Tuesday, October 04, 2005

SPORTS TV IN CANADA RETURNING TO NORMAL

Well, this is it, the week sports in Canada finally returns to normal. Yee hah.

Actually, it's been normal for a while, with the return of baseball and the CFL, but now that the NHL is back we can finally say life is good in Canada again. Wish I could say the same for the broadcasters.

All I will say is that everyone in the sports broadcasting business has suffered terribly this year. And who was to blame? Why, who else. The bleeping National Hockey League and Armageddon, that's who's to blame.

And the carnage was massive this year. Of course, in an earlier post I described CBC Sports as being a "train wreck" because of what the NHL lockout did to that operation. It's fair to say now that CBC Sports has just gone through the worst year in its entire history. Everything bad that could possibly happen to that operation did happen this year: whole NHL season cancelled, curling is a debacle, they fire Chris Cuthbert in controversial fashion, and then they lose the Olympic Games right. To top it off, CBC locks itself out and we get announcerless CFL games. The last thing that needed to happen was for their own labour mess to drag down the first NHL broadcast on CBC in a year and a half.

I will say this about the CBC. This CBC lockout proved to me that the CBC has an important role to play as a sports broadcaster in this country, even though a lot of people keep ranting that they should get right out of the sports business. There's no doubt that the primary reason they're going back to work there has to do with the importance to the country of the sports division and particularly Hockey Night in Canada. (Bill Brioux agrees, calls Hockey Night their "only hit show" in fact. He took the opportunity to trash the CBC one more time for passing on Corner Gas and other shows that became hits on other networks.)

Personally, I hope CBC Sports makes a comeback from this terrible year they've had. CBC Sports happens to be the only part of the CBC that regularly produces good stuff that people actually watch, that's obvious. When they make a hash of it, people care. When people go nuts over curling coverage or over broadcasters being fired, or over whether a labour dispute is going to wipe out Hockey Night in Canada, it tells you one thing: that people across Canada care about CBC Sports and care about the programming. You can't say that about too many other divisions of the CBC.

Anyway, the good news is this Saturday there is real hockey on the CBC, not "Movie Night in Canada" or those Disney-junk shows like last year. And it looks like they may even resolve that big curling TV dispute they had and restore it to what it was before this year. Things at the CBC are looking up. About time.

I will say this, the whole sports broadcasting industry took a hit last year. The wounds were pretty deep. CBC Sports took the most visible hit, but TSN had a big gaping hole to fill on their entire schedule the whole hockey season last year. Rogers Sportsnet took a huge hit in advertising money because their regional networks had no NHL games to show. I heard there were big layoffs over there and there were reports in the Globe and Mail that there were big internal problems there, low morale and the like.

Sportscasters right across Canada ended up quitting or being fired, or left the business. Of course Chris Cuthbert is on TSN now, and Paul Romanuk actually left Canada and moved to England, if you can believe that. I don't know why he moved there. And Jody Vance quit. I didn't know this until just the other day but Jody Vance, of all people, quit Rogers Sportsnet to be a freelance TV host, and this happened about two months ago. I thought she had gone on vacation or something.

Shows you how often I've tuned into Rogers Sportsnet lately! Jody Vance is only the biggest female sportscaster in the country and they let her walk out of there.

I read somewhere that the bespeckled Jody wants to spend more time with her family and was quoted as saying she's planning to do stuff for the Food Network: that she wanted to do entertainment. But this looks really odd to me. I'm wondering if maybe there was a contract dispute or some sort of blowup, who knows. Anyway, a bad year for every sports broadcaster in Canada ended up being the last straw for Jody Vance. She got a lot of heat for doing those Quiznos sub ads with Don Cherry early this year. She got undeservedly trashed in print for doing those ads, with people saying she was not being a serious journalist and that real journalists didn't do TV ads, that it was some violation of journalism ethics. The thing is, Jody wasn't a journalist: she was a sportscaster, and sportscasters do ads on TV all the time.

I think she got disillusioned because of that uproar, and disillusioned with Sportsnet, plus I think she simply got fed up with the business. Jody's a serious broadcaster (most of the time) and sports broadcasting is rapidly becoming a big shill for the lousy National Hockey League, which feels they have to sex things up with steamy TV ads in order to get people interested. The sports TV establishment still feels compelled to hype up its every move. They shill about the "new NHL" and Sidney Crosby, and these great changes, when it's actually the same old league coming back with a bunch of out-of-shape players who took a year off. Sure, people care about hockey in this country, but it's dawning on a lot of sportscasters covering the NHL that this league isn't very important in the grand scheme of things. People are dying in New Orleans, and in Bali (again). And there are other sports and other entertainment. There's more to life than covering hockey players. Who needs it.

The TV sports business is also being turned over to the loudmouths and the hot babes. Well, that's the way it's going. These producers want to aim at a younger audience so they're prepared to toss overboard old guys and people who have interests outside of sports. I notice a lot of sportscasters are quitting the business in droves, especially younger female sportscasters. Robin Roberts and Melissa Stark ended up going into news and I read that Michele Tafoya wants to do news in Minnesota ( her home state ) instead of wasting her MBA education on doing sports. Also, sports is is an unstable business. Jody's radio buddy Todd Wright used to feature her on his ESPN radio show overnights quite often, and just recently Todd Wright got the boot, too. Canned by ESPN. If people like Todd Wright and Chris Cuthbert aren't safe in this business, heck, nobody is. You're better off getting out before you get too old to do something else. Anyway, enough about Jody Vance.

That's my rant about the year in sports broadcasting and all I will say now is I am glad a semblance of normalcy is returning to the sports TV business. And I'll definitely tune in to Hockey Night in Canada, to see this "new" NHL that they're hyping and ranting and raving about.

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