Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time to Step Up: "Blue Jackets Slap Shots"

Less than two months into the 2010-2011 NHL season, I think I've seen enough of Fox Sports Ohio's weekly "Blue Jackets Slap Shots" show to render an opinion.  And, right now, I'm not sure that this experiment in Columbus Blue Jackets non-game programming is meeting its potential.

After five episodes, the shows have landed upon a now-standard format: An opening segment with original content, game highlights from the past week and "filler" content.
  • The opening segment, to the best of my knowledge, has always been an interview.  To the best of my recollection, they have shown taped inteviews with Scott Arniel and Rick Nash (together in a montage) and Antoine Vermette.  They also have shown host Ray Crawford interviewing The Fourth Period's Dave Pagnotta, FSO.com's Eric Smith and FSO's game analyst, Bill Davidge.  Of the five, the Arniel/Nash piece was fantastic, the Pagnotta piece was interesting insofar as it reflected upon the Sweden trip and Eric Smith's was useful because he gave an actual opinion that made me think (that the Chicago win could represent a turning point in the season).  I like Vermette and appreciate Davidge, but those two interviews did not grab me.
  • Crawford generally does a good job with the game highlights, but I'm finding that his "Slap Shots" highlights are perhaps a tad too polished for my tastes.  Personally, I like a sports personality who conveys the raw excitement of the games that he's covering.  (See: Darren Pang for hockey, or Chris Berman for football.  The CBJ TV and radio pairings also can raise their level when circumstances warrant.)  Crawford, in my opinion, does a much better job with highlights immediately following games.  Perhaps less rehearsal and more spontaneity is best for this type of work. 
  • I call the last bucket of show content "filler" because it generally feels like just that.  As a regular CBJ game-watcher on FSO, I'm finding that many of these pieces are the same ones that have run in-between periods on game nights.  Beyond that, packaged segments asking players silly questions ("What would you be if you were not a hockey player?"  "What's the most embarassing song on your iPod?") might appeal to the legions of teenage Jared Boll fans, but they're not my cup of tea.  Clearly, I was spoiled by the footage documenting the CBJ trip to Sweden that ran in the first couple of episodes - that content was very well done and showed us something that the many CBJ fans who did not go to Sweden couldn't see.  On the bright side, however, FSO has avoided the saturation usage of saccharin-laden CBJ Foundation pieces - I won't deny that doing good works is a terrific thing for a public figure like a professional hockey player to do, but surely they do more than that.  And the "Ask the Expert" segment with Jeff Rimer is OK.

I like Ray Crawford (left) as a host.  Sure, he's not Bob Costas.  He's not Jim Nantz.  And that's OK.  He likes his job (and it shows), keeps the show moving along and isn't afraid to inject a little life into what could be a VERY stale format.  Comparing Crawford against other regional sports channels' hosts, he's right up there in terms of quality.  (But he DOES need to punch it up with the highlights.  Hockey is an exciting game, for pete's sake!)

Where I think that the show is lacking is on the original content front.  There is too little of it, and what there is has become formulaic in very short order.  I offered a few suggestions in my review of the initial "Slap Shots" broadcast, and then again in my followup post.  It's clear that the show has budgetary limitations (not surprising), but even those limitations can be worked within while not resorting to gonzo journalism or Letterman-esque stunts.  

Perhaps the easiest and least expensive thing to do with the show is utilize the people and set that are already there.  Get the expert interviewees off the phone and into the studio, and have Crawford actually talk with them.  Better yet, put the Davidges, Rimers, Smiths and/or other CBJ media types (The Hockey Writers?  The Dispatch guys?) of the world into a room at the same time and let them recap the last week, debate the hot topic facing the team, whatever.  Splice in appropriate game content to match up with the topic du jour, and you've got yourself something worth watching.  NESN already does a show like this with Mike Milbury hosting The Instigators - maybe FSO can aim their antennas toward Boston and take notes.  (Or they could just go to this link.)

Another segment that I enjoyed was Bill Davidge's "hockey school" where he, along with some AHL'er prospects, demonstrated the fundamentals of the new Scott Arniel system.  Whether that was from a game intermission or "Slap Shots" - I cannot recall.  (That in itself is telling.)  Regardless, more of that live x's and o's material is interesting to those of us who enjoy yet are still learning the intricacies of the game.  

In summary, I want to reiterate that I am still glad that FSO is devoting resources to "Slap Shots".  It is a decent show that, with a little of the creativity that FSO has demonstrated through productions like their "All Access" broadcast (detailed in item number seven in this post from last season), could be really, really good.  They've got a great studio set, their host is solid and they've demonstrated the ability to produce great content.  I've got faith...it'll keep coming together as the season moves along.  

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