Before we were interrupted by Brendan Shanahan’s debut in Law & Order: NHL, we were about to tell you that you can sum up the upcoming hockey TV onslaught in one word : Winnipeg. For the first couple of months of the 2011-12 season expect to be deluged with the return of hockey to the shadow of the Golden Boy as each network tries to prove it loves Winnipeg and its Jets more than the other. Anyone who has ever worn a Jets jersey will be resuscitated in the swoon of love returned to Manitoba (the Jets, not the NDP government). Suddenly it's hip to hang at Polo Park.
CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada, which has the Jets 22 times this season, gets first crack at sharing the joy squad Thursday as it sends George Stroumboulopoulos and newcomer Andi Petrillo to The Forks for a musical launch to the season. They’ll be joined by Bachman and Turner, who, we’re told, cut a few discs back in the day. Friday, CBC presents a documentary Fuelled by Passion – The Return of the Jets about the return of the Jets after 15 years in the wilderness. Hopefully, someone remembers to thank the revived loonie for making all this possible.
The Jets don’t make their HNIC debut till Sunday when they host Montreal. So on Thursday it’ll be the Habs and Maple Leafs from Toronto followed by the Crosby-less Penguins in Vancouver to take on the Canucks. On Saturday, the Leafs host Ottawa while the Flames get the Penguins.
Meanwhile, TSN scored the regional rights to the Jets and will present about 60 games this season on a special sub channel all this season for a fee. Dennis Beyak calls the play-by-play with Brian Engblom and Mike Johnson providing the colour. This should all be very nice till the Jets sink in the playoff sunset.
Deck Chairs: With the puck drop Thursday, plenty of changes on the TV networks, most of which we’ve already told you about here at the Suspects. CBC is debuting a full hour preview show before Hockey Night In Canada to supplement its existing half-hour preview. HNIC Game day starts at 5 P.M. ET, takes a half-hour break for national/ local news at 6 p.m. then resumes at 6:30 with Scotiabank Hockey Tonight.
The arrival of Winnipeg as a Canadian franchise has forced all networks to staff the city as a permanent bureau and pushed HNIC to create an entirely new broadcast crew. TSN has posted Sara Orlesky permanently to Portage & Main and has started a full-time sports radio operation to carry the Jets games. Sportsnet hasn’t sent a dedicated reporter to the area as yet. Meanwhile, TSN has moved up its late-night Sportscentre from 11 p.m. PT to 10 p.m. PT. This allows it to better compete with the multiple Rogers Sportsnet casts which have largely had the field to themselves for two hours between TSN casts.
Brand New: TSN has finally started to re-brand its all-sports radio outlets. From now on, it’ll be TSN Radio 990 in Montreal and TSN Radio 1290 in Winnipeg. So why hasn’t parent company CHUM Radio applied the TSN brand to its most popular stations in Vancouver, The Team 1040 and Team 1410? We wondered why the delay, and Chris Gordon, president of Bell Media Radio told us, “We look at each station on a market-by-market basis, and right now our focus is on successful launches of TSN Radio in Montreal and Winnipeg.”
Or is it because TEAM 1040 is now re-negotiating radio rights with the Canucks (who have a close relationship with Rogers) and wishes to put the ixnay on the branding till after it safely lands the valuable property for the next few years?
Rogers Changes: The launch of its new sports magazine last week was just one piece of Rogers Sportsnet re-branding. The network has a new logo, its all-sports radio station is now Sportsnet Radio 590 The Fan and it has new sets for its newsroom. As well, Sportsnet One has begun broadcasting the 6-9 a.m. Brady& Lang morning show from the same set as Bob McCown’s Primetime Sports. Plans include moving all the FAN shows-- including the new Sid Seixeiro/Tim Micalef 1-4 p.m. show - onto TV soon.
TSN plans to simulcast its Cybulski & Co. afternoon show but not until it completes studios at its TV base in Agincourt - estimated in the New Year. The Mike Richards show will follow later.
Nice Call: They say the secret to show business is.... timing. So props to former pitcher John Smoltz of TBS. With Delmon Young of the Tigers coming to the plate with the bases empty and the score tied at 4-4 in Game Three of the ALDS, Smoltz advised Yankees pitcher Rafael Soriano not to throw Young a first-pitch fastball. Young feasts on them, Smoltz told the TV audience.
Soriano has other ideas, putting a fastball in the heart of the plate. Bad idea. Young went opposite field for the decisive homer in the game. And Smoltz looked like a genius.
Then there was Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez working the Texas - Tampa Bay game for TBS. When veteran Darren Oliver entered the game for Texas, Martinez pointed out, “He knows what it takes to get these tough hitters out in the postseason.”
Next two pitches: singles. The next batter, Casey Kotchman, singled to load bases. Oliver was quickly taken out of the game. Which is not to rip Buck and praise Smoltz. Only to point out that live TV is all about... timing.
Are You Ready For Some?: When you lie down with a dog you tend to get fleas. And when you’re a TV network employing Hank Williams Jr. in a prominent role you get... well, good ol' boy Hank. Williams’s opener for Monday Night Football was dropped after the rowdy country singer got himself lost in geopolitics on FOX TV, comparing a golf game between President Obama and House speaker John Boehner to a match between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Adolph Hitler.
It’s an accepted maxim in the broadcast business that invoking the man who initiated the Holocaust in any context is a risky proposition. Doing so in tandem with anything to do with Israel or Jews is career suicide. Whether this information reached Williams before he mused on golf pairings is uncertain. But it’s hard to believe no one at ESPN had suspicions that the honky-tonk artist might have nursed a few unusual opinions after listening to a few of his songs ( Just Enough To Get In Trouble, Stoned At The Juke Box, What A Heck Of A Mess).
As such it’s hard to have much sympathy for ESPN finding out the hard way that ol’ Hank might not have been kidding when he sang Life Gets Tee-Jus Don’t It?
Nice Catch: Finally, TSN is showing the ESPN documentary Catching Hell tomorrow night at 8 p.m. It’s the story of Steve Bartman, the ill-fated Cubs fan who caught a foul ball in the first row of the stands at Wrigley Field in the NLCS playoffs of 2003. In doing so, Bartman kept the ball from Cub outfielder Moises Alou who was poised to make the catch. The Cubs, who had just six more outs to record, went on to lose the game and their best chance to advance to their first World Series since 1908. Bartman, who has been vilified by Cubs fans since, declined to be interviewed. But at least he didn’t try bunting in the first inning against A.J. Burnett like some Tiger managers.