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Howie Long (left) and Terry Bradshaw, analyst and co-host respectively of Fox NFL Sunday: Fox’s new sports channel is a shrewd move. (JIM RUYMEN/REUTERS)
Howie Long (left) and Terry Bradshaw, analyst and co-host respectively of Fox NFL Sunday: Fox’s new sports channel is a shrewd move. (JIM RUYMEN/REUTERS)

JOHN DOYLE

Why sports is the future of TV Add to ...

Well, there’s good news, and there’s bad news.

Mind you, it is often hard to tell the difference. “Is Justin Bieber losing it?” screams a rhetorical headline on a blog in The Guardian. There follows a meditation on this: “The fondue, the acoustic album, a washout birthday and now he has kept his fans waiting at the O2 in London. Is it all going wrong for Justin Bieber?” Fondue? Jiminy, that sounds like bad news about our boy Bieber.

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“Taylor Swift: ‘I’m Not a Clingy, Insane, Desperate Girlfriend’” scream multiple news outlets, picking up Swift’s comments in the April issue of Vanity Fair. Fondue doesn’t come into it, apparently. However, having to explain that you’re definitely not clingy, insane and desperate sure sounds like bad news.

In no time at all, one imagines, there will be big-time TV interviews with Oprah in which the two pop stars explain all. And Oprah’s magazine will follow up with both fondue recipes and tips about how not to seem a clingy and insane girlfriend.

And on the subject of news, the mind (mine, anyway) was mildly boggled by Pastor Mansbridge’s simpering, multi-part interview with Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, on CBC’s The National, on the matter of the race-for-the-Pope-job. “Obviously you’re special …” the Pastor said to the Cardinal, who looked well pleased. If there’s a prize for simpering interviews at the Canadian Screen Awards (don’t get me started) next year, this one’s a shoo-in.

In TV-racket news from L.A., it seems that Fox is renewing The Following, The Mindy Project, New Girl and Raising Hope. Good news for sure. The Following has become excellent pulp entertainment, fast-paced and original in its ceaseless twists. Kevin Bacon’s been doing masterful turns as the addled agent on the trail of the coolly demonic serial killer Joe Carroll (James Purefoy). The Mindy Project, which I only see occasionally, seems to have found its feet, anchored in a gentle mockery of the clichés of romantic comedy.

Raising Hope remains adorable, an off-kilter sitcom rooted in dirt-poor working America. New Girl is inconsistent but can be inspired. And its renewal will be welcome news to the makers of black tights for ladies, since Zooey Deschanel doesn’t wear anything else.

The really big TV news also comes from Fox. It was announced Tuesday that Fox Sports Media Group in the United States will launch a new national network called Fox Sports 1, and it plans to compete head-to-head with ESPN for viewers. This is truly significant. The future of TV, in terms of profit, viewers and marketing, is in sports.

The new Fox channel, which will replace an existing channel, will offer live Major League Baseball, NASCAR, college football and basketball, soccer from Europe and UFC, among other events. It’s an expensive but shrewdly strategic move by Fox.

As the TV landscape splinters, and online and DVR viewing eats away at the traditional business model, nothing can compete with live sports events for impact. Sure, people can watch sports online, but there is a natural impulse to watch in groups. Netflix can’t offer sports events. Massive fees can be charged to advertisers around live sports because there’s less danger viewers will watch later and skip the commercial.

For some time now, live sports, especially NFL games, baseball playoffs and the World Series, have propped up the networks that have the rights. No matter how many sitcoms and dramas are launched and fail, big-time sports doesn’t fail. And sports events are used as a platform to promote those other shows. In this neck of the woods, CBC might not make a ton of money from Hockey Night in Canada, but the broadcast is a platform to promote everything else on CBC.

The future of TV is sports. Everything else on TV depends on it. That’s the news, good or bad, depending on your view of sports.

Airing tonight

Homeland (Bravo, 10 p.m.) arrives on easily accessible cable at last. If you haven’t seen its first two seasons, start now. One of the truly great series of recent years, it’s a paranoid spy drama set emphatically in a world where terrorists lurk and doubt about truth is everywhere. Nuanced, smart and with electrifying performances, it’s addictive. It opens in Iraq where a CIA analyst, Carrie (Claire Danes), is trying to interrogate an Iraqi man who is about to be executed. He claimed to have information useful to the U.S. This is the post-Iraq War, withdrawn-from-Afghanistan world. The certainty of the terrorist threat wobbles; people are moving on. Carrie is then back in the U.S., a pill-popping wreck trying to keep her job. Along comes news that one Sergeant Brody (Damien Lewis), a U.S. sniper captured in Iraq and believed dead, has been found and is being returned to the U.S., a hero. Carrie’s not so sure. She’s got a feeling that Brody might have been turned into a spy, possibly a sleeper terrorist. Nobody wants to know. Carrie’s boss (Mandy Patinkin) is very uneasy. Homeland is creepy and absorbing, and it captures the truly tawdry quality of spying.

 

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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