NHL Live Hits The Right Tone on Concussions

Last week, I gave a negative review to a VERSUS program (NHL 36: Patrick Kane) that was similar to a program airing on another network (HBO 24/7), partly because it suffered in comparison to the what the other program did better and because it had more interesting subjects. This week, I come to praise a VERSUS program of a different nature, but partly because it took a subject that had been somewhat unfairly skimmed over on 24/7 (concussion), and turned what is usually a fairly straightforward NHL studio show into an hour-long sports newsmagazine.

You can forgive me for rolling my eyes a bit when host Liam McHugh introduced NHL Live as a “very important” edition of the show. Sometimes these big issue discussion shows can turn into too much heated debate, or not have enough to carry an hour-long show. Part of what helped last night’s show succeed was that this was the only case of hyperbole on the show. The tone of the show worked, as McHugh and analysts Pierre McGuire and Keith Jones all kept it very calm, low-key and discussed the important points they needed to discuss. It’s a long way from the shouting and yelling we used to see on VERSUS’ corporate partner not long ago.

I thought a great choice in all this was to devote a full segment to how the changes made after the lockout really sped up the sport. We often hear that mentioned by hockey analysts as a reason why the game has sped up, but you’ve never really heard it thought out much more than that. McGuire and Jones recalled both having seen the game before the lockout, and then after the lockout and being amazed with how fast everything got. Kudos to both for, again, keeping everything very calm and low key. Though this is an important subject, the tone was kept very serious, and the viewers felt rewarded for having tuned in because of it.

The interviews with players, members of the medical community, and Brendan Shanahan were all really well-done – though I think they could have stood to ask if the changes he helped bring had led us down the road, especially after that segment on how, you know… that’s what actually happened. But I understand keeping things more towards the suspensions and player responsibility side of things. Even ol’ Jeremy Roenick – who’s been a bit inconsistent on the analyst side – offered his own compelling, often frightening tales of being concussed in a manner that didn’t go over the top.

The last segment of the show was devoted to trying to come up with solutions, which I think defines why this show was a success (and please, please do more of these in the future). A lot of the time, hockey studio shows can seem almost accusatory, angry at the subjects it’s discussing but not offering any sort of way to solve the problem. On Wednesday, however, NHL Live sought not to point fingers or yell at anyone, they tried to tell stories, define problems, and come up with solutions. For sports on TV, it doesn’t get much more concise, compelling and entertaining than that.

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On Episode Two of 24/7, and Reality TV’s Self-awareness Problem

Here’s what I said about episode two of last season’s 24/7: Road to the NHL Winter Classic:

episode two … didn’t really find that much new to do. It felt a lot like, at times, they were putting up retreads of episode one, mixed in with quite a bit of filler material. Did I really need to know the route Sidney Crosby takes to get to the rink. That borders on the type of stuff that will get easily angered at the focus on the Penguins star center. On the opposite side, they still really haven’t been given the access to Alexander Ovechkin that one would hope. I may be wrong, but I find it really hard to believe that Ovie stays in his house and plays video games under the watchful eye of mommy and daddy all the time.

In episode two of season two, there was a clear attempt to rectify a lot of this, giving the Rangers a little bit more to do on the side, including the heartwarming story of 10-year old Liam Treanor, who suffers from cerebral palsy and has enjoyed a deep friendship with Ranger coach John Tortorella (Dear NBC: If you don’t get an interview with that young boy at the Winter Classic, the NHL should revoke the TV contract). That, and almost everything that involved the Rangers, were the highlights of the episode (in addition to scenes that dealt with NHL referees). The Flyers side, however, was a source of real trouble for both me as a viewer, and potentially this series’ long-term potential.

Have you ever followed a reality show beyond one season? There’s a reason most of them aren’t successful beyond that initial run. Either the characters from the previous season have returned, become totally self-aware of their fame, and totally self-aware that what they are doing is displayed to a national television audience. They either become too afraid to do anything interesting, or play up the stereotypes that made them famous. Jersey Shore is a great example of this. On the other hand, if you have reality shows that change their cast from season-to-season – like, say, Survivor – your second season contestants will know how to “play the game” a little bit better.

The Philadelphia Flyers are doing a little bit of both. Now, let’s get this out of the way – there’s nothing wrong with milking Ilya Bryzgalov for every last nugget of wisdom he’s got. He, unlike his teammates, appears to just be acting natural. It’s the rest of the club commenting on his fame and trying to get him to play for laughs that’s bothering me. Most of the stuff in the Flyers half of the episode felt like a bunch of guys who already knew how to play the game, and that’s definitely a troubling thought as we think about wanting this show to be a yearly event. That, and the handling of Chris Pronger’s season-ending injury felt skimmed over.

The other problems the show has remain what they were in year one: that episode two doesn’t really have a clear, over-arching narrative to it. I personally think they need to move the first match-up between the two opposing teams to the time frame of the second episode next year. Not only does it spread out the meetings a little bit more, but it allows you to either recap the game more in the third episode, or make the third episode more about the buildup for the Winter Classic itself. It would free up the show to do a few more things and it would make every episode sort of event-centric. The first episode introduces the teams, the second one gets them on the ice together, the third one introduces the Winter Classic and it’s venue, the fourth one presents the big game.

Does anyone else think that John Tortorella comes off way better in this show than Peter Laviolette does? This is completely aside from Tortorella’s friendship with that young boy. Especially in episode two, Laviolette comes across as a bit petulant, blaming the refs and claiming that their behavior is “typical Montreal”. In contrast, we get to hear Tortorella deliver that ridiculous, almost alarming soliloquy to his team to try and get them back in the game, blaming no one but themselves. It was the sort of compelling, gripping piece of television that has me coming back to this show time and time again.

The referees played a real interesting role in this episode. From the scene set in their own locker room, to their dealings with Laviolette and Max Talbot. I know many people have advocated for a Stanley Cup Final edition of 24/7, but I think if you do that, don’t really bother the players: do it totally from the perspective of the referees and capture that experience. I don’t know how you’d do it, but a 24/7: The Officials show would be a great idea in any sport, especially hockey or basketball.

Overall, I’m always a little overly harsh on this show because I really love it. I think it’s the best combination of sports and the medium of television ever created. It isn’t easy to do either, as last summer’s subpar The Franchise focusing on the San Francisco Giants showed us. I just feel that there are certain problems highlighted by this episode: some of them easily correctable (giving the second show more of a connected narrative between the teams) and some of them, including the self-awareness of the players, perhaps not.

Meet the New NHL Network

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NEW YORK (December 22, 2011) – NHL Network will get a jump on the New Year with a number of new enhancements including a new network logo, re-branded highlight show and new ad campaign. The Net will also begin broadcasting from Citizens Bank Park™ in anticipation of the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on Dec. 29, providing fans more with more hours of original programming around the annual event than ever before.

 

On December 26, NHL Network will officially switch over to its new logo (attached) and launch NHL Tonight – an evolution of the 10 p.m. edition of NHL On the Fly – airing seven days a week. Kathryn Tappen, host of NHL Tonight, will be joined by a rotating lineup of hockey insiders and analysts that will serve fans with every highlight, every game. NHL Tonight will re-air the following morning for fans to catch up on all the games from the previous night. For its first week, NHL Tonight will air immediately following the live coverage of the IIHF World Junior games. Otherwise, NHL Tonight will air nightly at 10 p.m. NHL on the Fly will continue to air nightly from 7-10 p.m.

 

The national advertising campaign for NHL Tonight also will debut on Dec. 26, positioning the show as the source for all of the night’s highlights from around the NHL using the new show slogan “Every Highlight. Every Game. Every Night.” The TV spot features NHL players watching NHL Tonight in their everyday life – at home, in arenas, working out, taping sticks, on the road and relaxing in hotel rooms. Including the new NHL Network tagline “Where the NHL Gets Hockey,” the campaign aptly features a number of the NHL’s biggest names including New Jersey’s Zach Parise, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner, Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf, Montreal’s Brian Gionta, Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, Anaheim’s Corey Perry, Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, and New York’s Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist.

 

The NHL Tonight advertising campaign will run across the US and Canada, and includes TV, online, radio, print, in-arena, mobile and social media executions.

 

NHL Network at the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

 

On Dec. 29, NHL Network will set up stage in Philadelphia to provide fans with daily coverage live from the site of the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic – adding up to more than 25 hours of original programming around the event. From the transformation process turning the famed ballpark into an ice rink, to daily press conferences and weather reports provided in collaboration with the Weather Channel™, NHL Network becomes the destination for fans to keep apprised of everything happening in Citizens Park Bank™ leading up to and following the fifth annual outdoor game.

 

Deb Placey, EJ Hradek and Bill Pidto will bring the popular daily afternoon show NHL LIVE to Philadelphia along with the rest of the NHL Network broadcasting team from field level at Citizens Bank Park including host Kathryn Tappen, analysts Barry Melrose, Jeremy Roenick and Kevin Weekes. Reporter Heidi Androl will check in from Spectator Plaza, a free, three-day fan festival just outside the gates of Citizens Bank Park. NHL Network talent also will provide intermission reports from Citizen Bank Park during the U.S. broadcasts of the 2012 World Junior Championship on the Network.

 

Joining the NHL Network team as special guest analysts for the Network’s Winter Classic coverage is former NHLer Mark Recchi, who will bring unique insight to the event. Recchi played in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic in Boston as a member of the Bruins. He finished his 22-season NHL career by winning the Stanley Cup with the Bruins last season.

 

On Dec. 31, Broad Street meets Broadway in the Molson Canadian 2012 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game, featuring some of the biggest names from Rangers and Flyers past including former Blueshirts Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Adam Graves, Ron Duguay, Dave Maloney and Mike Gartner and Flyers Bob Clarke, Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Mark Howe, Jeremy Roenick and Reggie Leach. NHL Network will air a 90-minute special providing a detailed account of the game and reliving all of the memorable moments.

 

As the current Rangers and Flyers take to the open-air ice for the first time on January 1 for team practices, NHL Network will be there broadcasting it live beginning at 11 a.m. ET. On game day, January 2, beginning at 10 a.m., NHL Network will provide live coverage from field level in the lead-up to puck drop as the ultimate pre-game show. The 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Post-Game Show will air immediately following the game’s conclusion.

 

Digital customers in participating systems of Dish Network, Verizon FiOS, and Charter Communications will be offered a free preview of NHL Network beginning Dec. 29 through Jan. 2. (Not available in all areas.)

 

The complete schedule is as follows (all times Eastern):

 

Thursday, December 29

5:00-7:00 p.m. NHL LIVE

7:00-8:00 p.m. NHL Network at the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

8:00-10:00 p.m. 2012 World Junior Championship – Canada vs. Denmark (U.S. only)

(w/ Intermission reports from Philadelphia)

10:00 p.m. NHL Tonight

 

Friday, December 30

2:00-3:30 p.m. NHL LIVE

3:30-6:30 p.m. 2012 World Junior Championship – Czech Republic vs. U.S. (U.S. only)

(w/ Intermission reports from Philadelphia)

6:30-7:00 p.m. NHL LIVE

7:00-8:00 p.m. NHL Network at the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

8:00-10:00 p.m. 2012 World Junior Championship – Finland vs. Denmark (U.S. only)

(w/ Intermission reports from Philadelphia)

10:00 p.m. NHL Tonight

 

Saturday, December 31

3:30-5:00 p.m. 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game Recap

5:00-5:30 p.m. NHL Plays of the Year Special

5:30-8:00 p.m. NHL Network at the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

8:00-10:00 p.m. 2012 World Junior Championship – U.S. vs. Canada (U.S. only)

(w/ Intermission reports from Philadelphia)

10:00 p.m. NHL Tonight

 

Sunday, January 1

11:00-5:00 a.m. 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Practice Day

5:00-6:00 p.m. 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Practice Day Recap

6:00-9:00 p.m. Calgary Flames @ Nashville Predators

(w/ Intermission reports from Philadelphia)

9:00-10:00 p.m. NHL Tonight from the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic

 

Monday, January 2

10:00-1:00 p.m. 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Pre-Game Show

4:00-5:00 p.m. 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Post Game Show

5:00-8:00 p.m. 2012 World Junior Championship – Quarterfinal #1

(w/ Intermission reports from Philadelphia)

8:00-9:00 p.m. NHL On The Fly

9:00-11:00 p.m. 2012 World Junior Championship – Quarterfinal #2

11:00 p.m. NHL Tonight