ATLANTA – Without fail, Anson Carter’s face hurts from laughing every week while filming “The NHL on TNT.” It began the first week, when the crew cracked jokes until seconds before the red light flashed, and Wayne Gretzky interrupted the banquet to ask, “What are we talking about now?”
Not even the Great One is safe from chirping, as the crew call it in hockey slang. On set, Gretzky is new. His lifelong Gucci tab, eternal devotion to the sweater vest or even when he appears on set again, can all be points of discussion for dissections, roasts, and jokes.
“It’s like being a rookie in your first game,” Gretzky said of his first night in the studio. “You don’t want to make a mistake. So I figured I was going to follow his lead and I was going to be the person who pretends like that.”
Carter, a veteran analyst who worked in the NHL for 10 years, offered Gretzky some advice after one of his first tapings. “Do you ever go into a game saying, ‘I only want one point tonight and I’m going to take it easy?’ Or do you think: I’m a savage. I’m getting five or six points?”
After NBC Sports’ long run as the national carrier in the United States, WarnerMedia turned to hockey after WarnerMedia reached $1.575 billion in a seven-year deal to split the NHL’s television rights with ESPN. The discovery of sports remains in its early stages. Networks are making a big and lucrative bet that fans will continue to watch live professional games and hockey remains an untapped source of interest in the United States. Turner Sports has the agreement to televise 72 national games each season, including the annual Winter Classic around New Year’s Day, half the playoffs and every other Stanley Cup final starting in 2023.
For Craig Barry, executive vice president and chief content officer of Turner Sports, the network’s first priority isn’t growing audiences. They know that dedicated hockey fans will tune in. The goal is to expand and improve the game viewing experience by using smart technology, showing different points of access and rendering the game more authentic – such as sharper, sharper cuts and better camera angles – than it was on television in Canada. The way it is presented, the same way.
The network aims to intersect hockey and culture inside a studio show where analysts Carter, Gretzky, Rick Touchett and paul bissonnet Join host Liam McHugh. Convincing Gretzky, arguably the sport’s most famous player, to join was no small feat. Gretzky said his family had recently relocated from California to Missouri, which made taking regular treks to Atlanta more manageable.
“I had a tremendous scenario in Edmonton where I was with the Oilers for the past few years and loved every minute of it, and didn’t really have the stress and pressure of being in the trenches every day,” Gretzky said. He has been a partner and vice president for the Oilers before resigning in May. “And so when it came along, it’s still an opportunity to be around the game. And I watched every game every night for years. It’s been fun and exciting and yes, I’ve been doing it myself for a while.” I can see.”
The easy formula for Turner to replicate would be its popular “Inside the NBA” studio show, shot at nearby Studio J. but the personalities of Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neill and Kenny Smith Coordinating for years.
NHL staff are striving to create a show that can stand on its own with the chemistry they felt from the start, thanks to Tara August, vice president of talent relations at Turner Sports, on the task of putting the crew together. Alleged was a few short months.
On a recent night, Staff wanted to congratulate Touchet on his recent induction into the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame. First, producer David Gibson shared a statistic he discovered during a production meeting for the show with two dozen staff members.
“All-time leading penalty minute for Philly,” Gibson said. “Something to be proud of. Too many goons in the last few years.”
Someone asked if any splits used as a precaution against Covid-19 remain in the studio, so a temporary penalty box could surround Talket in the air during the segment. Laughter ensued, a plan was drawn up, and less than two hours later, a surprised and playing touchet found himself encased in Plexiglas throughout the show.
McHugh, a former NBC Sports host and the only member of the on-air crew present for the production meeting, quickly agreed to the bit. As host, he controls subjects while allowing analysts to react on the spot.
“Basically, here’s a lesson for the kids,” McHugh joked. “Don’t prepare and you could be on national TV too.”
For more serious topics, he will make a leading proposal on the points of discussion. Already, during a game in the Ukrainian Hockey League, the crew has covered up heavy notes such as racist taunts aimed at a black player, Jalen Smirek; Death of former NHL player Jimmy Hayes from overdose; and brought up by allegations of sexual assault Kyle Beach While he played for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The on-air talent, Minus Gretzky, met to discuss his performance, before Touchet was presented in his homemade penalty box.
bissonate, a former promoter who hosts “Spittin’ Chicklets,” a popular podcast on Barstool Sports, recalled Carter addressing the allegations in between.
“And when it probably comes to a guy who doesn’t play much and fills up water bottles, maybe I can comment on that,” Bissonte said. “I kind of see that guy going forward for the team because we had to deal with it and we didn’t really have to follow through. And then we went ahead and then started talking about hockey because that’s really what we wanted to do. It was unfortunate that we had to talk about it, but we don’t want to shy away from those things.
“Yeah, but it was no different, biz, you were talking about Jimmy Hayes,” Carter said.
Even producer Gibson doesn’t know what will happen next. The bisonette is the wild card of the show.
“There’s a little bit of pause in what you’re going to say because you have to put it through a filter; whereas if it’s like a podcast, if it slips through, you can always edit it or you can really just go here and there.” Can drop F bombs there,” he said.
To Gibson and everyone’s surprise, Bissonnet recently dropped a slur on live television.
“I don’t think it’s bad, especially for TNT,” he said. “I’m sure a lot worse has been said.”
“Okay, that was one of them, I was smiling at you because it’s, well, feelings, I totally agree but…” McHugh said.
Bissonte interrupted: “You shouldn’t listen to podcasts enough because there’s too much bad to be said.”
Which brought the group back to the absent Gretzky.
“Gretzky came out, he’s the greatest player in the world, but Gretzky first chirped the show,” McHugh said.
“Immediately,” said Bissonnet. “Everyone is licking their chops. Couldn’t wait.”
“You didn’t expect like a counterpunch,” McHugh said. “Gretzky killed everyone. He’s like a sneaky killer.”
“It’s Wayne’s personality though,” Touchet said. “I coached him, I played with him. Everyone is afraid of him.” He added that he always wanted someone to cheer him on in the locker room.
Gretzky, scheduled for a limited number of on-air appearances, immediately worked with the team to fit in. Before the season, McHugh got a call out of the blue. His eyes lit up and his wife asked him who was the caller. “It was Wayne Gretzky,” he said. “He was recommending an eye doctor.”
“He wants to provide entertainment for the hockey world,” Bissonte said. “I feel indebted to him for what she has provided him. I know that if I were him, I would probably be somewhere on the beach and you would never see me.”
Gretzky plans to return to the show at the Winter Classic and join the playoff race. Turner Sports is researching ways to use Gretzky’s expertise with new technology. And the network is hoping that an eager hockey audience will watch on Wednesday nights and, in the spring, Sunday afternoons.
“Sometimes you can focus on your work and tackle serious issues or just focus on hockey, hockey, hockey,” Carter said. “But the lines between entertainment and sports, I think here, are just so blurry that it’s like, ‘What is entertainment and what is sport?’ We are trying to bring the two together. And I think it has worked out very well so far.”