PITTSBURGH - JULY 27: Mike Emrick addresses the media at the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic press conference on July 27 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Hockey fans consistently rant and rave about individual on-air personalities and game production issues involving the broadcast of hockey on television. As a matter of fact, I can think of few issues outside of games and league discipline that can get puckheads more excitable. Look no further than the reaction created by Derek Zona's post last month ranking hockey's RSN broadcast teams. In many cases, people's likes and dislikes have to do more with personal taste than the broadcaster's ability. I'm no different.
With Dick Ebersol, former head of NBC Sports and one of the principal architects of the new 10 year NHL TV contract gone from NBC Sports, it is time for me to take over (sorry Mark Lazarus). I've come up with my Ultimate Hockey Broadcast team. Money and contract issues are not an issue for me as they are in the real world for the folks at NBC Universal. My team would work both on NBC and Versus (soon to be NBC Sports Network).
I set out to come up with the group of people I would like to most see on the air. My broadcast team consists of the on-air talent positions I think are needed to make for a quality viewer experience. You'll notice that I only use two person broadcast teams and no 'sideline' reporters. This is on purpose. I like general assignment reporting, but I'm not a big fan of pre-game or intermission interviews. I'm a huge proponent of having the color commentator sit between the benches. There are three reason why I'm a fan of this approach. One, color guys seem to make much better analytic statements when at ice level. Second, their energy level tends to stay high throughout games instead of waxing and waning. Third, because of lack of close proximity to their partner they tend to keep their comments brief.
Pre - Game & Intermission Talent
I would like to see a 30 minute pre-game show every day/night an NBC network is showing a game. This show would include previews of the upcoming game as well as major notes from around the league.
|Analyst #1||Bob McKenzie|
|Analyst #2||Pierre LeBrun|
|Guest Analyst||Assorted MSM & Bloggers|
|General Assignment Reporter||Elliotte Friedman|
I think Saunders is the best host personality in all of sports programming. The fact that he knows the sport is a huge bonus. McKenzie is the best in the business and LeBrun is a close second. McKenzie has been doing fine work on TSN for years and LeBrun was the only reason to watch the Satellite Hotstove segment on CBC the last couple of years. I would use Friedman as an assignment reporter doing what he does best, finding and telling engaging stories about the players and coaches. The third analyst position would be a rotating one. The idea would be to bring a different dynamic into the studio based on the major story lines going on in the sport at the time. The guest analyst position would be a free flowing situation and wouldn't be used on every broadcast.
Game Broadcast Teams
Given the schedule commitment NBC has given to the NHL, NBC networks will likely need two main teams, as well as two secondary teams, in order to cover all the games, especially in the playoffs. NBC has already made it clear that the situation from the past needs to change by hiring Mike Emrick and Dave Strader full-time this off-season.
|Play by Play||Between the Benches|
|Broadcast Team #1||Dave Strader||Darren Pang|
|Broadcast Team #2||Mike 'Doc' Emrick||Mike Johnson|
I'm sticking with the two play by play guys the NBC brass have gone with for several years now. The only switch I made was moving Strader and Pang up to the number one team. Strader has been a solid play by play guy for years. He first came on my radar when he was doing games for ESPN. I watched a fair amount of Panthers games back when he was their play by play guy as well. While I wasn't a fan of the Strader/Pang pairing in Phoenix, mainly due to Pang's homerism, their work together on national TV games has been excellent. When Pang doesn't have a horse in the race his commentary gets much more focused and intelligent. In addition, the two have a rapport that exists even when the two are separated physically.
Emrick's style works for me, though I know not for everyone. His enthusiasm and ability to drop minor league references throughout his broadcasts make him special in my book. The only reason I put Strader ahead of him is I feel like Strader, at times, is better at seamless transitions between in-game moments and in and out of breaks. Mike Johnson is the best up and coming analyst in hockey. I've been extremely impressed with his work on the NHL Network and TSN.
Secondary Broadcast Teams
|Play by Play||Between the Benches|
|Broadcast Team #3||Gary Thorne
|Broadcast Team #4||Bob Cole||Darren Eliot|
Thorne was and still is a favorite among many in the hockey community. His contract with ESPN doesn't allow him to do NHL game which is a shame. Thorne has a commanding presence on the air and only dovetails when he's stuck with a color commentator who is poor. Reaugh is one of my favorite RSN color guys. He's knowledgeable and has a passion for the game. While Cole isn't the announcer he once was, he's still better than 90% of his colleagues. He knows when to talk and when not to. This skill is highly underrated. Similar to Emrick, his hockey knowledge and recollection abilities are outstanding. He's hockey's version of Vin Scully when it comes to old time stories. Eliot is a more understated version of Reaugh which I think makes him a perfect partner for Cole.
Highlight Show Talent
The one area that has been missing from Versus is a honest highlight show. This may be due to not wanting to compete with NHL On The Fly, but the fact is doing a highlight show immediately following games seem like a no brainer ratings wise. You should be able to keep a significant amount of your audience, In addition your only competitor is NHL on The Fly on the NHL Network.
|Anchor #1||Linda Cohn|
|Anchor #2||John Buccigross|
I'm a proponent of having one straight person and one entertainer on anchored highlight shows. Cohn fits the straight person bill, while Buccigross with his love for dropping music references and nicknames fills the entertainer role. Both are great general sports anchors at ESPN, but they are both at their best when doing puck highlights.
Who would choose if you could form your own broadcast team?