It was, as Barack Obama likes to say, "a teachable moment" at Hockey Night in Canada. IDesk hosts Scott Morrison and Jeff Marek had just finished reading e-mails from cranky Montreal Canadiens fans during the playoffs.
When the cameras switched back to Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, the pair bitterly denounced the e-mailers and the intrusion of new media on the venerable TV franchise. Live. On air.
HNIC's long-time Glitter Twins were reverting to a strategy that has served them well: going public with their criticism when a CBC mandate or contract offer didn't suit them. Publicly at least, CBC executives have tolerated the displays of dissent. Accordingly, the pair has come to dominate HNIC's editorial content. That has resulted in the cult of Cherry's personality - plus MacLean's rambling interviews with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or his one-sided critique of Vancouver's Alex Burrows.
When opposed, they pushed back on-air.
But with Cherry aging, competition growing from TSN and Sportsnet and the constant incursion of new media into telecasts, the status quo is no longer an option for HNIC. Thus, the announcement late Friday afternoon that Trevor Pilling - CBC's go-to guy for Olympics, World Cups and Grey Cups - was taking over from Sherali Najak as executive producer for HNIC.
The bottom line: Najak was an HNIC lifer; Pilling is an outsider with no prior loyalties within the show's culture. Pilling can "strengthen the show at many levels," according to CBC Sports vice-president Scott Moore.
No one expects Pilling to radically alter the show in the short term. MacLean and Cherry will remain the face of HNIC. Pilling's mandate will be to create a succession formula for HNIC when Cherry eventually departs.
Outside of Marek, P.J. Stock and Cassie Campbell's occasional appearance, the show's roster is heavily laden with veterans. There is no logical successor to Cherry as "The Franchise" - should CBC even want to go that way again.
The show remains a technical success, but the reluctance to embrace the on-bench announcer position showed its reluctance to change.
Contacted by Usual Suspects, Moore said moving Pilling into the post "was a chance to bring a new perspective to the show. We have made tweaks and changes every year that I have been at CBC. I have no doubt that Trevor will continue that trend. He will want to put his signature on the show. His production credentials are impeccable, so I have no doubt he will ensure Hockey Night continues to set new production standards."
Which is shorthand for Moore has his own guy running HNIC now. When Pilling speaks, the policy will have Moore's authority - something not always apparent in the past.
How could HNIC change? CBC brass liked the star-neutral quality of the World Cup TV hosts. They prefer the Olympics version of MacLean, who turns his considerable talent to the product, not placating Cherry.
The network has a lot of money (a reported $100-million a year) riding on the success of the show, which won't get the ratings bump from portable people meters it got last season. It wants the program to have more "big event" feel.
Change is coming. We'll see how the HNIC colony adapts.
The ESPN Delusion
Speaking of internal critiques, ESPN came under fire this week from its own ombudsman, respected TV legend Don Ohlmeyer.
Critiquing the LeBron James The Decision special, Ohlmeyer was harsh about the presence of non-ESPN employee Jim Gray and other elements demanded by James on the show.
"ESPN failed miserably where it mattered most," Ohlmeyer wrote. "Although there was no attempt to hide the Gray involvement or the [advertising] inventory arrangement leading up to the broadcast, the viewers were not explicitly told at the most appropriate moments that conflicts existed.
"In many ways, the network's decisions in airing the James special - and its justification for making them - are a metaphor for what ails the media today," he continued. "It's a cautionary tale for ESPN. If the network wants to be considered the true worldwide leader in sports, it must accept the responsibility that comes with it."