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TORONTO–Ron MacLean was just 26 when he began his 28-year run as host of Hockey Night in Canada. His predecessor, Dave Hodge, was also just 26 at the start of his CBC tenure.
So, at 41, George Stroumboulopoulos is way too old to be taking over as host of Canada’s most iconic TV franchise.
Yet there he was, the guy in the black jeans, the only one of five not wearing a tie as Rogers TV boss Scott Moore introduced his first line of HNiC hosts. After TSN scoop meister Bob Mckenzie screwed things up by tweeting out the Strombo news Sunday, press were quickly summoned to CBC’s 10th floor Monday afternoon to make it all official. The press conference was held in what will be the HNiC broadcast sound stage. A sketch of what the set will look like was flashed on the screen.
Moore welcomed Strombo first and he said all the right things about landing what truly is a dream gig. George will host the Saturday HNiC broadcasts on CBC for the next four years. SportsNet’s Jeff Marek, an old pal of Strombo’s, will host Fridays games over various Rogers platforms. Darren Millard will host Wednesdays.
MacLean, 53, was introduced and shook Strombo’s hand, telling him, “Don’t screw this up.” MacLean will continue to appear as part of the Saturday CBC broadcast as Don Cherry’s straight man on Coach’s Corner.
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Moore said the plan all along was to keep Coach’s Corner and to show it in between the first and second period no matter what game is on in your region. Rogers plans to cover 600 NHL hockey games a year, with multiple choices each weekend.
Cherry came up last and kibitzed with Moore. He signed a two year deal, which is a year longer than he usually signed with CBC. “What difference does it make?” he said to me after the session. “Two years, four years, I could go any time.”
Cherry has been saying that for 30 years.
MacLean was nothing but gracious, saying it was time for a change and welcoming Strombo as a good fit. He said George is far more experienced as a host and a broadcaster than he was when he began his long run on CBC, insisting that he had his rough nights at the start.
I don’t remember any. He always seemed poised and professional, almost born to be the guy in that chair. A 28 year run–that’s a Johnny Carson number, several lifetimes in television.
MacLean says, way back when he began, CBC was going to go with Brian Williams or another seasoned veteran to follow Hodge, but felt that would be like Dan Rather following Walter Cronkite and went with an unknown instead.
Some folks will find the switch hard, he acknowledged, but he figures some still miss Foster Hewitt and Danny Gallivan. Nobody does these jobs forever.
Strombo shot down any notion he was ever considered to sit in the Corner, saying that gig is Ron and Don’s for life.
Moore says he spoke with MacLean and Cherry last week in Vancouver at the Heritage Classic game, laying out his vision for the fall and beyond. The notion of Strombo as HNiC host emerged as far back as last summer when Moore and others were enjoying a weekend up at Rogers Media boss Keith Pelley’s cottage.
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Stroumboulopoulos had to leave the press conference fairly quickly to finish taping three episodes of his CBC talk show. I asked when that wraps and he says the tapings end in April with new shows airing for a few more months after that.
After that, no more George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. He says he knew that show was winding down anyway and the fact this great gig opened up at the same time was a break he just could not pass up. He hopes to continue with some form of a talk show on CBC, but not on a daily basis and that talks are on-going with that.
Some in the room were practically offering condolences to MacLean but I don’t see it that way. City has had atrocious luck picking winners for its Sunday night schedule and MacLean will front a new night of hockey on City that will instantly make them a player on TV’s most competitive night. Even CTV has been diminished in the last two years by cable and Netflix offerings such as The Walking Dead and weekend marathons of House of Cards suddenly tripping up The Amazing Race. Even PBS’s Downton Abbey has make Sunday’s a tough night to place a U.S. import on a Canadian schedule.
Now City will have the biggest live draw of the night–NHL hockey–with familiar face Ron MacLean behind the anchor desk.The universe, as MacLean agreed, seems to be unfolding as it should.
Except maybe for CBC. Moore said he’d be happy to extend HNiC on CBC beyond the four year agreement but, as he put it, who knows where TV will be in four years–“we could be watching hockey games on Google glasses.”
Rogers, of course, will be selling the Google glasses.
Whatever glasses one was looking through Monday, the optics for CBC were not good. Having three prominent CBCers on stage at a big Rogers announcement–held in a CBC studio–gave the impression that the public network was now little more than a studio landlord. It made you wonder who would be next, and what will be left.