Sure, certain goofy sideshow antics that have infiltrated NESN’s Red Sox telecasts in recent years are beyond annoying. Baseball should be entertainment enough, and intrusions such as, say, an in-game reporter’s chicken-and-waffles tasting are unnecessary. But spend a little time hopping from regional cable broadcast to regional cable broadcast on MLB.tv sometime, and it quickly becomes apparent that NESN’s game production is of consistently high quality by comparison to most other markets.
For the past nine years, Russ Kenn has been as significant a part of that production as anyone. His name may not be as recognizable as those of Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy, but as the coordinating producer, he has been essential in navigating that delicate balance between the expectations of his bosses and those of diehard viewers, and he’s done it with uncommon patience and professionalism, according to many who have worked with him.
So it comes as a surprise — it certainly did at NESN — that Kenn is leaving. He began on Jan. 5, 2004, and his final day is Friday, as he decided to take a position outside of sports television as executive director of Autism Speaks in Boston. The president of Autism Speaks is Liz Feld, the wife of former NESN executive producer Joel Feld.
“The decision to leave was really two reasons of equal weight,’’ said Kenn. “I was looking for a new challenge. I’ve been doing sports TV for over 20 years now. And that leads to the second part of it, which is really a change in lifestyle.
“Sports TV and the games happen on nights and weekends, and it’s a ton of travel. I have three kids, and I and they have made many sacrifices for my job. They’re at an age where I want to be more involved, and I’ve missed a lot of stuff traveling with the Red Sox. I wanted to find a challenge of some significance and try to make a difference and change my lifestyle.”
Kenn, who married Red Sox publicist Pam Ganley in August, said the decision was not a sudden one, that he considered a change for “a year or so.’’ But his departure was a surprise at NESN, which is now searching for his replacement with approximately six weeks to go before pitchers and catchers report.
“Russ Kenn is respected and admired by his co-workers at NESN and regarded as an outstanding producer,’’ NESN president and CEO Sean McGrail said in a statement. “We thank Russ for his many contributions to NESN and wish him much success as he takes on this new challenge.”
NESN averaged an MLB-best 9.3 household rating during Kenn’s nine years with the network. He acknowledged that the increasing let’s-make-a-show-of-it approach sometimes ran counter to his general approach of letting the game tell the story, but that any philosophical differences were irrelevant in his decision to leave.
“I would say letting the game come first has become more and more challenging for everyone in sports TV,’’ said Kenn. “My philosophy was, if I was home on the couch, what would I want to see?
“We tried to keep it simple. That was a reflection on how Jerry goes about the game, and I worked with Jerry for a long time, and we worked well together because we saw television in the same way. The game’s the thing, and you try to let that speak first.’’
Kenn is sure there will be familiar pangs when the Red Sox head to Fort Myers and when the regular season opens April 1 in the Bronx. But second thoughts won’t accompany them.
“I definitely anticipate missing those big days for sure,’’ he said. “But I think I’ll have a smile on my face when they’re on a three-city road trip in May and I’m coaching my son’s Little League team.’’
Lewis on deck
In the Dec. 3 issue of Sports Illustrated, sports media ace Richard Deitsch wrote an interesting piece in which he spoke to network television executives to find out which current NFL players and coaches had been identified as potential TV analysts. Ray Lewis, Mike Tomlin, Rex Ryan, and Charles Woodson were among those mentioned. (For a local nomination, the suggestion here would be the articulate, distinctive Vince Wilfork.) Turns out that just a month after the piece ran, Lewis is already on the verge of making that transition. The Ravens linebacker, who is retiring as a player after this season, is on the verge of a multiyear deal to join ESPN’s “Monday Night Countdown’’ program, according to Deitsch. If and when it happens, here’s hoping his pregame analysis is superior to his pregame dance moves.
The envelope, please
Heidi Watney will make her MLB Network debut next Wednesday when the results of the Hall of Fame balloting are announced as part of a three-hour live program beginning at noon. Watney, Brian Kenny, and Greg Amsinger will anchor the proceedings, while Kevin Millar, Peter Gammons, Bob Costas, and Tom Verducci will be among the contributors . . . Dave Briggs, who spent five years (2004-08) at Channel 7 as a sports anchor and reporter, has been named co-anchor of Michelle Beadle’s much-anticipated upcoming talk show on the NBC Sports Network. Titled “The Crossover: Beadle and Briggs,’’ the weeknight program will debut Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. on NBCSN . . . WEEI announced the addition of an eighth affiliate Thursday, expanding to central and northern New Hampshire on WZEI 101.5.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org