and business-like. You know, there’s room for opinion, but it’s just hockey and we’re just passing your time between games, it isn’t life and death. It is a difficult vibe to explain, but I enjoyed it.
The less said about the actual content of the Bruins gaudy overkill of a banner-raising, the better, but VERSUS did a solid job of getting that across to viewers in all of it’s unholy ridiculousness. Banner ceremonies can be troublesome for national networks because it isn’t necessarily interesting to non-homer fans, and especially not to the road fans, but VERSUS stuck to their guns and did essentially a public service for Bostoners, who likely needed it to bust them from their Red Sox-induced stupor. The presentation of the anthems seemed to be something VERSUS was championing that they were going to air, and I think that it is something that hockey fans enjoy before big events. Honestly, though, we can just skip it when we’re in mid-January.
The broadcast teams are a little bit of everything. I still think that either Eddie Olczyk or Pierre McGuire should be cut out of that three-man booth during the regular season, perhaps reuniting them for the playoffs (Something VERSUS will do on Monday nights, more likely due to Eddie Olczyk’s Chicago Blackhawks commitments than anything else). It just sounds like too many cooks in the kitchen at times. Olczyk and McGuire are both solid, despite the ire they seem to draw from viewers. However, you already have Mike Emrick, who is extremely verbose, calling the games, so it’d simply give the broadcast more room to breathe just going with a one-up, one-down or a two-man booth.
Take, for example, Dave Strader and Brian Engblom’s call of the late game in Vancouver between the Penguins and Canucks. Neither man had to speak quickly to get their opinion in, and overall the telecast felt a little easier going. This is not a critique of any of the broadcasters working either game, just of the different formats they were forced into.
Overall, I felt NBC did a great job in demonstrating their commitment to hockey. From the fantastic, heavy metal-set opening in the studio, to the fact that the network was actually buying advertising to promote it’s new fall programs on the sideboards (how did no network think to do this before?). Plus, you had NBC Sports Talk, which has a likable host in Russ Thaler but hasn’t quite found a groove yet, previewing everything a half-hour before. I’d bet hockey fans will start to feel more and more like they can turn to VERSUS for that show if they promise to talk hockey, rather than being frustrated by SportsCenter or a regional sports network. Opening night showed off how far VERSUS has come under the NBC Sports Group umbrella, and it appears to be a long way, indeed.