When the Planes Don’t Fly

The plane tickets and boarding passed began to accumulate like the snow by mid-morning

The plane tickets and boarding passed began to accumulate like the snow by mid-morning (credit: @cctsn)

Ever had a tough day at work? Maybe a flight to a meeting was cancelled causing havoc in your day? That’s what happened at TSN on Friday in a situation that rarely occurs in sports broadcasting. Sure there are difficulties getting commentators to assignments at times. However, it is quite odd for broadcasters to not make it to the game they are working on time. It does sometimes happen though, apparently.

Chris Cuthbert and Ray Ferraro were in Boston last Thursday night to call a game between the Maple Leafs and the Bruins. They were scheduled to fly out of Boston and make the short trip to New York on Friday morning. It’s far from unusual for commentators to work games on back-to-back nights. It has happened seven times in the first three months this season on Canadian national TV alone. Ferraro was working games on three straight nights last week. However, a winter storm in the northeastern United States delayed Cuthbert and Ferraro’s trip to New York.

At first morning flights were delayed until noon. Then that flight was cancelled, followed by the 2pm flight as well. When trying to re-book they found out LaGuardia Airport had shut down for four hours. Around the same time, about 3:00pm Eastern, Aaron Ward and Gord Miller found out they might have to step in for Cuthbert and Ferraro should they not make it to New York in time for puckdrop, which was just seven hours away. Ward was preparing for the studio show, Miller was at home. Under four hours is not a lot of time to prepare to do play-by-play and colour commentary.

Ward preparing hard to fill-in for Ferraro. (credit: @GMillerTSN)

Ward preparing hard to fill-in for Ferraro (credit: @GMillerTSN)

Back in Boston the decision was made to make the two-hour drive to New Haven, Connecticut. Once there the plan was to catch a train to New York City, which could have got them to Manhattan up to an hour before puckdrop. But all the trains to New York City were sold out. So the drive to New York City, about 90 minutes from New Haven, continued. With a couple of hours until the start of the game, there was still a chance to make it to MSG on time. That chance ended when the driver missed the turn on to the George Washington Bridge and they ended up in New Jersey. Once in New York City traffic held them up for another 15 minutes, but ten hours later they were finally at MSG.

They arrived just as Patrick Wiercioch scored to make it 2-0 for Ottawa in the middle of the first period. They had a few minutes to prepare while they waited for the next commercial break. In the final minutes of the first period they took over for Miller and Ward who were calling the game off a monitor in Toronto. Almost everyone has a crazy travel story, but it’s hard to top what Cuthbert and Ferraro went through while on the short trip from Boston to New York last Friday.

Beirness… Kate Beirness hosting the NHL on TSN studio show would usually qualify as big news. Beirness joins the few women who have worked in the studio on national hockey broadcasts in Canada – Andi Petrillo was the first in Hockey Night in Canada‘s sixty year history earlier this year. For those wondering, James Duthie was on assignment. And it was Beirness’ birthday. She is also hosting TSN’s March Madness coverage starting next week.

McKenzie the Second… Those in Winnipeg may have noticed Shawn McKenzie is Sportsnet’s new Jets reporter. The McKenzie name is could well known in hockey broadcasting. To answer the question everyone’s probably asking. yes he is Bob’s son. So now he’s working for the competition of the network his dad works for. Wouldn’t it be crazy if he out-scooped Bob for a Jets trade when the trade deadline comes around in a few weeks?

Figure Skating Worlds… CBC Sports is in London, ON for the World Figure Skating Championships. Coverage begins tonight at 9:00pm local. Scott Russell will host the broadcasts, with Brenda Irving, Kurt Browning and Tracy Wilson in the broadcast booth. I would think CBC will use the same broadcast crew for Olympic figure skating next year.

No Hockey Hurts CBC More Than Most Others

Chances are both professional hockey players and the NHL’s 30 owners will come out of the lockout just fine. As the argument goes, it’s a battle of millionaires against billionaires. Sure neither is making money now, but both will be (if a fair, sensible CBA is agreed upon), sometime within the next year. Looking past the players and owners, and even the fans who will have to find something else to do on cold evenings during Canadian winter, there are many who are truly hurt by this lockout. Those who work at NHL offices (which are affected by cuts already), undoubtably the teams themselves will make cuts too, those who work at the arenas that are now empty for weeks at a time in some cases. And I’m sure there are countless others.

But, considering the focus of this blog, it seems only right to focus on the members of the media. TSN and Sportsnet will have no problem keeping their hockey personalities busy between retro games with new studio shows (on TSN), AHL/CHL games (on Sportsnet) and countless segments on every second of Donald Fehr’s life on the highlight and talk shows. There’s little doubt that these jobs are in jeopardy. However, the freelancers who work behind the scenes are left scrambling. Sure some will find work on those AHL and CHL games (and other events too), but some won’t.

And then there’s the CBC. The public broadcaster relies on NHL hockey, which is consistently its top-rated weekly program, to generate revenue to help finance other CBC programs. The government recently cut funding to CBC, including CBC Sports. Now not only does CBC have to find replacement programming for four hours a week (taking out three hours for a classic game), but they also have to find other streams of revenue in the face of cuts and a loss of expected revenue from hockey.

Last time Gary Bettman announced the NHL would lose a full season, news soon followed that Chris Cuthbert had been cut by the CBC. Even though he expected to become Hockey Night in Canada‘s primary play-by-play commentator, CBC couldn’t commit to paying his salary with taxpayer dollars (among other things, I should point out) when there were no hockey games for him to call. I’m not saying that CBC will cut Jim Hughson, Mark Lee, or anyone else this time, but they ware in a better economic position eight years ago. If they had to cut HNIC spending then, it would be reasonable to assume they might now too.

CBC will need to find work for high-profile Hockey Night personalities during the lockout. Sports Weekend returns from its summer hiatus in two weeks. Sports featured this winter include figure skating, alpine skiing, speed skating, bobsleigh and curling. Mark Lee has experience calling figure skating. I’d recommend using Scott Oake on ski racing, where excelled during CBC’s 2002 and 2006 Olympic coverage. Of course using HNIC personalities on Sports Weekend could prevent CBC’a amateur sports regulars, like Brenda Irving and Steve Armitage, from getting assignments.

Ron MacLean will host CBC’s classic broadcasts on Saturday nights, a similar role to his hosting of Movie Night in Canada in 2004.

Quebec vs. Montreal… It’s a rivalry that hasn’t happened in the NHL in over 15 years. NHLPA players have organized a series of charity games between teams featuring NHL players from Quebec City and Montreal. The players will compete for their city. With the Canadiens opening game for Thursday cancelled, RDS has elected to show one of these games instead. It will air on RDS INFO, while RDS has baseball and RDS2 has NFL.

Sportsnet not showing A’s-Tigers… No doubt viewers across Canada were as confused as I was when a classic 1979 MLB game (clearly from MLB Network) showed up on TV screens nationwide Sunday afternoon. Sportsnet missed he first inning of the Athletics @ Tigers game before restoring the correct MLB Network feed. Word from Sportsnet is MLB Network initially set them the wrong feed. They then had to get in contact with MLB Network to get the other feed (that the game was on) approved.

Jamie Campbell initially laid the blame on MLB Network. Turns out that was a bit rash, but he was probably as confused as the viewers, to be fair.

Costas on MLB Network... Bob Costas will return to calling postseason baseball for the first time since the 2000 ALCS. Costas will call the Cardinals @ Nationals game with Jim Kaat tomorrow afternoon for MLB Network (1:00pm, Sportsnet). Costas has called regular season baseball on MLB Network for the past couple seasons; however, these games are usually not available on Canadian television.

Other baseball playoff games tomorrow are Giants @ Reds (4:00pm, Sportsnet; if necessary), Orioles @ Yankees (7:30pm, Sportsnet) and Tigers @ Athletics (9:30pm, SN1; if necessary). If the Reds and Tigers win tonight, the Orioles @ Yankees game will move to 8:30pm.

9.79*… ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back for a second season (or third, depending on how you count). The first of the new docs to air in Canada is “9.79*”, the story of Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the men’s 100m final at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Most are familiar with the story. Johnson, a Canadian, won the race. He was later banned because he tested positive for steroids. As a result Lewis, who is arguably the best Olympian ever, moved up from silver to gold.

The film recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. You can see the TIFF trailer here. It will air Thursday night at 8:30pm ET on TSN. The second season of 30 for 30 will continue on Thursdays over much of October, November and December.

Shaw Direct simsubs… I tend not to complain about simsubs. They support the Canadian broadcast industry. However, sometimes things go too far and consumers have the right to know more. Shaw Direct recently began carrying Citytv HD Toronto. That’s all fine; however, shows on that channel are now simsubbed over the American channels everywhere in Canada. Even here in Atlantic Canada, where the closest Citytv affiliate is in Toronto, we have to watch Citytv.

I never received any simsubs on Shaw Direct until they bought Global, at which point they started simsubbing Global HD nationwide. Personally, I didn’t really have a problem with this. At least when Shaw bought Global they also added Global Saint John to the Shaw Direct line-up and launched a New Brunswick specific newscast (the only one by a private broadcaster). It was easily visible how this simsubbing revenue was having a positive impact on local television here in New Brunswick. I’m not so okay with having to watch Citytv when Rogers has no local programming (let alone a channel) in the Maritimes and for that matter, they don’t have very much original programming whatsoever.

NCAA FB games… Usually when there is a major college football game on an American cable channel, Canadian fans get the shaft as it rarely airs here. That’s not the case this Saturday when #3 South Carolina travel to Death Valley to face #9 LSU on ESPN (airs at 8pm ET on TSN2 in Canada). Fans have two selections at 12:00pm as #6 Kansas States faces Iowa State on SN1 and Iowa travels to Michigan State on TSN2.

Check back later in the week for CFL weekend ratings (as well as baseball playoffs, maybe), this weekend’s NFL games on Canadian TV, some Engraved on a Nation news, and an update on the World Cup Qualifying games that will air this weekend.

5toWatch:

  • MLB: There is potential quadruple header postseason baseball both Wednesday and Thursday (as of writing this the Giants and Reds are tied 1-1 in the 9th). Games are tentatively scheduled for 1:00, 4:00, 7:30 and 9:30 both nights. All on Sportsnet or Sportsnet One. Get watching!
  • FIFA WC Qualifying: As an Ireland supported, I can’t even begin to express my excitement that Irish home matches aren’t on PPV now. Ireland’s new World Cup qualifying home campaign begins Friday against Germany at the Aviva (2:30pm, GolTV). Among other key games, next Tuesday (October 16) Canada will travel to Honduras to play our final game in the current stage of CONCACAF qualifying (4:00pm, Sportsnet). The Canadian team will likely need at least a point to advance to the next round.
  • College Football: There are plenty of big college football games this weekend, including four that pit two top-25 teams against each other. My best bets are #13 Oklahoma vs. #15 Texas at the Cotton Bowl (12:00pm, ABC), #17 Stanford @ #7 Notre Dame (3:30pm, NBC), and #3 South Carolina @ #9 LSU (8:00pm, TSN2).
  • Alouettes-Argonauts:  Who would have thought that Toronto would could overtake Montreal in the standings on a Sunday afternoon in October (1:00pm, TSN). Well, they do. A slightly mediocre (by their standards) Alouettes season and a surprisingly good campaign for the Argos have led to this.
  • NFL: There are only two games this week that match-up two teams with winning records, and they both air in the late timeslot Sunday afternoon. The Patriots and Seahawks are both 3-2 heading into their game at Qwest Field (4:05pm, CBS). Viewers who receive CBS from Seattle, Boston or Detroit will get this game. The 3-2 Giants also travel to the Bay Area to face the 4-1 49ers (4:25pm, FOX). This game will air on pretty much every FOX station available in Canada, except FOX Seattle.

London 2012: Medals for Commentators

Right then, the Games of the XXX Olympiad are now closed. Regardless of TV coverage and Canadian performances (or lack of), London put on a great show. It was a great Olympics for the United Kingdom. Now that the Olympics, and CTV’s reign as official Olympic broadcaster in Canada, are over, I thought I’d have a little fun. Rank the commentators who most deserve medals. I’ve included any commentators that I’ve heard on a regular basis over the past couple weeks. CTV and NBC. I know some (many?) will disagree, but I don’t really care because the Games are done now. Chances are Rod Black won’t call a gymnastics competition anytime soon. And Blythe Hartley and Joanne Malar won’t be on TV at all.

I’ve divided everything up into three categories. They are: Play-by-play, Analyst and Studio host. I’ve also created a top 3 list exclusively for commentators working in Toronto. Here it is.

Play-by-Play (on-site)
Gold: Terry Gannon (rowing/canoeing, NBC)
Silver: Rod Smith (swimming/diving, CTV)
Bronze: Paul Romanuk (weightlifting, CTV)
4th: Gord Miller (athletics, CTV)
5th: Mike Emrick (water polo, NBC)

Gannon is one of the more versatile play-by-play commentators in North America. A play-by-play announcer for Golf Channel, he is now part of NBC due to the Comcast takeover. While Rob Faulds is a good rowing commentator, Gannon’s calls were level-headed and rarely biased.

Smith has a prime role in Canadian sports broadcasting as the 6pm ET host of SportsCentre. Personally, I think his talents are better used in the broadcast booth. His booming voice was great for speed skating in Vancouver and swimming in London. I’d like to see him get a spot calling play-by-play for the CFL on TSN, personally.

Romanuk is one of the all-time great Canadian sportscasters. He’d probably be right there with Chris Cuthbert and Dan Shulman, had he not decided to move to London a few years back. He called basketball in Beijing for CBC, before moving into the obscure (in Canada at least) sport of weightlifting in 2012. Not only did he impress, especially on the call for Christine Girard’s bronze medal, but I often watched a sport I had never watched before.

I was also pleasantly surprised by Miller. For me, the trio of Miller, Moorcroft and Smith was the best during the Olympics. They put the biggest night of the Games, day #8 in athletics, into great context. His call of “an extraordinary Saturday night in London” paid homage to the great Don Wittman in a way. I’ll never forget watching that athletics session and Miller’s commentary goes hand-in-hand with it. I also loved that Miller let Jamaica have their moment of glory before mentioning that Canada had finished 3rd in the men’s 4x100m relay.

Emrick is best-known as the main play-by-play commentator for the NHL on NBC. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of water polo. However, Emrick’s voice during the middle of summer makes it worth tuning into.

Play-by-Play (Toronto studio)
Gold: Luke Wileman (soccer, CTV)
Silver: Eric Smith (boxing, CTV)
Bronze: Jim van Horne (tennis/badminton/boxing, CTV)
4th: RJ Broadhead (beach volleyball, CTV)
5th: Bryan Mudryk (various sports, CTV)

Luke Wileman was the voice (in Canada) of the greatest soccer game in Olympic history (as British commentator Dan O’Hagan put it). Not only was he the voice of that match, but also the redemption game for Canada against France for bronze. The team captured the hearts of the nation. Wileman called it from Toronto, and very well-so, I may add.

Eric Smith might not be a familiar name to many. He works on The Fan 590 as a Raptors analyst. For the Olympics, he was as boxing commentator. Even though he was in Toronto, he caught things that some at Excel might not even have noticed.

Jim van Horne and Bryan Mudryk get on the list for being versatile, if nothing else. Van Horne called Milos Raonic’s marathon match against Jo Wilfried Tsonga, the Bruce/Li doubles semifinal (badminton was never even originally scheduled to air in Canada in English) and the debut women’s boxing with Mary Spencer. While none of those athletes went on to win medals, they were some of the seminal moments in the Games. Van Horne is an Olympics veteran, and a valuable asset to the CBC come 2016.

Heese and Broadhead impressed me overall. I actually preferred them to NBC’s beach volleyball commentators, who seemingly repeated the same, tired cliches day after day. They did their research, attending the Canadian Olympic Trials in July. Broadhead new the athletes, the terms and the rules. He impressed on Nordic sports in Vancouver and again on beach volleyball in London.

Mudryk only beats van Horne in that he called judo, taekwondo, equestrian. Who knew he was so versatile. I’d honestly never watched judo before, but Mudryk explained the rules perfectly, better than the analyst Frazier Will in fact. I’ll admit, I almost gave this spot to Vic Rauter simply for his counting-up of points during Martine Dugrenier’s repechage match.

Analyst
Gold: Michael Smith & David Moorcroft (athletics, CTV)
Silver: Emily Cordonier (volleyball, CTV)
Bronze: Mark Heese (beach volleyball, CTV)
4th: Rowdy Gains (swimming; NBC)
5th: Russ Anber (boxing, CTV)

Smith amd Moorcroft were exceptional on CBC in 2008, and again this time for CTV. Moorcroft put Britain’s super Saturday into a great British perspective, without coming across as biased. Canada had great results in the heptathlon and decathlon. Smith was a decathlete for Canada, so he was able to analyze the competitions better than both. Both Smith and Moorcroft acknowledged the rule broken by Canada in the men’s 4x100m relay. In fact, they were first to say it must be a lane violation because all of the handovers were legal. Again, not biased. By luck, and preparation, CTV’s athletics team was Olympics broadcasting at its finest.

Cordonier was very impressive in her broadcasting debut. She was another example of a Canadian commentator who was better than her American counterpart at NBC. Her and Kevin Quinn worked well together. She explained many of the technical rules of indoor volleyball (which are more detailed and confusing than the beach version). It didn’t hurt that her and commentator Kevin Quinn had a couple of spectacular comebacks in the men’s and women’s gold medal matches.

The same things I said about Broadhead and Cordonier apply to Heese.

With no Byron McDonald in London and the annoying Joanne Malar on CTV, Gains was the top analyst for swimming in 2012. Sure, he is a bit American biased at times, but he knows his stuff. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping McDonald is back for Rio on CBC.

Those who like Russ Anber really like him. Those who don’t, well they really don’t. He is excitable. I miss the days of In This Corner on TSN, as well as the time when TSN would produce their own coverage of World Championship fights taking place in Canada. Having Anber back on TV was a bit of a flashback to that.

Studio Host
Gold: Brian Williams (Primetime, CTV)
Silver: Al Michaels & Dan Patrick (Daytime, NBC)
Bronze: James Duthie (Daytime, CTV)

Williams is Williams, regardless of what the haters say. He knows more about amateur sports than the rest of the country combined. It will be a sad day if Sochi rolls around and Williams isn’t on Canadian televisions.

Michaels and Patrick are two legends in American sports broadcasting. I actually really enjoyed their daytime show on NBC. Michaels will now go back to being the best NFL commentator with Sunday Night Football starting next week.

I was actually quite impressed with Duthie. Who knew he was so well-versed in amateur sports? Hopefully if TSN sub-licenses 2014/16 Olympic coverage from CBC, he will host their primetime show.

Coming up later this week, I’ll have some final thoughts on CTV’s brief era as Canada’s Olympic broadcaster and how they changed the way we watch the Games forever. I’ll also look ahead to CBC’s coverage of Sochi 2014, which is less than 18 months away. I’ll also have a complete ratings report for the 2012 Olympics, hopefully on Wednesday.

NHL Conference Semifinals on TSN

Here is TSN’s press release.

As the journey to the Stanley Cup continues, TSN tonight confirmed its broadcast schedule for the Second Round of the 2012 STANLEY CUP® PLAYOFFS.

TSN has complete live coverage of both Western Conference Semifinal series – Phoenix-Nashville and St. Louis-Los Angeles – featuring Vezina Trophy-nominated goaltenders Jonathan Quick of the Kings and Pekka Rinne of the Predators, Nashville’s Norris Trophy-nominated defenceman Shea Weber, Coyotes captain Shane Doan, and Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

Games are available live nationally on TSN and TSN Mobile TV.

TSN’s coverage of the 2012 STANLEY CUP® PLAYOFFS continues tonight (Friday, April 27) with Game 1: Nashville @ Phoenix at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Action in the Blues-Kings series kicks off on Saturday, April 28 with Game 1: Los Angeles @ St. Louis at 7 p.m. ET (see complete broadcast schedule below).

TSN also takes a look back at the opening round of the NHL post-season with its 60-minute FIRST ROUND RECAP SHOW tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, leading in to live game coverage of the Phoenix-Nashville series. The highlight show focuses on all of the biggest moments from each First Round series, with close attention paid to the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators’ series, and the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series.

TSN’s live coverage of the 2012 STANLEY CUP® PLAYOFFS runs through the end of the Third Round.

The network’s extensive coverage of the NHL post-season features play-by-play announcers Gord Miller and Chris Cuthbert and game analysts Ray Ferraro and Darren Pang.

NHL ON TSN host James Duthie is in the TSN studio for pre-game shows and intermissions, alongside Hockey Insiders Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger, analysts Aaron Ward and Marc Crawford, and guest analyst and former NHL head coach Paul Maurice.

NHL Playoff TV Guide: April 23-24

There is an update to TSN’s commentators tonight, so here is an updated version of the NHL Playoff TV Guide for the next two days. I won’t have a chance to post tomorrow’s schedule tomorrow, so here it is today. These are all confirmed.

Monday April 23
7:00pm, New York Rangers @ Ottawa Senators – CBC, RDS
CBC: Bob Cole, Garry Galley & Glenn Healy (reporter: Cassie Campbell)
RDS: Pierre Houde & Marc Denis

9:00pm, Phoenix Coyotes @ Chicago Blackhawks – TSN*, RDS INFO
Chris Cuthbert & Mike Johnson (reporter: Sara Orlesky)

Tuesday April 24
7:30pm, Florida Panthers @ New Jersey Devils – TSN, RDS
Gord Miller & Ray Ferraro (reporter: Katherine Dolan)

* A 30 minute pre-game show will air before this game.

I will post the schedule for Wednesday and Thursday on Wednesday afternoon. Also, look for some ratings for the weekend later today.