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NESN Remains Silent On Orsillo

Jason Barrett

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When Don Orsillo signed what would be his final contract with NESN in November 2011, Sean McGrail, then and still the network’s president and chief executive officer, offered heady and accurate praise via a press release confirming the news:

“Don is one of the preeminent play-by-play announcers in the league and one of the reasons NESN’s Red Sox broadcast is considered among the best in the business. He brings passion and meticulous preparation to his work every night, along with a sense of humor that has endeared him to Red Sox Nation.”

The irony of that statement is hard to miss today. NESN’s reasons for retaining him four years ago are the exact same reasons so many fans are outraged that he’s being dumped — thus far without explanation — at the end of this season.

Red Sox fans and NESN viewers have reacted to Tuesday’s news that Orsillo will not be back next year with a relentless outpouring of support. As of early Thursday evening, a change.org petition asking Red Sox owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe) to restore Orsillo to the role he held since 2001 had nearly 37,000 signatures.

At the e-mail address of your faithful sports media columnist, the response has been overwhelming and without a lull since the much-rumored news broke on WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” show, and the message is virtually the same in each piece of correspondence:

“Why would NESN do this? It makes no sense. If they don’t bring him back, I might be done watching NESN.”

For now, NESN’s approach to the backlash seems to be to wait out the storm and hope it all blows over. Multiple requests to Red Sox chairman Tom Werner and NESN spokesman Gary Roy have gone unanswered. Other than a press release confirming the decision and emphasizing the talents of Dave O’Brien, who is moving over from WEEI’s Red Sox broadcasts next year, NESN has gone into full radio-silence mode.

The approach — confirming the news in the middle of a game that Orsillo was calling — was awkward and insulting, and it does no favors for O’Brien, an outstanding broadcaster who has been put in an uncomfortable position. (According to an industry source, O’Brien has decided to refrain from commenting on the situation for the time being out of respect for Orsillo.)

The optics were awful. It’s understandable to some degree if NESN was caught off-guard that the news got out. Yet it was common knowledge that Orsillo’s contract was up at season’s end, and there’s been industry chatter for at least a year that the network was considering a change.

But it’s not the question of “why now?” that has led to so much backlash.

It’s the simpler question that remains unanswered: Why do it at all?

ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes received the closest thing I’ve seen to an explanation when he cited a source Wednesday saying this: “We wanted to make a change.”

Well, obviously, but Orsillo’s fans aren’t about to relent in their demand for more detail. Here’s how I posed the question to a NESN spokesman in an e-mail:

“One question I still have — and I’ve been hearing over and over from Red Sox fans — is why was the change made? Obviously it’s NESN’s prerogative to do so, and his contract was up, but I figured I’d at least reach out and see if someone there cared to explain it further. O’Brien will be great, but the timing and seemingly callous treatment of Don has people puzzled.”

The response thus far is no response at all. Another irony in all of this is that NESN is entirely responsible for creating the backlash, and not just because of the graceless manner in which the situation has been handled publicly. If the network didn’t entirely create Orsillo and Jerry Remy’s cult of personality, it certainly was happy to emphasize it.

When you consider Orsillo’s most memorable moments in the Red Sox booth, it’s not the calls of big games and big moments that come immediately to mind (mostly because NESN cedes playoff and World Series games to the networks), but the silly moments and often hilarious banter with Remy. Orsillo isn’t just familiar and comfortable to Red Sox fans. It’s more than that. So many laughs have been shared through the years that it feels personal, as if you’re saying goodbye to a friend you wish would stay a little longer.

Barring a highly unlikely reversal of the decision — a reaction to the backlash that would be more shocking than the decision itself — Orsillo’s days and nights as the voice of the Red Sox are dwindling. Thirty-four games remain in the season.

Four years ago, when Orsillo signed what would be his final contract with the Red Sox, the press release touted that he’d called more than 1,400 regular-season games on NESN. Four years later, that number must be in the range of 2,000, a milestone that under most circumstances would be worthy of celebration.

But because of NESN’s bewildering mishandling of the situation, this is no ordinary circumstance. Instead of appreciating all the games Don Orsillo has called, his fans are left wondering, without an answer, why there will be just a few more to enjoy before he’s gone.

Credit to the Boston Globe where this story was originally published

Sports TV News

ESPN Plans 20 Hours of College Football Playoff Selection Coverage

The College Football Playoff teams will be unveiled at 12:15 PM ET, with the rest of the New Year’s Six matchup being revealed at 2:30 PM.

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ESPN has more than 20 hours of studio coverage planned for the selection of the College Football Playoff.

The College Football Playoff teams will be unveiled at 12:15 PM ET, with the rest of the New Year’s Six matchup being revealed at 2:30 PM. Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Joey Galloway, Jesse Palmer, and David Pollack will be on the main set as the selections are revealed.

Several other personalities will join the show including analysts Greg McElroy, Robert Griffin III, and Dan Mullen, in addition to Paul Finebaum, Matt Barrie, and Chris Fowler.

ACC Network and SEC Network will also separately produce shows discussing the bowl selections.

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Sports TV News

Chris Fallica Leaving ESPN for FOX

Neither FOX or ESPN would comment on the situation, but in the Awful Announcing report it’s believed that there will be a send-off of some sort for Fallica on Saturday.

Jordan Bondurant

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A prominent sports betting voice featured on ESPN’s College GameDay will be heading to rival FOX and their Big Noon Kickoff show starting in 2023. According to Awful Announcing, Chris Fallica, affectionately known as “The Bear”, will make his last appearance on GameDay will be this weekend.

Fallica has been with ESPN since 1995. Since 2013, Fallica had been featured on GameDay making betting picks with his patented “Bear’s Board”.

Neither FOX or ESPN would comment on the situation, but in the Awful Announcing report it’s believed that there will be a send-off of some sort for Fallica on Saturday.

Fallica joins Tom Rinaldi as the second former GameDay voice to jump over to FOX and be featured on Big Noon Kickoff.

Both shows have experienced incredible viewership growth this season. For GameDay, there have been several weeks this season that have seen some of the largest audiences in the show’s history.

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Sports TV News

Tim Brando Believes Executives Look For Familiarity, Not Great Voices For Announcers

“Executives are going more for people they think they audience knows from having been in the studio. As opposed to man that’s a great voice, that guy really gets it, and his judgement is fantastic.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Tim Brando has seen the broadcasting industry has evolved in a lot of ways through the years, but one thing that’s remained constant is how infrequently some of the announcing gigs with major networks open up to younger voices.

That’s mainly because you have veteran talent already occupying those positions with no plans for the immediate future to step aside.

On a recent edition of The Sports Talkers Podcast, FOX Sports broadcaster and host Tim Brando spoke to Stephen Strom about the reality that many broadcasters face.

“Yeah there are a lot more jobs, but there are fewer great jobs,” Brando said. “A lot of guys are getting jobs, but it’s like a dead end.”

But in terms of hiring younger talent for network jobs, he thinks it’s become more about adding faces to broadcast booths rather than voices.

“There’s a tendency I think now in our business to hire more visible and perhaps more popular talent because they’ve been in the studio,” he said. “But they’re not ready to be in the booth. Not everybody can do both well.”

Tim added that there’s a nuance to calling play-by-play versus working studio coverage. Brando said that perhaps it has a lot more to do with young broadcasters bypassing getting their start in radio and going right into TV.

“It seems to me that in some circles anyway in our business, executives are going more for people they think they audience knows from having been in the studio,” he said. “As opposed to man that’s a great voice, that guy really gets it, and his judgement is fantastic.”

Brando did mention some of the younger voices at FOX who have risen to the bigger opportunities in the booth, and how they ultimately worked their way up. He said he’s had the chance to offer advice to a few of them and act as a mentor in a way, because that’s how it was for him breaking into the industry.

“I believe in pouring into the young broadcasters out there, I really do,” he said. “Because Curt Gowdy poured into me. I think there’s a responsibility and a level of accountability for the generation before to help those that are coming up that you really respect.”

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