November 16, 2010
On Monday evening, VERSUS debuted its new 1-hour nightly (Monday through Thursday) hockey program called "NHL Overtime"; which despite having "NHL" in the title promises to cover all aspects of hockey, even if it spent 60 minutes only covering the NHL.
The program followed a lead-in of "Hockey Central" with a presentation of ... well, of something that all-too-much resembled the director's cut of "Hockey Central," only with more guys named Billy on the set.
Here's the deal: Calling "NHL Overtime" a work-in-progress would be accelerating its production schedule. What we saw last night was the first shovel in the ground; heck, our cable system told us "The Daily Line" was still scheduled for 11 p.m. EST on VERSUS. (Oh, how we miss the uncomfortable coverage of the Farve saga on that fine program.)
One gets the feeling this thing was fast-tracked to the air in record time after the demise of "The Daily Line," so let's not sit in judgment of the show's overall quality quite yet. We come not to bury but to lift-up "NHL Overtime," like a newborn Simba to the braying wildebeests below.
With Episode 1 in the books, here are a quick review and six suggestions for VERSUS' new hockey show, as we foolishly waive our consultants' fee.
Did you watch the show last night? Do you plan to watch it, going forward?
"NHL Overtime" was hosted by Bill Patrick, which probably skewed it closer to "Hockey Central" than it intends to be. He's a pro, he's improved over the years as a studio anchor, but isn't exactly a fresh face for a new venture. At this point, the host's on NHL Network's On The Fly (like David Amber) have the advantage.
As we said: Work in progress. Some of the segments didn't seem all that thought out. For example, a debate about whether that Sidney Crosby(notes) viral video from Reebok was "real" or not; sure, it's a bit, but the viewer's sitting there wondering why Billy Guerin couldn't have just texted him before the show and asked?
With that, six bits of friendly advice to VERSUS about "NHL Overtime."
1. Dump The Desk, Ditch The Suits
Oh, goodie: Another show with a bunch of guys in suits and ties sitting behind a giant desk breaking down highlights ...
The easiest way to make "NHL Overtime" distinct from "Hockey Central" and "NHL On The Fly" over on The NHL Network would have been to move the action to a more casual setting, like "The Daily Line" had or "Best Damn Sports Show" on FOX perfected. Heck, set the thing in a faux sports bar like a Food Network pub grub show. Right now, it feels like every other pre- and postgame show in recent NHL history on U.S. television. In the sense that it feels stodgy and mechanical.
Ditch the suits. Dress down. Make this show more casual and approachable than a traditional highlights show. These ex-jocks all look like they're ready to board the bus for a road trip; loosen up the dress code and you loosen up the talent. (Booze helps, too; see: Awards, NHL.)
In a perfect world, this show would feel like a bunch of guys talking hockey and breaking down that night's news and highlights. You know, like how an 11 p.m. nightly hockey show on a cable station fighting for a niche should feel like.
2. Reinvent the highlights
The first episode was highlight-heavy, which we anticipate will change. But on a game-night, is there any reason to provide full highlight packages for games that were already covered on "Hockey Central"? This new show should deal more in postgame storylines and specific highlights and trends from each game, like when Billy Jaffe goes to the magic screen and diagrams plays. Otherwise ... we can get this stuff on NHL Network.
3. Either Drop The Rundown or Steal From ESPN
Structuring the show by periods couldn't possibly be less hip. Oh, wait, check that: Not stealing the "PTI" model of the topical sidebar on the screen to indicate upcoming discussions is actually less hip than that. Borrow that, or just drop the rundown and let the viewer experience some unpredictability for once.
4. More News, More Up-To-Date News, And More News We Care About
Look, we all know VERSUS has to play nice with the NHL. But for the words "Colin Campbell" to not warrant a mention on "NHL Overtime" when that's the biggest story in hockey either indicates the production team is three steps behind the news cycle or that this program's testicles are in a lockbox on Gary Bettman's desk.
As a fan tuning in for the first time, the lack of discussion on that story might have made me not tune in again.
It's nice to have a news segment at the top of the show; it's not nice when an 11 p.m. television program is reporting on developments on a story from 12 hours earlier (in the case of Andrei Markov's(notes) injury for the Montreal Canadiens).
Look at our Puck Headlines on any given weekday: There is PLENTY of news out there to report or analyze. Either "NHL Overtime" gives us more news of a timely nature, or it tastes stale from the first moments on air.
5. Keep Going "On Location"
One of the more promising aspects of "NHL Overtime" was the use of VERSUS and/or Comcast talent to lend on-the-scene insight on games and stories. Deb Placey, introduced as "Islanders team reporter," may have been on the other side of the set from Patrick but gave the sense that she was on the Long Island beat. Her spot included a provocative question about whether Gordon was fired because he didn't play Rick DiPietro(notes) (and his contract) enough for Charles Wang.
Later they went to Jim Jackson and Keith Jones at Wachovia for a Philadelphia Flyers recap, and John Forslund and Razor Reaugh for the postmortem on the VERSUS game of the night with the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche. It's an insightful way to package the highlights, if you need to show them.
6. Finally, Give Us Copious Amounts of Billy Jaffe
Jaffe gets it. He's personable, telegenic and hockey smart. He's the right fit for what this show is and what it might become. There's a finite number of options for on-air talent on VERSUS. They've found someone who can fill one of the "NHL Overtime" chairs effectively in Jaffe.
Now, if only those chairs were more comfortable, and not stuck behind The Gigantic Highlight Desk