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.

5 Responses to What We Learned From Two Weeks of Studio Shows

  1. Ian says:

    I think it can’t be overstated that NHL on the Fly is an incredibly dull hour of television. There is no debate, no laughter, no nothing. NHL Overtime at least keeps me entertained

  2. Chris S says:

    I wish NHL on the Fly would stop talking over the highlights. What was wrong with the in-game commentary highlights? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’ve been switching to TSN more and more for quick NHL highlights over NHL Network. They’re just not as good as they used to me IMO.

  3. Caps Nut says:

    Is this the Bill Pidto who used to do NHL 2night on ESPN2 back in the 90’s that you’re talking about? Sorry, I haven’t watched NHL Overtime yet on Versus but remembering how good he was on NHL 2night back in the day I would eagerly tune in if he is hosting Overtime on Versus.

    And if Versus got him away from ESPNews to work on their NHL coverage, that’s a good move for them.

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