Fox Sports’s mission Thursday was apparent: take an artificial milestone and use it to dole out a few fairly relevant staff and programming tidbits while — most important — building anticipation for the arrival of Fox Sports 1.
With 100 days to go before an Aug. 17 launch, the occasion was used to reveal Fox Sports 1’s opening-day programming lineup as well as introduce some new talent hires.
Before even setting its schedule, Fox Sports 1 already has a head start on a massive audience. Rebranded from the Speed Channel, it will be immediately available in 90 million homes, and thus, its designs on challenging ESPN (which is in roughly 99 million homes) are very real, if daunting.
Fox Sports 1 isn’t the little engine that could, but the big engine that might. Given what it is up against, it is important to build as much advance buzz as possible.
The approach was effective — it got a headline here, right? — though the anticipation from this writer is more like curious skepticism. That’s particularly true when it comes to a certain talent import from north of the border.
First, the good.
Fox Sports 1’s debut lineup includes 16½ hours of live programming, with seven hours of NASCAR events in the morning and afternoon leading into a prime-time Ultimate Fighting Championship event, titled “UFC on FS1.” That will originate from TD Garden, and it’s not the only tie to Boston among the revelations Thursday.
Molly McGrath, who has spent the past two years as the in-arena host and reporter during Celtics home games, was hired as an update desk and breaking news correspondent. The 2011 Boston College graduate, whose other duties included hosting the monthly “Celtics Now!” program on Comcast SportsNet New England, acquitted herself well during her time with the Celtics and is projected for big things. According to industry sources, she had also caught the attention of ESPN.
Jim Bell, a 2000 Boston University graduate, joins the network as an anchor on its nightly flagship news and highlights program, Fox Sports Live, which premieres at 11 p.m. on Fox Sports 1’s inaugural day.
But it is the much-touted tandem of hosts hired for that program that brings out the curiosity. And skepticism.
Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole have cohosted “SportsCentre’’ on Canada’s TSN since 2003. Their popularity is such that when their departure for Fox Sports 1 was confirmed last week, none other than prime minister Stephen Harper lamented the news, tweeting a picture of the three posing together and the words, “Worst play of the day: Jay & Dan leaving TSN. Best of luck in the US, gents.”
Onrait and O’Toole are often cited as the Canadian versions of Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick, who turned ESPN’s “SportsCenter’’ into “The Big Show’’ in the ’90s, their wit and chemistry making the program must-see television.
Having first become familiar with Onrait and O’Toole during the Vancouver Winter Olympics, I can say the influence of Patrick and Olbermann is obvious. But the comedy might not translate stateside.
Their goofy charm seems more goof than charm, and watching their shoehorned banter was sometimes mesmerizing in an is-this-for-real? manner. It reminded me of a “Saturday Night Live’’ skit circa 1997, and not a particularly funny one.
Maybe I’m wrong, that the sample size was too small, and I should be more willing to endure Olbermann/Patrick tribute bands. Maybe Onrait and O’Toole deserve more of a chance.
We’ll see. I’ll be tuning in on Day 1 of Fox Sports 1 to find out. I suppose that counts as the anticipation the network covets, lukewarm as it may be.
Performing a split
CBS Sports and Turner Sports announced Tuesday their plans to rotate and split coverage of the men’s basketball Final Four and national championship.
CBS will still have the national title game in 2014 and ’15, while TBS will televise the semifinals. They will also divide games in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.
TBS gets its first national title game in 2016, with the semifinals on CBS.
Could 2016 mark the end of Jim Nantz’s run of calling the championship game, which began in 1991?
It’s possible that the CBS lead voice still gets the assignment since the networks have shared a pool of announcers since the 14-year, $10.8 billion deal to share the telecasts began three years ago.
But Turner does have its own appealing options, starting with Marv Albert.
Hard to believe the 20th anniversary of Reggie Lewis’s death is this summer, but it’s true. Comcast SportsNet New England will pay tribute to the fallen Celtic, who died at age 27 of cardiac arrest on July 27, 1993, with an hourlong documentary that debuts in July. I’m looking forward to it if only to see footage and hear reminiscences and anecdotes about a wonderful young player. But I’m also curious to see how much of the time is dedicated to some of the grim details surrounding his death and the aftermath. It’s an important part of the story if it’s to be told in full . . . Steve Ciaccio, who left his longtime role as producer of WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan’’ program April 2, is joining Regan Communications, where his clients will include the Celtics. He will not be taking over the WEEI account . . . The Bruins delivered record ratings for NESN during the regular season, with a 6.3 average household rating in the Boston DMA. It’s no surprise that the numbers are even better in the postseason. Through the first four games of their first-round series with the Maple Leafs, the games are averaging a 10.0 rating, with Wednesday’s overtime thriller checking in with a 10.8.