Heidi Watney, who left NESN last November to return to her native California as the sideline reporter for Time Warner Cable SportsNet Lakers telecasts, has left the regional network without working a single game.
Time Warner, which began hiring its staff for Lakers broadcasts last year in advance of a rights agreement that begins with the 2012-13 season, formally announced its on-air talent team in a press release Wednesday.
Watney’s absence was confirmation of summer-long speculation that she was no longer part of the network’s plans.
Watney, a popular if occasionally controversial personality during her four years (2008-11) as NESN’s in-game Red Sox reporter, was replaced by Mike Trudell as the Lakers’ sideline reporter.
A network spokesman would not confirm an official date when Watney’s employment at TWC ended. But the network did provide a statement, first to Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News, on her departure.
“Heidi Watney and Time Warner Cable Sports have reached an agreement that allows Heidi to leave the organization to pursue other opportunities,” the statement said. “Both parties entered into their original agreement some months ago with the best of intentions, but as Time Warner Cable Sports has evolved toward its official launch, the talent needs of the network have been altered.
“Heidi and Time Warner Cable Sports have parted on good terms. Heidi is extremely talented and TWC Sports expects that she will have great success in her next role and throughout her entire career. We wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Industry sources told the Globe that there was frustration on Time Warner’s part that the news of Watney’s hiring last November became public before the Lakers had been informed of it.
Further, the Lakers were livid, according to a source who was at one point a candidate for the job, because they had been assured by Time Warner not long before the news of Watney’s hiring became public that they would have input in all personnel decisions. Time Warner had already hired Watney, the source said, when it agreed to the Lakers’ wishes for a significant and perhaps even final say in each hire.
Her departure from TWC ends an unusual arrangement in which she was essentially on stand-by for a year.
In August, the website The Big Lead was the first to report that there had been a falling out between Watney and the network. That speculation was fueled further when Watney recently auditioned for a role on ESPN’s “First Take” that eventually went to Cari Champion.
Watney’s next endeavor remains a mystery. She did not respond to a message Thursday inquiring about her status and whether she’d consider a return to Boston. But such a scenario seems unlikely.
While she was popular with viewers and handled her role with increased capability each year on NESN, the University of San Diego graduate admitted to occasional homesickness for the other coast while she was in Boston. Her eventual departure was not greeted with disappointment by some co-workers who found her difficult.
Watney nearly left NESN by mutual decision after her second year, but the network picked up the option on the third year.
Avert your eyes
With the bottom falling out of the Red Sox season as they’ve plunged to the bottom of the American League East, it’s no surprise that there has been a coinciding drop in NESN’s game ratings. Pretty sure the only people still tuning in are those curious whether Alfredo Aceves will attempt to maul Bobby Valentine the next time the manager tries to take him out of a game. In mid-July, when the Red Sox held a 43-43 record, NESN’s game telecasts were averaging a very respectable 7.5 household rating. In the two months since then, the Red Sox have gone 21-38, and that average rating has dropped to a 6.64. While the recent Yankees matchups have earned a nightly number in the 6s, there have also been some extremely low-rated games lately. Neither last Friday nor Saturday’s rain-delayed games against the Blue Jays rated higher than a 3.2, and last Sunday’s 1:30 p.m. start that went up against the Patriots opener pulled a 1.68 . . . Channel 4’s ratings for that Patriots opener were predictably huge, with a 19.6 rating, a 59.8 share, and 1,148,290 total viewers. The total viewership peaked at 3:30 p.m. with 1,317,140 tuning in, earning a 22.5 rating and a 63.7 share in that window.