I tend to be very critical of NESN (so much so that I once was contacted via email by one of the producers over there because of something I wrote about here). Twitter has become a wonderful outlet for me to get my jabs in (especially since they come to me while I’m watching NESN…I feel the need to sometimes get them out before I forget them) and given how much I’ve written about them over the years it seems to me that folks might get the idea that I don’t like NESN. That isn’t the case. Well, it kind of isn’t the case. The thing is, I want to like NESN. I want NESN to be the channel always on my television. Problem is, aside from Red Sox baseball (or Bruins hockey), there is nothing appealing about NESN. There is nothing NESN shows, outside the game, that makes me think “I should check the schedule, maybe I’ll want to watch or DVR something on NESN tonight”.
So because they didn’t ask, I decided to share with you what programming would be like if I were head of programming at NESN. (Fair warning: This is a long one!)
* Bring back Sports Desk – Before they assaulted us with NESN Daily I had been wondering why I had taken to shutting the show off halfway through when I hadn’t done that early on in my Sports Desk viewing. Then it hit me: Sports Desk used to only be 15 minutes long. My first suggestion for NESN? Give NESN Daily a swift yet painful death and bring back the 15-minute version of Sports Desk. You know what real sports fans want? Sports scores and highlights. You can touch on every local sports team, and even sometimes include youth, high school and college teams, in 15 minutes. Sports Desk had become obsessed with trying to be Sports Center and it wasn’t (and didn’t need to be). We don’t need visits by Mike Adams or Akrobatic, we need to know who won the games and what great plays were made doing it. It’s as simple as that. Keep the scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screen so we can see the other scores (and include Boston sports team scores in the ticker) and just keep it simple. Run this on a loop for two hours each morning from, say, 6-8, while folks are getting ready for work or school and be done with it.
*Shorten Red Sox/Bruins Pre and Post Game Shows – I don’t want you to get rid of these, I just want you to make them shorter. Anything over a half an hour is overkill. Red Sox nor Bruins fans really care what the likes of Nick Cafardo or Peter Abraham or anyone at the Globe has to say on a pregame show when we can visit the Globe site or pick up the newspaper any time we want. Bringing in “Insiders” doesn’t add anything to the show. I can’t believe I’m about to write this next line but here you go: You already have Heidi Watney, use her. She gets access to all the players, coaches, front office folks and managers…that’s all we need. (Ditto for Naoko Funayama who, given her extensive knowledge of sports, might be able to give Watney some pointers on covering the game.) The post-game need only recap what happened in the game, give us some post-game interviews and let us know what happened around the league that night. None of that should take an hour or more, 30 minutes should cover it. Having local reporters on the broadcast (especially given they only come from one of the local papers that cover the Sox) adds nothing to it. When Peter Abraham is blogging and tweeting about how “soft” Jacoby is and I turn on NESN to see him waxing sympathetic over Ellsbury’s plight, he and NESN lose credibility. Use your studio hosts and analysts, Don, Jerry and Heidi and get rid of the excess. You wouldn’t have to use hours of valuable programming time showing us infomercials if you didn’t have to pay a half a dozen extra people to do the work you already employ other people to do. Which brings me to my next suggestion:
* Kill the “Paid Programming” – Kill it dead. As I sit here this morning watching last night’s game whittled down to one hour I wonder why they can’t show the two-hour version of the game like they do at midnight. Then I check the schedule and see it’s because they need to show us three hours of “Paid Programming” before they show us an hour of NESN Daily reruns. We then get another three-hour block of infomercials from 2am (when the midnight, two-hour version of the last game ends) to 5am (when NESN Daily starts up for three hours). Six hours of commercials in a 24-hour period. It’s ridiculous. If you want your network to be something people want to watch you need to not use 1/4 of your programming time showing crap.
* Replay the entire baseball/hockey game – We’ve established you have six hours of programming to fool around with…is there a reason we have to watch such heavily edited replays? You can throw in repeats of Sports Desk or any other show I’m going to suggest to fill the odd time between when a game ends and the top of the hour if you need your programming to be neat. NESN’s replays of the games (especially the baseball games) usually edits out a lot of good stuff just to fit it all into a 60 or 120 minute block. The Red Sox and the Bruins are why people watch your network, NESN, so you really can’t show too much of them.
* Get rid of any programming not related to the sports you cover – Dirty Water TV, World Tennis with Harry Cicma, Golf Destination, 3 Wide Life, Cruisin’ New England, On the Hook, Global Fight League, Yard Work and even Charlie Moore Outdoors (sorry Charlie) - these are not ratings grabbers. Your network is about hockey and baseball, show us hockey and baseball.
* Yankeeography is more than just a joke – Red Sox and Bruins fans love their teams as much as Yankees fans love theirs. Let’s not get all stupid and call it Bruinsography, but biography shows on our favorite players and our favorite teams (how many times will people want to watch a hour on the 1967 Red Sox or a biography on Tony Conigliaro?) would be a huge success. There is so much you could cover and, again, you have the access to do it. How is it possible that you don’t have a show like this on the air right now? THIS is a show you could the repeats of to fill the “Paid Programming” time with and people would actually tune in to see it.
* Classic Games – Why wait until the off-season to show us classic Bruins or Red Sox games? Heck, they don’t even have to be games where something amazing happened, just older games where the teams won. Many is the time I wish I could watch Pedro Martinez pitch again or see a Bruins game with Bobby Orr. Instead of repeating Sports Desk (or, in the real world right now, NESN Daily) give the viewers something that will compel them to keep your network on their television.
* Trivia – People like trivia shows. It gives them the opportunity to look smart or the chance to actually learn something. Either way, if you do it right, folks will tune in. Doing it right does not involve using a host who gives the country a reason to hate people from Boston (NESN has a penchant for encouraging the annoying stereotypes of the Boston sports fan) nor does it involve production values that make the local high school’s version of The Sound of Music look ready for Broadway. I think both Pocket Money and The Batter’s Box have tremendous potential but right now they are painful to watch. Also, hiding The Batter’s Box and shoving Pocket Money down our throats with endless commercials are two terrible ways to get folks to watch. Most people I asked didn’t know the former even existed and avoid the latter because the host is so obnoxious in the commercials. You know who many folks like and don’t move to turn off the channel when he’s on? Jimmy Dunn. The guy needs to do more than just those commercials. (And, no, I have no connection to Dunn. Don’t even know him. I just know, aside from the God-awful Heidi Watney commercial, his Olympia Sports commercials are one of the most amusing things on NESN.)
* Never, ever, ever again subject us to Sox Appeal or NESN’s Comedy All-Stars – There’s nothing else I need to add here.
* Athlete’s Wives – This is a subject that fascinates me and not because I ever wanted to BE an athlete’s wife. I didn’t. But I’m intrigued by the mindset of women who knowingly (or in some cases when they meet at very young ages, unknowingly) end up the wife of an athlete. Interviews on how they deal with the daily grind while their husbands are away, how they handle groupies, how they feel about the sport and how they help their husbands get through losses and slumps would make for good television.
* Films about baseball or hockey – A Player to be Named Later has become one of the most talked-about, non-game related shows you’ve given us this year. True, we have a connection because Marco Scutaro and his wife are heavily featured but it’s a fascinating piece even if you don’t have a connection to any of the players highlighted. While I’m on the subject:
* Highlight the Minor Leagues more – We want to know who the kids are coming up. Show us more than a handful of the games a season. Give us spotlights covering the hot prospects. Interviews about what it’s like to come up through the Red Sox organization would be informative and entertaining.
* Show us the players off the field/ice – NESN already has a show coming in September called After the Game (conceived, I recently discovered, by John Henry’s wife, Linda Pizzuti) that they are advertising as a kind of MTV Cribs-like show. Part of me is intrigued, but a larger part of me doesn’t know how some of the fan base that already complains about how overpaid and spoiled athletes are will react to showing us EXACTLY how over-paid and spoiled these athletes are. I don’t think we need to see how lavish their lives are but I’d like to see how they are with their families and the fans. You could create an entire show around following a different player each week on a day in their life without rubbing it in the faces of the fans about how much more amazing their lives are than ours.
NESN has so much potential and it’s being wasted. The MLB Network has taken a huge chunk of their viewership, I’m sure, but they can get some of that back if they just get a little creative and don’t fill the time between Red Sox and Bruins games with the vapidness that makes people run for their remote controls. (And these are only some ideas…I have more, NESN, I have more!)