Published October 24, 2008
The NHL Network’s signature show, “NHL On the Fly,” is a prime example that if you want hockey coverage done right, let the Canadians do it. The show, which airs live 9:00-11:00pm ET seven days a week, is produced at the network’s Toronto studios and is a slickly presented production that will entertain and satisfy even the most die-hard hockey fan. There is a reason that this program is called “NHL On the Fly”-- it really does move. Dan Pollard is the host of the program and his partner is analyst Craig Button. Neither are household names in the U.S., but they obviously know their hockey. Pollard has over 20 years of broadcast experience, mostly with Canada’s TSN. His partner Button, with a resume that includes 20 years as a player, NHL executive and broadcaster, is part of the program’s deep bench of hockey experts. Together they provide a multi-faceted, rapid-fire program with live action look-ins at games, extensive highlights, between period interviews, postgame press conferences and game wrap-ups.
RAPID FIRE: A great example of the pace of “NHL On the Fly” was illustrated last Friday. Just 45 seconds into the show, Pollard and Button quickly went to a live look-in of the Sabres blasting the Canucks 4-1 in the 3rd period. Next, it was off to Madison Square Garden for a look at the Maple Leafs-Rangers game. Then it was back to the studio where Button broke down each of the games just seen. After that, it was off to Ottawa for yet another live game look-in, as the Senators were battling the Coyotes. The show uses long-form highlights with good analysis, not the 90-seconds-or-less highlight packages viewers are used to seeing on other networks. Three games, three cities, with extended highlights as well as analysis and the show was only 12 minutes old. Now that is really moving.
CONTROL TOWER: Pollard and Button control this chaos calmly. In between the mayhem of the live games, they offer viewers a variety of other interesting options such as between period interviews and postgame press conferences. But some of the best segments of the show happen when Pollard and Button go live to games that have gone into overtime or are in a shootout. Using only a brief lead-in, the two hosts are able to condense a three-hour game for their viewers down to the tense and dramatic final five minutes where victory or defeat hangs in the balance. Also unique to the show is that viewers during the live look-ins are able to hear the voices of the local game announcers in both Canada and the U.S., a treat for the U.S. audience, who rarely get a chance to hear such a variety of broadcast styles and distinctive goal calls.
FLY ON THE WALL: In the end, the success of this program is the NHL Network’s desire to showcase all aspects of hockey in it own local settings -- the pre- and post-game shows, period breaks, live action and broadcasters. Pollard and Button have the freedom to choose what is interesting and what is hot, making sure the viewer gets the best coverage of all the games offered. It truly is what keeps “NHL On the Fly,” in a word, flying.
Jim Williams is a seven-time Sports Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer who lives in Baltimore. He will be reviewing sports programming occasionally for SportsBusiness Daily and SportsBusiness Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.