Anyone else remember the good old days of watching curling on CBC? I’m talking about back in the ’90s when Don Wittman and Don Duguid called CBC’s coverage of the Brier, Scotties, Worlds and Olympics. I’ll never forget the first time I watched curling during the 1998 Winter Olympics with Wittman and Duguid on the call.
The point of this is to not reflect on what CBC’s curling coverage was like 12 years ago, instead to take a look at both CBC’s and TSN’s from this past season. I find that TSN’s coverage is improving every year, while CBC’s is in decline. One hindrance for CBC may be that they only have rights to show 13 broadcasts a year, from four events. I think the bigger problem is their choice of commentators though. Bruce Rainnie and Mike Harris seem okay. Scott Russell is alright as a host, but shouldn’t be anywhere near the broadcast booth in any sport, especially curling. That leads me to the main problems with CBC’s broadcasts, Joan McCusker and Colleen Jones. McCusker occasionally offers solid analysis, but most of the time she just repeats the same things over and over, broadcast after broadcast. Add on to that she has an annoying laugh and she tends to laugh even if something isn’t funny. Jones is just like McCusker, except CBC tries to use her as a reporter. She doesn’t ask any real questions and she seems to be too close and friendly to every curler for my liking. I just can’t see her asking any difficult questions if a skip made a bad call that resulted in losing the game.
I think it is obvious that Curling on CBC needs changes if they plan on keeping the Grand Slam for any amount of time. Their current deal runs through the 2013-2014 season. TSN’s deal with the Canadian Curling Association for the Brier, Scotties, Worlds and other events also ends that season. Maybe CBC could see if Ray Turnbull would consider coming out of retirement to work four weekends a year. If not, then I’m fine with Mike Harris remaining on. If I were CBC I’d stick with Rainnie and Harris calling the Grand Slams as a two-man booth. The great thing about curling is the players are often the best colour commentators. There really is no need for a 3-man booth, especially one at CBC that tends to talk over the players. For The Players Championship, where there the women’s final is broadcast on CBC, a guest analyst should be brought in. Personally I’d just use a curler whose team had already been eliminated. I think Cheryl Bernard would make a great analyst if she wanted to go that route.
Aside from changing the commentators, CBC should make some small tweaks to their broadcasts. Bringing back the classic theme song, which has been ditched in favour of a new one in recent years, would be a start. Broadcasting coverage in HD, something TSN has done for years, would be nice too. As much as I like the idea of having some curling on CBC, if they can’t improve their broadcast I’d like the World Curling Tour to look into a deal with TSN when this current agreement is done. I think that between TSN and TSN2, it would be reasonable to expect a quarterfinal, semifinal and the championship to be broadcast. TSN doesn’t have a lot of Saturday afternoon and Saturday night programming in the winter and curling will pull in up to 500, 000 viewers for the Grand Slam events.
Speaking of TSN, I think their coverage got better in the past year, if that is possible. The updated scorebar just looks better, but that is the least important of the changes. Russ Howard is doing spectacular on the main broadcast crew with Linda Moore and Vic Rauter. I think Russ has improved Vic as well, he always seemed a little to comfortable with Ray Turnbull. Russ has a knowledge for how the game is played now that the rest of the commentators on CBC and TSN simply don’t have. He invented the 3 rock rule, he has played the game in the past 5 years since it has really changed into a very athletic sport. Because of how the ice and sweeping have changed, the strategy has changed since even Mike Harris and Joan McCusker have played too. Russ has the strategy down. Someone mentioned earlier this year that he is too hard on the Canadian team and he questions calls too much. Being hard on a team that isn’t playing well (Amber Holland’s team wasn’t playing well at the time) and usually when he questions a call, the shot is missed. It is a lot better than “safe” Joan McCusker questioning any risky call just to see it made.
In future seasons I’d like to see a few things from both CBC and TSN. The first is, if a player is talking don’t try to explain to the viewers what they are saying. We can understand them just fine, we don’t need an analyst’s opinion. The second is, sometimes the play by play should just shut up. We can all see the rock coming down the ice. 95% of the time the person in the house and the sweepers will tell us if the line and weight are okay. A guess from an analyst tends to be wrong. Sometimes less is more, and with players wearing microphones in curling, that couldn’t be more true. In fact I’d like to see TSN give a shot to just having Russ Howard and Linda Moore call a game without a play by play. ESPN has successfully mastered this in tennis and BBC has in Formula 1, two other sports where a true play-by-play commentator isn’t really necessary.