I got an email recently from a buddy of mine who works in sports broadcasting (primarily the NBA) about the spat between Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick that erupted on NBC Sports Network last week. He could have cared less about who was right or wrong or why they were arguing in the first place. (A hit in a game that night was deemed dirty by Milbury, a startling departure for a guy who's renowned for regularly accusing the game of going "soft" —which is the term Roenick used in describing Milbury's response to the hit in question.)
No, what my friend couldn't believe was how the the fracas was handled by a network "with no ratings that nobody is watching."
After several minutes of heated debate, it all boiled over into a flurry of insults, comebacks and yes, clenched fists. And just when you thought these two guys might just proverbially drop the gloves themselves, what happens???
Bill Patrick, the host of the show, undoubtedly getting frantic orders in his ear from a producer in the booth, throws cold water on the whole deal. "Gotta jump in here," he said nervously, before making a few lame references to "Democrats versus Republicans....never gonna resolve this here....thanks for being good sports...." while making the universal "time-out" sign with his hands.
Bad enough he and his clueless producer cut these guys off. As my buddy said, "If they let these two keep arguing, who knows what happens?"
Worse was what they cut to: A dopey segment along the lines of "create your own highlight of the night."
On a network whose viewership is down 21 percent from January 2011 to January 2012?
In January 2011, the network (then called Versus) averaged 78,000 viewers. In January 2012, the first month of NBC Sports Network, that figure had dipped to 62,000.
I'll give my buddy the final word on this one:
"In cable sports terms, cutting those two guys off is the equivalent of Jack Nicholson giving an Oscar speech and the band playing him off. Unbelievable."
Couldn't agree more.
Which brings me to Don Cherry's rant on his Coach's Corner segment on CBC after the first period of the Toronto Maple Leafs game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Veins popping, eyes bulging, Cherry ripped into Burke for what he claimed was the team's lack of players from Canada (the province of Ontario in particular) and worse still, Burke's lack of interest in acquiring any.
This is nonsense, of course, but Cherry's co-host Ron MacLean didn't intervene, sitting placidly—as he is so inclined most of the time—as Cherry blathered on, checking off Ontario players on other NHL rosters, claiming that "those beautiful kids" playing in the Greater Toronto Hockey League would love to play for the Leafs one day but never will because of Burke.
He also moaned about how he and his fellow Ontario residents have to "pay his [Burke's] salary" for a team that hasn't made the playoffs for three years in a row, "probably not four and not have one guy from Ontario, that's a crime as far as I'm concerned."
Of course, the truth is the Leafs took a player from the GT League in the first round of last year's draft. When Burke was the general manager of the Anaheim Ducks team that won the Stanley Cup in 2007, most of the players on his roster were from Canada. One of the stars of that team was Corey Perry, who grew up just down the road from Toronto in a city called Peterborough.
But the facts and the truth aren't the point of Coach's Corner—last Saturday night or on any Saturday night.
People tune in to watch Cherry go off, and he rarely disappoints. Last Saturday night he was at his classic best, paranoia and xenophobia in full bloom. Oh, and no need here to reference the through-the-roof ratings for Hockey Night In Canada or Coach's Corner in a country that treats hockey like a religion. This is admittedly not the case in the States, but that's exactly the point.
The next day, the Web was full of reactions, responses and updates on Burke and Cherry's "feud."
This is exactly the kind of thing that would have been manna from hockey heaven for Milbury and Roenick and their American network that is desperate for any twitch of life.
Oh yeah, I forgot. They had to cut 'em off to get to that must-see-TV "highlight of the night."
Hopefully, the suits at NBC Sports Network learned a little something from their friends to the immediate north.
Only time will tell.