There was some well-publicized friction in the early going between Don Cherry and his new bosses at Rogers Media, but Canada's most famous broadcaster now says he is riding high and smooth in the midst of the NHL playoffs.
"I've got no complaints," Cherry said Tuesday. Then he made a joking reference to his famous on-air outburst early in the 2014-15 season, when he bristled openly at time restrictions implemented when Rogers took over Hockey Night In Canada and Cherry's intermission show, Coach's Corner, from the CBC. "You know, I usually do have a lot of complaints."
Rogers producers sparked Cherry's tirade last November by imposing a five-minute limit on his Coach's Corner chats with host Ron MacLean. But ever since, he said, the limit has remained but they just leave him alone. Whether this is because they can't stomach angry confrontations with a star performer does not matter to Cherry: He is happy he can show up, do his thing and go home.
"This has been a piece of cake," Cherry, 81, said. "Nobody bothers me. I have my own set I go to from another entrance, I never see [the other broadcasters]. I do the show and everything's been good."
Rogers senior vice-president of hockey productions Gord Cutler may not share Cherry's views on how much of HNIC's first intermission should be devoted to Coach's Corner, but he has made sure Cherry stays in his comfort zone. This keeps Cherry on top of his game despite an increased workload during the playoffs – he and MacLean are on the air several nights per week.
So Coach's Corner has its own small set at HNIC's Toronto headquarters, as well as when the show goes on the road. Cherry says he never runs into Hockey Night host George Stroumboulopoulos or on-air panelists Nick Kypreos, Elliotte Friedman and Kelly Hrudey, let alone the bosses.
However, this arrangement is not because Cherry considers himself a diva. He may be the star of Coach's Corner going on 34 years, but he still considers himself a hockey coach who stumbled into a lucrative sideline – loudly disseminating his views to like-minded Canadians. He never got used to talking into a camera while a technical crew whirled around him. And a producer talking to him through an earpiece? Forget it. Coach's Corner has almost always been shot on a quiet, closed set.
"I have to have complete privacy, I really do," Cherry said. "I can't have anybody moving, anybody talking. I don't see the camera, I don't see the cameraman. When I do Coach's Corner, there's nobody in the room except the cameraman [and MacLean].
"Nothing changes when we go on the road. I can get easily distracted because I'm not a professional [broadcaster]. That's why they have one camera. There's nobody else, no floor director, no nothing. I see a little red light and that's it. When I talk to people, I talk to that little red light."
And that is the key to Cherry's continued success. Unlike far too many people on television these days, his bombast is not manufactured for the cameras. Most of his views may come from a long-gone era, but they really are his views, not some hot takes meant to fire up the digital universe.
When Cherry is talking to that red light, to him it is the guy sitting on the next bar stool. The viewers, whether they agree or not, sense that authenticity and still watch in sufficient numbers to keep Cherry comfortably ensconced in his between-periods chair.
Not that octogenarian has any plans to go anywhere. He's enjoying himself too much. There may be that five-minute limit, but working multiple nights in the playoffs means there will always be a chance to say what he didn't have time to say in the previous show. And the minute he stops enjoying himself, as he showed last November and countless other times, the viewers will be the first to know.
"Someone asked me when I'm going to retire, and I said, 'Retire from what?'" said Cherry, who signed a two-year contract with Rogers after the company took HNIC and the NHL Canadian national broadcast rights away from the CBC and TSN with a 12-year, $5.2-billion deal.
"No, I'm having fun," he added. "As long as I'm having fun, that's the name of the game. If I'm not having fun, then you'll see it on Coach's Corner. But I can hardly wait to get on Coach's Corner. It hasn't got blasé. I'm still jumpin'."