The CBC and Rogers have made some seriously questionable moves in the past few years in order to try to maintain their relevance and budget in a quickly evolving media world. Some examples include the slashing of thousands of jobs, allowing the iconic Hockey Night in Canada theme song to be bought by another station, hiding their blatant knowledge of Ghomeshi’s workplace harassment…and trying to revamp Hockey Night in Canada for a new, younger audience.
The revamp of HNIC consisted of a change of music, stage, personalities and technology, it was a full overhaul from the low-key tradition of the show which boasted a crazy old man in flamboyant suits yelling for 15 minutes about icing rules and anti-Russian sentiments. The old Hockey Hotstove was so boring it would cause comatose patients to wake up just to change the channel. Unfortunately, the all-new was just that, all new. It was like taking an 80 year old woman and putting her in hot pants and heels trying to make her sing Nikki Minaj and Beyoncé. It’s fine to update the classic things, but let’s not overdo it. Visually, the revamp was as garish as a cougar with a neon sign. One of their main new show pieces was Canadian mini-celebrity George Strombolopolous (who we will henceforth call Strombo for obvious reasons). Strombo was well-known to most Canadians, especially those in the 25-45 age range, Rogers’ new target audience.
Strombo started out on Canadian TV as a MuchMusic VJ; for those of you under 25 a VJ was a host on a music channel who talked about music and music videos…before YouTube made this possible for everyone to do. He was handsome and knowledgeable, he hosted the Punk Show and seemed to have a cool edgy vibe that resonated with teens and young adults. He was given his own radio show, another dead media form, but “The Strombo Show” prospered; showing he was more than a pretty Greek face and had charisma and charm as well as well-rounded knowledge of the Canadian, American and international music scenes. He gained notoriety for this interviewing skills, reputable members of the music scene would actually seek out his show as he was intelligent and knowledgeable. This lead to him being showcased back on television on ‘The Hour”, a late night talk show. This was not a Leno or Letterman type show, it played more to his interviewing skills and was geared more towards his ‘hip’ vibe, with his gelled hair and skinny jeans, he was still aimed at the younger viewers in an attempt to get them interested in the world around them. This allowed Strombo to extend his influence beyond the music scene and into pop culture, politics, current events etc. His continued success on “The Hour” caused him to be brought south of the border to CNN, where they gave him a similar type of show, thinking that Americans would take to his hip youthful style that CNN vets like Larry King weren’t as steeped in. Unfortunately, although his show was (in my opinion) very well done and very intelligent, Americans just did not welcome the tight-trousered canuck into their hearts. His stint on CNN ended after one year’s brief run and he came back to Canada.
Rogers welcomed him back on CBC and excitedly offered him the hosting job of the iconic and beloved, but rating slumped HNIC. A hip new host was believed to be exactly what was needed to get Canadians back to watching HNIC for Saturday nights and through the far too long playoff season.
They were so wrong.
Strombo is a media man, he is intelligent, he is witty and charismatic. He is NOT a hockey guy. He has never played even semi-pro, he has never coached, he has not spent time as a sportscaster, sports journalist or, judging from his conversations, really watched many games. He is also a terrible actor (see his comedy hosting on Just For Laughs). He cannot pretend to be a hockey guy convincingly, often coming off as well-suited for a hockey conversation as Donald Trump would be for a talk on foreign policy. If there is one thing Canadians take seriously, it’s hockey. The average Canadian hockey fan could write you an essay on most topics without so much as glancing at Google. They know a true fan when they see one, and they can spot a fish out of water. Strombo just never fit in. As boring as the Hotstove was, those guys knew their hockey and provided insight, analysis and ideas that fans who are loyal enough to not change channels during intermissions look for. It’s like any show that changes hosts- you can’t just bring in the new guy because your network brass think he fits the target audience and will learn on the job. Sports fans are fiercely loyal, sometimes to a fault. We’ve proven that the age and hipster wardrobe are of no concern to us judging by the uproar that occurred when Don Cherry was at risk of not being renewed. In 2016, with no Canadian teams to justify watching the playoff coverage, people all over Canada couldn’t stand the ‘new’ style enough to watch, and the rating dropped. It was a clear sign that something more was needed.
Oh Strombo, he tried, it didn’t work. It’s not his fault, but it’s best that he hike up his absurdly tight jeans and stick to music. Ditch the poor man’s Vegas-style set they have going, get rid of no nothings Kypreos and Healy who bring about as much insight as a pineapple with brain damage, and give us back Ron McLean. Like it should have been from the start. There’s nothing to be ashamed of Strombo- I’m sure Dennis Miller would agree- sportscasting just isn’t for everyone.
So, good luck Strombo, wherever you end up.
But seriously, take Glenn Healy with you…