After Jess Camerato revealed on Twitter last week that she wasn’t returning to NBC Sports Philadelphia, I tried to list, off the top of my head, some of the departures and changes the network has presided over in the last two years:
- Molly Sullivan out
- Marshall Harris out
- Jess Camerato out
- Dei Lynam out
- Neil Hartman out
- Ron Burke out
- Andy Schwartz out (longtime web guy)
- production/creative services layoffs
- new web policy restricting stories to 500 word max
I obviously missed a lot of stuff, which y’all helped remind me of:
- Leslie Gudel out
- Breakfast on Broad eventually cancelled, Sarah Baicker and Jillian Mele move on, Rob Ellis comes back in a different role after leaving 97.5 the Fanatic
- Reuben Frank taken off Quick Slants
- Tim Panaccio replaced by John Boruk
- Mike Barkann moved to pre and post game roles
- Brian Westbrook removed from Eagles postgame show
- Amy Fadool and Marc Farzetta paired on Philly Sports Talk
- new simulcast of the Mike Missanelli radio show
- more short video clips on the website
- didn’t renew Union broadcasting partnership (I don’t really blame them)
- assimilated NBC 10 sports department (they no longer had separate anchors for NBC 10 sports segments, they’d just have Amy or John Clark or Danny Pommells do it remotely from HQ in South Philly, which made a ton of sense and saved $$$)
And, of course, Taryn Hatcher was hired as a multi-platform do-it-all person to cover a variety of roles at the station:
Host and reporter. Covering all sports – including, but not limited to, the Sixers. But, I’m not the sideline reporter for the team.
— Taryn Hatcher (@TarynHatcher) July 5, 2018
You still have regular contributors like Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman and Dave Zangaro and Barrett Brooks and Derrick Gunn on the payroll. Roob, of course, is still writing for the site even though the TV appearances are less frequent. The various experts, like Jim Lynam and Ricky Bo, still do post-game analysis. There were some smaller hires behind the scenes and I’m not totally up to speed on who does what over there now.
I worked in television for nine years, and whenever moves like these are made it’s usually due to three things specifically:
- saving money
- getting younger in the talent department
- trying to stay afloat in a business that has been slowly dying for a long time now
A lot of people are simply getting content from other sources via different mediums, like Twitter and Facebook through your smart phone. It is what it is.
But I feel like we can rule out that first reason, because it’s not like NBCSP is shot for money. Their Comcast overlords just built the biggest skyscraper in Philadelphia next to the now second-biggest skyscraper in Philadelphia. They sunk a bunch of money into NBC 10’s news product. They now own the Philadelphia Wings and Philadelphia Fusion in addition to the Flyers. There is definitely no shortage of cash when you go up the chain of command from Shawn Oleksiak to Michelle Murray, to whomever or whatever is above her.
So if we’re assuming that money isn’t the real issue, is it about getting younger? Maybe. Some of the old guard, the Burkes and Hartmans of this world, had been doing their jobs (very well) for a long time. But it’s not like Molly and Jess and Marshall were long in the tooth, so the age narrative doesn’t really seem to fit either. And even though you can kill two birds with one stone by replacing older, more expensive talent with younger, cheaper talent, we’ve already ruled out money as true problem.
The only real explanation would be #3, the idea that NBCSP is just totally revamping how they cover sports, with a more stripped down and bare bones approach. There are a lot of moving parts over there. Maybe it’s just not worth the effort or the cost to do everything they do, even if they CAN afford it. They could simply slash original content production entirely and focus on broadcasting the Sixers, Flyers, and Phillies, among other local teams. You can produce pregame and postgame segments, maybe enter an expanded simulcasting agreement with 97.5, and/or fill the rest of the slots with infomercials while taking in money from FIOS and Comcast carriage fees.
Specifically, you could ask yourself – do they really need an “insider” for each of the sports they cover?
I don’t know, but when you’re a team’s broadcast partner, the access and the content possibilities for someone like Camerato are significant, and she was one of the few traveling media members, so it seems goofy to stray away from that when you have a built-in advantage already. The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey is really the only other reporter who travels with the team.
Do they need sideline or “floor” reporters?
I don’t know, but I think Molly did a great job of adding flavor to the Sixers broadcast and getting interesting interviews while adding pieces of relevant information. Sure, you could just axe the position entirely and let Marc Zumoff and Alaa Abdelnaby run the entire thing from the booth, but I honestly think they should have gone in the opposite direction and tried to find more responsibility for Molly, which is what she wanted. In the case of a guy like Gregg Murphy, I think it’s easier to justify his inclusion during a longer and slower Phillies broadcast where he’s constantly moving around the ballpark and doing a variety of on-camera hits. The TV experience would feel thin and lose substance if he wasn’t involved.
Unfortunately the TV biz can be some UGLY stuff. I saw a female anchor temporarily demoted to a lesser shift because she was struggling to lose baby weight after coming back from maternity leave. One of my stations accidentally fired the wrong person because they incorrectly wrote out the list of staffers who were grandfathered into a bloated, bullshit union contract. I saw CBS 3 move on from quality anchors like Susan Barnett and Bob Kelly due to contract and responsibility disagreements. They also met Chris May, Beasley Reece, and Kathy Orr at the front door and prevented them from entering the building as they were axed a few years ago in part of a restructuring by a new general manager. Beasley’s stuff sat at his desk for something like a year, though I don’t think he cared because he was probably fishing in Texas. There was also the whole Alycia Lane and Larry Mendte fiasco that predated my time there, yet loomed over us for a good six or seven years.
That’s the problem with TV as it exists in the private sector; news-focused bosses are forced to make changes by money-focused higher-ups, and it results in this revolving door of people who never stick. Yeah, you get the hot meteorologist or whatever to attract the 40-year-old pervert crowd, then she’s gone after two years and you’re loading up with reporters and anchors who graduated from Medill two weeks ago.
One of the reasons Action News is so dominant is because they do nothing. Seriously, that’s a compliment. They’ve had Jim Gardner on the anchor desk for something like 40 years. The format is the same, the writing is the same, the graphics are the same and they simply just give you the news of the day, the weather forecast, and some sports highlights. People watch Action News because they trust Gardner and they know what they’re going to get, which goes something like this:
“…but the big story on Action News is flames, a three-alarm fire in Kensington that forced families out of their homes in the middle of the night… good evening, I’m Jim Gardner, let’s go live to Dann Cuellar in Kensington with more on the story. What can you tell us, Dann?”
Rinse and repeat, over and over and over again to the tune of utter market dominance.
Sometimes less is more, but I don’t think that’s the right approach for NBCSP. If Comcast, of all owners, is slashing jobs in their flagship market, what does that say about the sports broadcasting and journalism business as a whole? I don’t know, but it’s not good.
Anyway, I asked someone over at NBCSP to shed some light on the situation, and he/she responded with this:
“This place is nuts. No one seems to have a handle on the direction.”
Bummer. I think they’ve got some great people over there, multiple award-winners both on and off camera who deserve more from the folks in charge.
NBC Sports Philly understands that the old guard of TV is not only not longer necessary, but it’s unsustainable. Gone are the days of CSN serving as the water cooler of Philly sports. Social media, sports talk radio, and blogs, like Crossing Broad, have taken over in this regard. Almost every piece of original content CSN used to air is completely irrelevant in 2018. They’ve made moves to shift away. So while it’s difficult to see the likes of Leslie Gudel, Neil Hartman, and even younger folks like Molly Sullivan and Jessica Camerato, who were well liked, be pushed out, NBC’s strategy to shift away from traditional coverage makes sense.
My issue, however, is what they are replacing it with. The supposedly hip, more modern fare that has come in its place, like cheeky off-beat shows, Breakfast on Broad – whose only purpose was to launch Jillian Mele into stardom (or whatever you want to call feeding the president nuggets of biased news) – and Quick Slants. They are taking a page out of ESPN’s play book 10 years ago and calling it new. In a society that increasingly values quality, at least where quantity is already provided through other means, NBC Sports Philly has doubled down on quasi junk– cheap, inexpensive fare that ultimately makes the network irrelevant to modern sports fans. The only thing that actually works in its inevitability is simulcasting Mike Missanelli’s show. Other than that, I can’t think of one notable thing CSN has done from a content standpoint that truly resonated (there might be one, but I can’t think of it), though the 2008 Phillies program they will air this month seems like it has potential.
I’m not sure there are any good answers for regionals sports networks, where cost-cutting seems to be a priority. But it seems shortsighted to get rid of basically all of your well-liked personalities. Someone like Molly Sullivan, while perhaps a so-called cap casualty, was well-liked and had a good camaraderie with Marc Zumoff and Alaa Abeladladsnamsdasdhay. It seems you can’t ask for more from a sideline reporter, though I’m certain Molly would’ve happily given them just that, given the chance.
We’re running out of room and especially talented professionals! @RonBurkeShow @tpanotchUFA @dlynamCSN @lesliegudel @36westbrook @NeilHartmanTV @MollySullivanTV @mharrisonair @JessicaCamerato pic.twitter.com/PeUkPV6dYH
— Collegeville Bakery (@CvilleItalBake) July 5, 2018