Patriots to add talk format to preseason TV booth
Games will feature a talk-radio-like feel
Boston fans could be excused if the upcoming NFL season isn't front and center in their consciousness, what with the Red Sox in first place and the Bruins playing for the Stanley Cup deep into that traditional hockey month, June.
But the Patriots, who stole a few headlines during their just-completed minicamp by adding a certain polarizing and discarded Jets quarterback, aren't so far away from their first preseason game.
And when local viewers tune in to Channel 4 on Aug. 9 to watch their matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, the experience will be considerably different from the preseason broadcasts of recent seasons.
"[The preseason broadcasts will be] a talk-radio-type program without the yelling and the screaming and the agenda-driven stuff,'' said Matt Smith, the executive producer of Kraft Sports Productions. "We're looking at the preseason games as an opportunity to try something different. Make it more conversational, make it more analytical and insightful.''
Changing the format means a change in personnel. Gone is the conventional broadcast team of Don Criqui, who has called Patriots preseason games since Robert Kraft bought the franchise in 1994, and Randy Cross, the analyst since 2002.
"Don and Randy have done a great job," Smith said. "They came to the organization at a time when it was important to have national people represent the brand. I think, today, the emphasis for people watching it is that it's more of a local show. We need people who truly, truly know the team."
While the talent roster for the new format isn't finalized, all signs point to Channel 4's Dan Roche taking over as host rather than a conventional play-by-play voice ("a traffic-cop role,'' Smith said), with former Patriot Christian Fauria alongside as an analyst.
There will also be a former Patriots player on the field as an analyst rather than a conventional sideline reporter. There are still details to be worked out on who it will be.
Throughout the broadcast, there will be cutaways and split-screen shots of Patriots Football Weekly reporters Paul Perillo and Andy Hart in a separate studio, where they will analyze personnel, explain plays on a telestrator, and engage viewers via social media.
It's an undeniably innovative approach — Smith said he is unaware of any other NFL team trying this — and the enthusiastic, informed Roche is a wise choice as host.
Smith said it's been in the back of his mind for a while, born from the belief that the standard down-and-distance approach to calling a preseason game can get pretty stale late in a broadcast, when many players are unfamiliar and unlikely to make the team.
"How long are the starters in there for? The first game, a couple of series. The fourth game, a couple of series. When they're in, we're going to cover the game in a very traditional way,'' Smith said. "But that's a small portion of the game. In the fourth quarter, it can get pretty stale. A preseason game is the perfect outlet to try it.''
But hardcore football fans are used to a game broadcast being presented a certain way. Smith said he is aware that there may be backlash at the beginning as viewers adjust to the format.
"I don't know if the traditionalist is going to like it, and I certainly respect that,'' he said. "But these games seem to cry out for something different."
After a superb 15-year NHL career in which he scored 416 goals for five teams, Tony Amonte returned to his Massachusetts roots. He's the head hockey coach at Thayer Academy, and is in his fourth season as a contributor to Comcast SportsNet New England's postseason Bruins coverage, where he has grown into the role of a candid, amiable foil to Michael Felger on their pre- and postgame studio programming.
"It's fun, it's fun, that's why I do it,'' said Amonte, who said CSNNE just called him out of the blue four years ago and asked him if he wanted to give TV a shot. "Three or four years in, I'm starting to get comfortable in front of the camera. It is a blast. You get comfortable knowing your surroundings, the cameramen and the producers and everyone else.
"They just want to know what I'm thinking and why I saw it that way and to use my experience as a player to get that across. It makes it fun for me, it's almost like watching it with buddies at home and having a few beers and talking about the game and players and what they're doing."
Because the Bruins are playing the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final, Amonte is a popular figure this week. It would seem he would have loyalties in both directions, having scored 268 goals in nine seasons for the Blackhawks. But he's convincing when he says he's not particularly pulling for one team over the other.
"I'm just a third party now,'' said Amonte, who said his favorite team to watch growing up was actually the Edmonton Oilers. "I don't really have any affiliation for the series. I enjoy the games, going to them and watching them, that's what's enjoyable to me. If the Bruins win, I'll be happy, and if Chicago wins, that's great, too."
The Blackhawks' triple-overtime victory over the Bruins in Game 1 delivered huge numbers for NBC.
The 4.8 household rating nationally was the best overnight rating for Game 1 of the Final since 1997, when Red Wings/Flyers earned a 5.2. How long ago was that? The game was broadcast on Fox.
In Boston, the game received a 28.1 household rating, which was up 10 percent locally from the opener against the Canucks two years ago.