Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Don’t touch that clicker, Ron, Don and the rest of the crew remain as the CBC’s hockey vicars!

The news that Hockey Night in Canada won’t change its long time home has been welcomed by more than a few Canadians, happy with the familiar home of Saturday night hockey.

Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail provides perhaps the best testimony to the Mother Corporations Saturday night block of programming and the importance that it still holds over Canadians despite the many entertainment options now available to them.
His article not only looks at the continuation of hockey on the CBC, but how the national network plans to stay relevant in the sports world while its private competitors continue to gobble up sports properties.

Brunt: Hurrah for CBC Hockey Night deal
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Admit it. It would have felt strange, at least at the start, to watch Hockey Night in Canada at a new address with a new set of tenants, displaced faces and voices.

There is comfort in the familiar, especially when you reach a certain age and everything seems in flux. For some, perhaps, that alone isn't enough to trump frustrations with Bob Cole or Don Cherry, suspicions that it often seems too much like Hockey Night in Toronto, questions about why the public broadcaster is in the business of bidding against private enterprise for the right to televise professional sports in the first place.

But from here, it seems just fine that hockey will remain a Saturday night fixture on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for at least the next six years.

No, Hockey Night isn't what it once was, or what some, feeling the need to mythologize about the game and Canada and national identity, pretend it still is.

Families are not necessarily gathered around their televisions on Saturday night for the great ritual of common belief. There are thousands of options now that didn't exist in the days when folks were more than happy to wait for a game that was joined in progress. Now, you can watch any game, in any sport, at any time, from anywhere, plus everything else.

And it's an act of Boomer myopia to assume that everyone's nostalgia for Ward Cornell is the same as their own.

That said, there's nothing wrong with maintaining a few signposts in a confusing landscape. Beyond that, if anyone wants to turn this into a public policy discussion, they'd best be prepared to go far beyond hockey, beyond sports, beyond rights fees and star announcers' salaries, and discuss what the CBC is, what it ought to be in an increasingly fragmented broadcast universe in which national, cultural borders are going to be ever harder to maintain.

It's not enough to say that they (we) have no business paying through the nose for hockey without talking about how, or if, the public broadcaster ought to be supported, and how Canadian programming for Canadians ought to be defined.

To single out Hockey Night is to do what (irony of ironies) many a CBC bureaucrat has done over the years — suggest a split between high and low culture in which sports, by definition, occupies the bottom rung.

The fact is, the anti-sports element in the Corp. has seen its golden opportunity pass. Last year, the Canadian Football League sold its broadcast and new-media rights lock, stock and barrel to TSN, meaning that another long-standing tradition — the Grey Cup on CBC — will come to an end after this November's game in Toronto.

Already the CBC has been outbid for Olympic rights after the 2008 Games in Beijing, removing a motherhood, flag-waving event from what had long seemed its natural home.

Many figured those two losses were the death knell for CBC Sports, especially when Brian Williams departed for CTV/TSN, and soon afterward, Nancy Lee left the post of head of network sports for a job with the Vancouver Olympic Committee.

Instead, the CBC is back in the game with a flourish, holding on to the Saturday night flagship for another six years (plus the weeks of prime-time programming provided by the Stanley Cup playoffs), soon to be back in the business of broadcasting Toronto Blue Jays baseball (a slate sure to increase next summer with the loss of the CFL), making a major commitment to soccer (both on the international level and, it is rumoured, the fledgling Toronto FC), and hiring a new head of network sports, Scott Moore.

For some, that means the immediate future will bring more opportunities to complain about rampant Maple Leafs homerism that began with Foster Hewitt, about Cole getting the odd name wrong, about Cherry (he'll be 79 when the deal is up, and don't bet against him still being there) offending just about everyone, the same-old same-old.

For the rest of us, it's something to hang on to, knowing that one of these days we're going to miss them when they're gone.

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