Studio shows are a rough proposition. They're very difficult to get right, no matter what the sport. I spent the fall reviewing the various NFL shows, and none of them got it completely perfect, but some were (obviously) better than others. It takes the right combination of chemistry, opinion and restraint.
I spent my Saturday watching what are likely the most talked-about panel shows on the NHL's rightsholders (TSN's is pretty hard to nitpick about, they have it mostly correct, and also they don't come back until Tuesday) and here's what I found out.
I don't have too much to say about NBC's hockey studio show, and that's a really good thing. I spent years over at the old site taking my shots at the rodeo-esque traveling show of Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire, and I wouldn't take any of them back. That version of the show was loud, argumentative, and not good for hockey. Can you imagine being a somewhat casual hockey fan and dropping in on that? You'd change the channel almost instantly.
I mean, remember this?
I know some folks are still sour on ol' Mad Mike, and (especially if you live on Long Island) some of you certainly are within your bounds to be. I begrudgingly enjoy the old coot, and find him to be a fascinating watch on television. Without McGuire to rile him up, he's stayed opinionated but cut it on the theatrics for the most part (except maybe when this happened).
I've also found it intriguing to watch his stance on big-ticket NHL issues, such as headshots, evolve over the years. There were times during last season where you could clearly see Milbury -- the hard-nosed old-school hockey guy -- fighting with Milbury -- the older, wiser man clearly concerned about the future of these athletes and this sport. When pushed into a "debate" format (a la Hotstove, which we'll get to later) he tends to get on your nerves, but when breaking down the game and not being argumentative, he's as good as NBC's got.
Credit also must go to Liam McHugh, who has calmed down that studio show, given it some wit and sort of refreshing, non-good 'ol boys' network perspective. He and Milbury and Keith Jones have developed a decent little panel over there. I'd like to see more variety and give Jeremy Roenick one more shot at becoming a big-time talking head, but for now, I like how NBC presents itself.
Speaking of presentation, how great is the new NBC studio? Whereas the old set looked okay, but never great, the new digs (at NBC's brand new International Broadcast Center in Connecticut) looked fabulous, and as good as any of the network football, baseball or basketball studios currently out there. The less said of how much better it looks than the new headquarters of NHL Network, the better. NBC has a great look and a pretty darn good talent level to present hockey on a national stage.
There are a lot of things that CBC still does real well, a lot of which will be mentioned in an interview I have coming with CBC Sports' head of programming Trevor Pilling later in the week. I'll make enemies in Toronto for this, but I still think Jim Hughson's a great play-by-play man, with Craig Simpson a fine foil. I thought Rick Ball was ready for primetime in his debut with the always solid Kelly Hrudey, an instant upgrade at 10 p.m. ET. Plus, you can never really grade Don Cherry on anything, because he's not gonna' go away until steps down or he kicks it, so the whole practice is futile unless he steps way out of line. Their opening montage was pretty good, too.
But goodness, is the rest of CBC's studio show ever a mess. The Pension Plan Puppets complained about the framing of I-Desk host Andi Petrillo's figure during the intermission show. I didn't see the shot, so I'm not going to judge it, but I do think Petrillo could be better used than just narrating the occasional highlight and (my personal sports TV pet peeve) reading tweets on air. Have her interview someone from the next game on tap, or from a previous game earlier in the night. Don't leave her to mere frills and, as PPP termed it, "gossip".
That said, perhaps it was better to keep her away from the rest of the studio show, which is kind of a mess. At some point a few years ago, every NFL studio show decided that they needed at least five people (one host and four analysts) at their desks, and CBC seems to have caught up, and not in a good way. Especially when it got to the Hotstove, the panel became exactly the thing we don't want: overlapping arguments, too much talking, and didn't further the discussion.
First, let's talk about Hotstove: didn't this used to be a showcase for journalists who, while reporting rumors and scuttlebutt, were at least respected enough that you'd consider everything they brought up during the segment? CBC's gone away from the guys like Pierre LeBrun and Scott Morrison and gone towards (in past years) Mike Milbury and now Glenn Healy, Kevin Weekes and, for some reason, PJ Stock.
I'd like to see it return to an all-journo panel, and perhaps Healy can stay, given that he's usually well-connected. Keep Friedman, and pair him up with CBCSports.ca columnist Tim Wharnsby and Healy, and you might have a better segment. If it's going to be just analysts yapping it up, what makes it different from any other studio intermission show? Hockey Night in Canada is great because it's different from your typical sports broadcast, between Grapes' at the first intermission and Hotstove at the second. With more PJ Stocks and fewer Elliotte Friedmans, it's becoming more and more ordinary.
The point is this: when I'm talking about an NBC production being quiet, businesslike, and well-done, and a CBC show being controversial, contentious and messy, you know there's a bit of a role-reversal and a problem.