Your Announcers and Open Thread For Caps/Rangers

NY Rangers vs. Washington, 7:30 PM ET, VERSUS
Play by Play:
Joe Beninati
Color: Billy Jaffe
Reporter: Bob Harwood

NHL Network to Go In-Depth For All-Star Weekend

 

All the networks are preparing for the All-Star Game, and the NHL Network is no different. Here’s a schedule of their All-Star related programming throughout the week.

Monday, January 24
2:00
2004 NHL All-Star Game
6:00 2007 NHL All-Star Game

Tuesday, January 25
6:00
2008 NHL All-Star Game

Wednesday, January 26
2:00
1989 NHL All-Star Game

Thursday, January 27
6:00
2011 ECHL All-Star Game
8:00 NHL Network 2011 All-Star Mock Draft
10:00 2009 NHL All-Star Game

Friday, January 28
6:00
NHL Network at the 2011 NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft
9:30 NHL All-Star Player Fantasy Draft Recap

Saturday, January 29
4:00
2011 NHL All-Star Red Carpet Show
6:00 NHL Commissioner’s Press Conference
9:00 2011 Honda NHL Superskills Recap

Sunday, January 30
2:00
2011 NHL All-Star Pre-game
7:00 2011 NHL All-Star Post-game

Many Chicago Viewers Make Blackhawks a Part of Their Championship Sunday

While most of the city was preparing for a disappointing NFC Championship Game, quite a few of them were getting over a disappointing regular season hockey game in Chicago earlier that day.

Despite there being tons of pre-game hooplah for the Bears-Packers title game happening at 2PM CT, and having the Flyers-Blackhawks hockey game at a strange 11:30 AM CT start, Chicago was the #1 market for the NHL on NBC this Sunday, drawing a solid 4.9/11.

Compared to recent Blackhawks broadcasts on NBC in the market, this is fairly within range. In 2010, a March 7th telecast against Detroit drew a 5.3, while a March 14th game in that same year against Washington drew a 4.4. The game drew a 3.6/7 in road market Philadelphia, making it the 2nd highest-rated market for the game.

Obviously, hockey was nowhere near the draw that football produced yesterday, as the Sunday FOX telecast of Bears-Packers drew an astronomical 36.6/58 in Chicago, the nation’s #3 TV market. Regardless, it was good news that hockey was on many local fans’ minds on this important football Sunday.

NHL On NBC Premiere Up 20% Over Last Year

With a premiere that aired away from the football playoffs, NBC and the NHL found a little bit more success with their first non-outdoor telecast this season.

According to Sports Business Daily (reg. required), the NBC broadcast of Flyers-Blackhawks drew a 1.0 overnight rating. While that’s nothing to really write home about, it is a 20% improvement over the 0.8 overnight for the first non-Winter Classic NBC telecast of 2010, a Red Wings-Blackhawks game  (1/17/10) than overran directly with the NFL Divisional Playoffs. This is opposed to yesterday’s game, which mostly avoided conflict with the NFC Championship Game.

This is still down from 2009’s indoor premiere, a Rangers-Penguins game (1/18/09), which drew a 1.1 overnight. Regardless, something positive to write about an NBC telecast is always a good thing for the league and it’s fans.

NBC/Comcast Merger Sees It’s First Sports-Related Move with Creation of NBC Sports Advertising Group

NEW YORK – January 24, 2011 – John Miller, NBC Universal Television Group CMO and one of television’s most decorated marketing and promotion executives, will be shifting his focus to the NBC Sports Group to create and head “The NBC Sports Agency,” as soon as the pending acquisition of NBC Universal by Comcast is complete.

 

Miller, known for his unprecedented ability to build viewer awareness and interest in new programs, is credited with creating the ubiquitous “Must See TV” campaign and branding such hit shows as Seinfeld, Friends, ER and The Cosby Show, as well as creating campaigns for the Olympics and “Sunday Night Football,” which resulted in record viewership. He is a four-time Entertainment Marketer of the Year, a former Promotion Executive of the Year, a PROMAX Hall of Fame member, and received a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Commercial that also won the World’s Best Commercial award.

 

“Over the last 25 years, John Miller has become one of the most legendary figures in television promotion and marketing,” said Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. “In a business where people often talk about synergy yet rarely achieve it, John, as Chairman of the NBC Marketing Council, has demonstrated to all of us how we can come together for the betterment of all. NBC Sports’ big-event strategy, which has produced record audiences for the Olympics, NFL, NHL and horse racing, is predicated on this marketing strategy. And now John will be masterminding that coordination for NBC Sports, as well as creating campaigns for our partners and advertisers.”

 

“The NBC Sports Agency,” modeled after the successful “The NBC Agency” – which Miller co-founded and led from 1999-2010 – will focus on marketing NBC Sports Group assets, including soon-to-be-integrated Comcast properties, and serve as an agency for NBC Sports’ growing list of partners and advertisers, who use NBC Sports as a marketing resource. NBC Sports has recently produced campaigns for partners such as the USOC, NFL and NHL, and collaborated with advertisers, including Proctor & Gamble, Anheuser-Busch, Mercedes, Target, Sears, Coors, DirecTV, and Papa John’s. “The NBC Agency” was the industry’s first full-service advertising agency comprised of an award-winning in-house unit that quickly established itself as one of the country’s top creative commercial firms.

 

“I’m thrilled to be shifting my focus to the NBC Sports Group and working with Dick Ebersol’s team,” said Miller. “‘The NBC Sports Agency’ will take advantage of the full creative support of NBC Sports, Versus, Golf Channel and the RSNs to create campaigns not only for the individual channels, but also for the NBC Sports Group partners and advertisers.”

 

In addition to his work for the NBC Sports Group, Miller will continue his role as Chairman of the newly expanded NBC Universal Marketing Council, co-coordinating the full company cross-promotional efforts.

 

Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire Need a Divorce, or at Least a Trial Separation

I’m a fan of compelling debate. I enjoy it when two intellectual equals are calmly explaining two divergent points of view in a way that is clearly presented to the viewer or listener. I like a debate where, even when I disagree with the person speaking, I can listen to that person and say that they presented themselves well and that I respect them. I’m not someone who’s afraid of a point of view different from mine, I would just like it presented to me in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’m being spoken to like a five-year old. On NBC Sunday, I felt like I was watching FOX News, or at worst, a slap fight between those two guys you wish would just stop hanging out together.

You won’t hear any complaints from me about anything else in the NBC production from Sunday’s Game of the Week debut between the Flyers and Blackhawks, as I’ve really run out of things to say about it. I can’t blame NBC for maintaining what is largely the status quo. Emrick and Olczyk work just fine together, McGuire is a bit annoying between the benches, but does come up with legitimately interesting information. His observation of how the Flyers were going with what he called an “0-5” system of defense, where they literally abandoned forechecking, changed the way I watched the game. Overall, there’s little worth changing about the in-game production.

But, my goodness, the intermission show is a mess. Separate McGuire and his sparring partner Mike Milbury before one of them literally gets a contact high from their own drama. It is not only sickening to watch these two grown men not only yell at and over each other, but almost worth turning off the television altogether, as I did for the second intermission. I’m sorry I couldn’t be compelled to hear their thoughts on the All-Star Game, but the fact is, they’ve become a reason to just switch over to whatever movie’s on TNT for the 27th time.

Let’s instead set the scene for their first intermission debate. Milbury and McGuire are going to debate head shots. Fine! It’s the hottest topic in the league, and it has been covered by every network – American and Canadian – in the past two weeks, it certainly belongs on the NHL’s national broadcast partner in the States. They even have an interesting idea about preventing some of these head shots, elbowing in particular. They bring out ways you can use less potentially harm-causing pads. Again, reasonable.

From here, the two men do something which is almost inconceivable to me: they point out the other’s likely debate position (Milbury will be against what he calls the “babyproofing” the league while McGuire will lean more towards safety) and then begin yelling at each other over it, to the point where the director clearly told one of them to go to commercial, as Milbury said they were going to at the end of the screechfest.

Think about this. Not only are these men yelling at one another incomprehensibly, they’re both totally aware of the fact that they’re going to, and what they’re going to say to one another. This is entirely ridiculous! They have become self-aware of their own self-parody! It has gotten to the point where I don’t want to waste another word on these two men, who are reduced to clowns during these segments. Regardless, what are our solutions here?

There don’t seem to be any coming. Bob Costas, Al Michaels and Dan Patrick don’t seem interested in hosting the intermission show on a week-to-week basis. Why not try Eddie Olczyk in there with Pierre for a couple weeks, as he’ll at least be a little more reasoned and polite. Why not just let Doc Emrick introduce some throwaway features about various players around the league, I’m sure the NHL has a load of them.

The fact that I have to call for an NHL intermission report to be more polite is a sad one. This isn’t FOX News, this isn’t MSNBC, and it isn’t a schoolyard argument over who took somebody’s lunch money. These are two grown men debating a topic that is going to affect some of the men on the ice’s lives. There’s a good chance that one of the players playing in that game – or any game – will suffer from a head shot, sooner rather than later, and it’ll cause some permanent damage that will leave a black mark on a league that could’ve done something to stop it. I think a debate about this, regardless of your position on the subject, is above this sort of babbling. Milbury and McGuire should be too.

What We Learned From Two Weeks of Studio Shows

I’ve found it very difficult to synthesize my thoughts about these shows from the two weeks (technically eight days of episodes) I spent watching both of them, comparing and contrasting certain things. I learned one thing for sure: that both of these shows have a ways to go before they’d be what I consider “appointment hockey television.” You know, stuff we wouldn’t just watch because there’s nothing better. It is very clear to see that there are good things that each show has tried during the time that I’ve been watching, while it is equally clear to see that there are some flaws.

Below, some positives and negatives for both shows, individually, as I think it’d be unfair to just say which you should watch and which you shouldn’t. The simple answer is you should check out both from time to time, you wouldn’t regret it.

NHL Overtime

The Good: They’re continuously trying to get better. You can tell that NHL Overtime is aware that it is providing a service to the cable owner without NHL Network, or someone bored by On the Fly in general. VERSUS’ graphics and studio set blow NHL Network out of the water, and I’m pretty sure they haven’t changed anything other than the color backdrop in about half a decade (yes, VERSUS has been around this long).

Part of not really having a formula down yet is that you’re willing to try some things that haven’t really been seen on NHL TV shows in awhile. The writers roundtable on Wednesday of last week was a revelation, and hopefully, an example of what VERSUS can do to out-work NHL Network. Featuring writers both in studio and on remote locations, it was the closes American TV has come to producing something as occasionally sublime, but always watchable as The Hotstove on Hockey Night in Canada. Please, make it a weekly thing, with a rotating cast of writers.

Also, it is truly nice to see that VERSUS is willing to front-load their talent on the show some nights. I was quite surprised when they brought in both Eddie Olczyk and Mike Milbury for various shows, and both brought a lot (some good and some bad) to the show. Billy Jaffe has become the NHL TV star I predicted. He is absolutely the closest thing the show has to a dynamic presence. Not tethered to any NHL team since losing his gig with the Islanders (gee, remember when that was their biggest PR problem?) he seems a man renewed in his work, and the viewers are reaping the results whenever he’s in there.

Speaking of Jaffe, his work – and the entire cast’s – on the teletouch system has been a real revolution for a sport that can often be hard to break down via highlights. I love that thing, even if the cast insists on calling it a “teletubby” because Olczyk said it wrong one night. That joke needs to end immediately. Regardless, on Hockey Central or Overtime, this thing can be used to break down the barriers between casual fans, and even some diehards, and a better understanding of the sport.

The Bad: It’s sad to say, but Greg Wyshynski hit the nail on the head last week when he pointed out that, more often than not, and despite it’s willingness to try things, NHL Overtime feels like a director’s cut of Hockey Central, which can be frightfully dull at only a half an hour. The show will remain uneven until they have a fairly regular cast. While it may be fun to switch things up every night for the simple “Hey! Look, it’s that guy!” factor of who’ll be there, it has led to there being no chemistry on the set.

While I understand that VERSUS threw together the show fairly quickly, it is imperative that they decide one thing: At least decide on a regular host, whether it be Liam McHugh, Bill Pidto, or even Charissa Thompson. It isn’t going to be Bill Patrick, as it’d be unfair to ask him to work all those shows. So decide on someone, and perhaps give McHugh or Pidto the shot based on what I’ve seen. Pidto seems to have the edge in hockey knowledge, but McHugh has a little more enthusiasm for the gig.

Also, NHL Overtime seems intent on following Terry Bradshaw’s annoying footsteps in having analysts narrate the highlights. This is totally ineffective, no matter how well the analyst speaks. They either fall behind the play, sound awkward, or try and do live play-by-play. It’s uncomfortable at times. Let the host describe what happened, bounce off a few weak potential catchphrases, and then let the analyst talk over a replay.

One more problem, as I don’t mean to beat up on the show too much. There are too few highlights at times. The games that receive the least attention on this show tend to have as many clips as the NHL game receiving most attention from ESPN that night. I’m not saying everything needs to be show, but I think VERSUS can make the highlights a little bit longer for each game. For example: Only two of Marian Gaborik’s four goals were shown in the initial highlights. All four of them should have been. There are simple mistakes VERSUS is making at times that would make their continued grasp to find something new and fresh more palatable.

Overall: The show is still incomplete until they find a fairly regular cast of characters, but they are trying, and it is appreciated. Still, there are some things that can just plain work better.

NHL On the Fly

The Good: Kevin Weekes continues to improve by leaps and bounds as lead analyst (or at least, the one who was there most while I watched) and the studio suits him well. Of the hosts I saw during the time I spent watching, Ken Reid impressed me the most with his way with words, quick wit, and ability to keep the show moving. That said, there is no one on NHL Network who is that bad at the job. They’re all perfectly competent.

Another thing I was impressed by was the fact that, while Overtime produced live hits with various NHL stars, On the Fly was able to get players on days when they were making headlines. Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom were on the show the night they were selected as captains for the All-Star Game, and not on NHL Overtime, which had a mere discussion. Having Darren Dreger around every now and then keeps the show relevant with prime NHL issues.

One more thing, if you’re going to narrate highlights with studio talent, at least they do it correctly. I mentioned what bugs me about Overtime before, but here’s what On the Fly does: the host acts as the play-by-play man, telling you what happened on a certain play, then the analyst analyzes it. This is so much easier than having analysts who sometimes aren’t used to having to do this sort of thing on TV try and do both.

The Bad: I understand they’re trying to do things a little differently, but I dislike the fact that they have narration over many game highlights now. Since there’s a show that deals exclusively in that, I’d go back to letting the announcers speak for the game 100% of the time, unless it’s a night where doing so would leave you without being able to say everything needed to say. That said, I’ve found few nights where doing so has made it that way.

The show can tend to be a little bit bland as well. While there is no forced debate, which gains points, there is no real debate at all. Analysts just make their points about the game and we move along. There is no attempt to stir things up whatsoever, to the point where a lot of the commentary can come off as neutered. While I don’t want a simple highlight show turning into Pardon the Interruption, it’d be nice if we got something quoteworthy from these guys once in awhile.

In general though, the show still looks a little stale. The attempt to freshen up the studio a year ago was nice, but I’m still not blown away with the production values the way I am when I watch MLB Network or NFL Network. We’re getting closer to the all-style, no substance of NBA TV, but I’d prefer the NHL have a network as good as the fans who crave it’s wall-to-wall hockey programming.

Overall: This show is playing it safe, and overall, succeeds. I think there are little things, however, that the show can do to improve while we await another studio revamp for a few years.