Custom Search

An old story you might enjoy: when it paid more to be a guest on TV than in did to actually play in the NHL playoffs

Here’s something I had completely forgotten- and it shows just how much things have changed for NHL players in terms of salaries compared with the 1950s.

A while back, I was flipping through an old hockey magazine from the late 1950s that I’ve held on to all these years.  Something caught my eye.  There was a feature story on how the TV networks, including CBC/Hockey Night in Canada, planned their weekly broadcasts.   (I think NBC or CBS also might have been broadcasting a game of the week back then, too, but I don’t recall for sure…)

Now, the concept of utilizing a “color” man as an analyst during hockey games to support the play-by-play guy was introduced in the late ‘50s, I believe.  Frank Selke Jr. (son of legendary Frank Selke, former Maple Leaf senior executive under owner Conn Smythe, who went on to  build the Montreal Canadiens into a powerhouse…) assumed that role- inadvertently, as the story goes.   During a Montreal game broadcast, Montreal English-language play-by-play man, Danny Gallivan, wanted some statistical information.  Selke Jr. was always working in the Montreal broadcast booth doing research, but as a "silent" partner.  On this particular occasion, Gallivan asked for information, and pushed the microphone in front of Selke, who responded on air.  The powers that be liked it, and a new tandem was born.  The hockey “color” commentator position has grown since that time into what it is today.  No hockey broadcast would be aired without a TV or radio analyst filling the “dead” air—some of them filling more (hot) air than others.

But at the same time, the networks always looked to add a little spice to their in-between-period intermissions, as well.  The old Hot Stove “talking heads” format didn’t really exist on TV until the (late?) 1950s and ‘60s, I don't believe.  It had, of course, been a staple on national radio broadcasts for years.  (The "Hot Stove" panel is a format I still love, though not necessarily the way modern-day networks like TSN and Sportsnet, or even the CBC, set it up.  I like a real old-fashioned discussion, genuine interaction, un-rehearsed, from an insightful hockey panel.  What we get nowadays is almost always somewhat scripted, with people looking straight into a camera, rather than really conversing with one another and debating things.  I just don't like it.)

But back to the old magazine story: it was interesting to read and be reminded that, come playoff time in 
those days, the CBC and the advertising agency that organized the broadcasts would hire—and of course pay—well-known current players (individuals not involved in the playoffs) to provide commentary and analysis between periods.  Sometimes, a high-profile NHL’er player like Gordie Howe or goaltender Gump Worsley (seen at right in early '60s action in goal for the Rangers against the Hawks- you can see "Red" Hay in the background for Chicago...), if he wasn’t in the playoffs, would come on between periods and then explain after the game why, for example, he chose the “three stars” that he selected.

In any event, as the story goes, one un-named NHL’er so enjoyed his regular TV playoff appearances one spring that he was heard to suggest that he actually made more money as a hired TV guy for the network than he would have earning NHL playoff bonus money.

When that statement became public, the comment evidently proved embarrassing to NHL league headquarters—so the league forbade the network from using any one player as a regular analyst for an entire series, because they’d be taking home too much money, apparently!

That’s something that could never happen today, eh?

No comments:

Post a Comment