Reviewing Hockey Central on VERSUS, Part 1: Even HD Can’t Un-Blah it

We finally got VERSUS HD up and running at our house this week, so we were excited to watch our first HD hockey broadcast since last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.  See, Verizon has been blocked from getting MSG and MSG Plus in HD by Cablevision, and that great visionary of televised arts in the tradition of Marconi, Jim Dolan.  Also, HDNet stopped televising hockey (which we’ve been meaning to investigate into) and NBC doesn’t starting airing ’til WCII: CB (Winter Classic 2: Chicago Bugaloo, as if you needed to have it spelled out).  So we were locked out of VERSUS as well as Devils, Rangers and Islanders broadcasts in HD.

Until this week.  With the split-up of VERSUS/Golf Channel HD, the good folks at Verizon have decided that VERSUS is worthy of being on the same HD package as ESPN and The Big Ten Network here in New Jersey, where as you know, no Big Ten teams play.  So, we had the fancy VERSUS channel in the sparking glory of HD.  We figured it was time to re-review “Hockey Central”, the network’s post-game show.  The last time we had VERSUS HD, the show was not yet actually produced in HD.  So while you could watch a two-and-a-half hour hockey game in hi-def, the 30-minute post-game that followed would be in standard def.

Having all those problems out of the way, we have some nice things to say.  Overall, however, the show is still really, really plodding.  By plodding, we mean really freaking boring!  Gosh, I think the show literally put me to sleep tonight.  There’s pieces of a show there, but they’ve made a mess of it, and a boring mess at that, not an Amy Winehouse mess.

First of all, they cut to the post-game show within 15 seconds of each VERSUS broadcast ending.  There’s no need for that.  You pay $70 million a year to air hockey, you can run over the time limit before “WEC’s Greatest Knockouts”.  Go to commercial, come back, feature a couple interviews with winning players, a brief wrap-up of the highlights by the play-by-play man and color commentator, then send it back to the studio.  This would also eliminate the most pointless, muddled part of this show.  The recap of highlights of a game you just finished watching.  Show us highlights of games already in progress, do more live look-ins.  Or just ignore highlights all together, if like tonight, there are no other games going on.

It would also eliminate one more problem with Hockey Central: If it’s only going to air after VERSUS games, you need to spend more than five minutes on the GAME YOU JUST TELEVISED.

The next recurring problem of the show is that there are far too many commercials.  In the 29 minutes “Hockey Central” was on the air, maybe 16 of them were spent on the actual show, the rest to give the fine folks at Drambuie a chance to hawk their product.  They should change the title of the show from “Hockey Central” to “Enterprise Rent-a-Car Central”.  Though I guess that didn’t work for the Panthers arena.

Finally, the people on that show are so, so dull.  Bill Patrick is allowed to be.  He’s supposed to be the quirky, empty suit that guides the program along, and he does so adequately.  But Keith Jones is better than the annoying, dull personality he displays on my TV every night.  We’ve read that book, Keith is funnier than that (We’re sure as heck it’s not Buccigross providing the laughs in “Jonesy”) and smarter than that.  So why does he talk in soundbites all the time?

We won’t even talk about Brian Engblom.  If you’ve read us before in the past, you know how we feel.

That, plus the lame, quickly edited highlights packages, boring commentaries (“Odd Man Rush” and “Reality Check”, anyone?) and forced dialogue, make it so troublesome to watch what is actually a not half-bad show on the eyes (now that Engblom’s mullet is gone).  It is my hope that, one day, “Hockey Central” will become a four nights-a-week, half-hour hockey show.  But, with a cast and production like this?  Well, maybe two nights is enough.

Later today, read part two of “Reviewing Hockey Central on VERSUS”, in which we give you our take on what the show should like, regardless of it were to stay a mere post-game show or become a nightly half-hour.


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