Note: This column appeared in the Boston Globe July 11, 1984.
Lemme get this straight . . . the reason why I got “Hogan’s Heroes” last Sunday on Channel 38 instead of the second game of the Red Sox-Angels doubleheader was that Ch. 38, also known as WSBK-TV, wanted to make me yearn for baseball on cable television, specifically on the New England Sports Network (NESN to marketing folk), a company of which Ch. 38 (actually, Storer Broadcasting) is a part owner?
Pardon my naivete, but I think that stinks.
So this is what it’s come to, huh? A so-called “free” TV station wishes to promote subscriptions to a pay-TV system in which it is a major investor (along with the baseball team itself) by denying the public of the very product it purports to be selling. Set aside for the moment the fact that 99 percent of us couldn’t even order the cable-TV service if we wanted to.
Please understand what I’m saying. The only reason you, me and several hundred thousand other baseball fans didn’t get to see Game 2 of that doubleheader was that the management of Ch. 38 wanted to further its own Machiavellian aims. I’d say that’s amazing, but then I remember that their partners in crime here are Buddy LeRoux and Paul Mooney, a duo which has never been accused of being dedicated to the betterment of the New England sports fan. If you’re in the hemisphere and either of them walk in, please remember to put your hand over your wallet.
Many fans make the fundamental mistake of assuming that just because a television network or individual station carries a sporting event, the people involved either (a) care about what they present or (b) know what the hell they’re doing. Golf fans, for example, already know what CBS thinks of them, based on the network’s habit of cutting away from the end of a tournament when it presses against their “regular programming.” In last Sunday’s case, Ch. 38 demonstrated astonishing illogic, thus revealing its ignorance of sports itself.
Consider the circumstance. The Red Sox were ending a well-publicized home stand characterized by sensational finishes. Interest in the Red Sox is at a seasonal high, as people are now aware that the team is, if nothing else, highly entertaining, thanks to its explosive offensive capabilities. Once the Saturday game was rained out, Ch. 38 had the opportunity to present its viewers with an entire day of baseball on Sunday.
Sunday’s first game was exciting. One minute the Sox are heading toward a victory, the next minute it’s tied, then the Angels have a man in scoring position, then Jackie Gutierrez is falling down while heading home with the winning run, and then Mike Easler is ending it all with a base hit to left. It was all great theater.
Here I was, sitting home, fired up by the sensational ending and thinking but one thought: Let’s get that second game started! I switched away for a while to the US Olympians-NBA game on Ch. 4. After 25 minutes I went back to Ch. 38, and what did I see? Bob Crane! And it wasn’t even our Bob Crane. I immediately hit the “Off” button, sat down and sulked. I doubt I was alone. I’m sure they’re saying over at Ch. 38, “Hey, how were we to know that the first game would be good enough to get people excited about the second game?” The answer is that if anyone over there had a feel for sports, they would have been willing to take that chance.
The one thing I was sure of was that there would be a beauty of an explanation from the Ch. 38 folk, and there certainly was. They didn’t want to give us another game because they wanted us to realize how much we needed NESN, which, of course, they happen to own. Forget about promoting the entire product, which, in case anyone at Ch. 38 needs to be reminded, is the Boston Red Sox. Forget about the fact that’s it’s not as if anyone can make a phone call and get NESN installed in the morning, anyway. Forget about the immediate ill will caused by the whole episode. Just blunder forth in ignorance and arrogance, in the finest television style.
The depressing aspect of all this is that Ch. 38 had spent a decade making friends among New England sports fans with outstanding coverage of the Red Sox and Bruins. But isn’t it interesting that as soon as they climbed into bed with LeRoux, Mooney and a fatuous character named Peter Affe - who, as head of NESN, has demonstrated all the charm of a Czechoslovakian border guard - Ch. 38’s previous good sense disappeared?
Anyway, it is comforting to know that someone wasn’t deprived of an opportunity to view another scintillating episode of “Hogan’s Heroes.”