#paulkariya #tsn #matt dunn #michaelfarber #surfacing #hockey #surfing #sharks #tsn1050toronto #jeffmacdonald #michaellandsberg #andipetrillo #mikejohnson #gordmiller #garethwheeler #terrydunfield #meghanmcpeak #jimtatti #yesguy #greggilbert #joebowen #jimralph #leafs #raptors #tfc #bluejays #jerryhowarth #rogers
If you haven’t watched Surfacing, the TSN feature on former NHLer Paul Kariya yet, try to make an effort to check it out. Click here to watch. It’s master story telling paired with breathtaking imagery. I talked last week to Matt Dunn, the award-winning TSN feature producer who put the piece together. I wanted to find out how feature ideas like this are hatched, how they reach the surface, if you will, and how they’re ultimately put together. Dunn kindly walked me through the process from start to finish.
Josh Shiaman is the Senior Field Producer for TSN. He oversees a team of 7 to 8 feature producers. Shiaman works on feature ideas, and based on the producers’ schedules, will assign a feature to a producer. Dunn and his fellow feature producers also pitch ideas of their own to Shiaman.
In the case of Surfacing, TSN contributor Michael Farber played a huge part in securing Kariya for this. Farber has a long standing relationship with Kariya, dating back to the ’94 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. With Kariya being scheduled to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this November, the timing seemed right. Shiaman brought the idea to Farber, who got Kariya to agree to it. Shiaman assigned Dunn to the project.
Dunn came up with the “Surfacing” concept while working late one night at his TSN office. Dunn asked himself, “What are the iconic moments of Kariya?”
“The moment that stood out for me more than any other,” Dunn said, “was that famous shot of him on his back when he takes that first breath, with the visor. I was thinking about surfing, when they duck dive under a wave, you gotta hold your breath. I just started thinking about oxygen and holding your breath…consciousness, and all these kinds of things, and him laying on his back.
“The idea of surfacing was two things: It was not only that he’s recluse, and he’s going to surface for the first time in years, but it was also surfacing and the idea that he had suffered brain trauma as a result of the concussions he’s suffered, and he’s heathy now. I thought the surfing elements of water was something very relatable to people, even if you don’t surf. It was a feeling of getting back to nature, getting back to health and wellbeing. When you see those images, I think people respond the same way, which is, it’s a very calming, positive, soothing effect.”
Kariya gave the TSN crew two days to shoot, August 19 and 20. Dunn described this length of time as unheard of in his world. When Dunn works on a feature with current players, due to complex individual and team schedules, he will often only get 10 minutes of access, sometimes just enough time to conduct a sit down interview with the player.
“We knew we wanted to incorporate surfing,” Dunn said. “That’s a big part of his life. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I never shot anything like that before. So, I wanted more than one opportunity to get it. Thankfully he gave us two surf sessions of three hours each.”
Dunn immediately started researching surf cinematographers. Shooting in water is obviously a very specialized, specific skill. Dunn placed a call to Surfing Magazine. It recommended photographer Mike Pagan. Though only 21 years old, Pagan has been shooting surfing since he was 13. He started out in photography, shooting his brother who was a pro surfer. Shiaman agreed they should spend the money on this type of experienced lensman, and not just shoot the Kariya surf scenes from the beach. It certainly paid off. The Pagan-shot aquatic footage greatly enhances the piece.
“I was so impressed by this kid,” Dunn said. “The housing itself with the camera (weighed) 40-45 pounds. He’s going out in water over his head. And, (he’s) got waves crashing on (him). I had no idea it was that gruelling.”
Pagan worked out a plan with Kariya, coordinating where the camera would be positioned in the water as the future hockey Hall of Famer was riding the waves. “(Pagan) would have to tread water,” Dunn explained. “Then as Kariya was approaching, he would have to hike (the camera) up, pull it up with his core muscles, to get this thing up in the right position, and then pan with (Kariya) as he went by. At that point I was thankful he was 21 and not 45,” Dunn said chuckling. “He was a strong young kid. He had the endurance to do it.”
The two-day shoot didn’t come without its problems. The first day shooting Kariya in the water would be shot at dawn in Dana Point, at the popular Salt Creek surf spot in Orange County, California. Day 2 would be shot at dusk at another spot nearby. When Dunn and Pagan arrived the first day, the early morning sky was overcast. There was no sign of that familiar, omnipresent California sunshine.
“My concern was light,” Dunn stated. “Because when you shoot underwater, the conditions change the deeper you go. If it’s really sunny, it penetrates the water more. If it’s overcast, that plays into it as well. I was concerned about the feel of it. I didn’t want it to feel like a rainy, grey day.”
For Day 2 there was much bigger potential problem than a simple lack of California sun. Kariya informed the TSN crew there were recent shark sightings in the area. Dunn, leaning on his cameraman’s knowledge of the area and shooting experience, left it up to Pagan to decide whether it was safe to go out or not. After surveying the area, Pagan said they would be ok, and they went for it. They didn’t see any sharks that day. After looking at all the surf footage, Dunn decided the dusk session looked the best.
“That’s what you see for a lot of the surface shots,” he said. “You see that the sun was out. It was this beautiful dusk setting.”
The two interview portions were also done on separate days. Being a very private person, Kariya politely told TSN he did not want any shooting done inside his house, so the first interview was done behind Kariya’s home.
“One of the key things for me,” Dunn said, “was, ‘How do we advance the story? We’re going to get him surfing, but is there something we can do to take it further?’ I had read an article that indicated he’d only been on skates once since his last (NHL) game.”
Dunn told Farber that he’d like to get Kariya to a rink. Dunn and Farber discussed it, all while considering any potential sensitivities Kariya may have with going into a hockey rink. Dunn told me he communicated with a hockey player once who said when he went into a rink for the first time he had a depressive episode. They decided they would ask Kariya if he would be ok going to a rink, letting him know that if he would be at all uncomfortable then they would come up with another location to conduct the second part of the sit-down interview. Kariya agreed to go to the rink.
“When we did the interview (at the rink)” Dunn said. “You could see (Kariya) reacting to being in the rink. One of the things we asked him was, ‘What sounds do you miss?’ And he said, ‘It’s not the sound, it’s the air,’ he said, ‘Walking in here and feeling the cool air on my skin was a real enjoyable experience.’ I thought it was really profound because no one says that unless you haven’t been in a rink in a long time.
“I had never met him before. He really is a special guy. I found him very, very interesting. And very, very honest and forthright, and thoughtful, and measured and disciplined…just an intelligent guy. And he wasn’t going to sugarcoat anything. I think he understands he’s going into the Hall of Fame, but at the same time he was willing to speak honestly and openly.”
I spoke over the phone on Friday with TSN 1050 Toronto Program Director Jeff MacDonald. We talked about the co-host search for his Michael Landsberg fronted morning show, the Auston Matthews effect, and how much he thinks about what his direct radio competitor, The Fan 590, is doing down the dial. At the bottom of the interview I share some of my thoughts on a few things MacDonald talked about.
Todd T. Hayes: Can you tell me what the latest is in the search for the Michael Landsberg (morning show) co-host?
Jeff MacDonald: The search is something that we just started to coincide with Dave (Naylor’s) move to TV. It’s a different situation than we’ve previously had. We certainly did it with the 1-4 p.m., time slot, but this one is advanced beyond that because we really want to take the time and find something that works with Michael, but works long term as well. It’s nice to be able to open it up, and get as many peoples opinions and input into it, which is a strength of any decision you make. It’s been great to have this out in the open and have discussions with a lot of different people about the vision for what our morning show should be going forward.
TTH: Have you put a timeline on it?
JM: No timeline. I would obviously like to do it sooner rather than later, but I think it’s more important to get it right, rather than be fast.
TTH: Will there be a new show this year in the 9-to-noon slot?
JM: No. That programming change is going to remain. The morning show will still be 6-10, and we’re very happy with Leafs Lunch from 11-1. We changed that in the Spring to 11-1 without a lot of external marketing, but the results were immediate. And, not surprisingly given what the Leafs are doing right now as a team. The interest is as high as it’s been in a long, long time. So, having two hours of Leafs Lunch is a strength.
TTH: What are the differences between programming a station when the No. 1 team in the city is really good and has a lot of optimism around it, compared to when they’re not very good?
JM: Everybody has talked about it that works in sports. Either be really bad or really good. One of those two things works for a discussion, but the problem with the Leafs a few years back is they got to the point where nobody wanted to talk about them for reason that are well documented. And that became a real challenge because you had a team for the first time that I’ve ever seen, the fan base almost completely disengaged. They had just had enough. Then you had the changes coming in and there was hope, but there was no tangible change, so again, you had a team at the bottom that was intentionally at the bottom, and there just wasn’t a lot to talk about in a positive way that engaged the casual fan. That changed the minute they won the draft lottery. And now here we are. And again, in something I haven’t experienced before, I don’t think any of us has experienced, the Leafs have a legitimate marquee player in Auston Matthew. With all due respect to Mats Sundin, I don’t think they’ve ever had a player at this level in a long, long time in this franchise, if ever. We’re really in unchartered territory and I’m fascinated to see what this year is going to bring. With all this talent and a team that people are legitimately excited about and are going to embrace in a different way than they have with past Leaf teams because they’re exciting, they’re young and they’re fun.
TTH: Questions about some of the other Toronto teams. Are you happy the Jays missed the playoffs?
JM: From a Toronto sports fan perspective it’s never good to see a team that had as much interest as the Jays had, take a step backwards. Toronto is a better sports city when the teams are firing on all cylinders. TFC is doing well. The Argos have had a resurgence. The Raptors have legitimately been great for the last few years so it’s made the city far more enjoyable. From that perspective, no it’s not good to see them miss the playoffs. From a competitive stand point, it’s a different answer to that question, but that’s only because we don’t have that baseball answer to the Jays in terms of programming.
TTH: How has TFC’s success had an impact of programming decisions?
JM: Quite a bit. Again it was the struggle with TFC for a long time when they were really down was trying to find ways to talk about the team but also make it listenable or enjoyable to fans outside the TFC fan base. That’s a challenge with any sports radio discussion that you have. So, with the team having the success that it’s had, it brings the casual fan to the TV and to the radio to want to hear what’s going on or see what’s going on. They’re having close to a record setting season and they’re legitimately the best team in MLS. That brings a lot of people out of the woodwork that you wouldn’t normally get. Talking about TFC is a lot easier and a lot more important now than it was before.
TTH: Are there expectations to do more programming?
JM: Yes. We’ve stepped up our games. We’ve had Gareth Wheeler and Terry Dunfield calling a lot of the games already this year. I think we’ve called more games this year than we have in past seasons. We’ll continue to do that in the playoffs. We will boost up our coverage because there’s an expectation again that this team can go really deep. We recognize the importance of it and want to support it any way we can.
TTH: What’s the talent lineup for Leafs games this year? Hosts, pregame/postgame.
JM: Jim Tatti..Yes, guy! returns. Greg Gilbert is joining him as the analyst and still Joe (Bowen) and (Jim Ralph) and Kristen Shilton.
TTH: Is Mike Johnson not part of it?
JM: No. Mike will be doing some colour for TSN TV. He also has NHL Network commitments. He will be doing a lot of Leafs Lunch with us though. I’m excited to have Mike part of that. There’s been instant reaction having Mike back in the TSN family.
TTH: Leafs Lunch sounds totally different with him there.
JM: He and Andi (Petrillo) know each other from their NHL Network days and from just over the years. There’s a real comfortability there. Gord Miller has really come forward in the last year with an interest in doing radio. Gord has been fantastic. I tell him this all the time, he’s built for radio because he has so many stories and so many experiences over his career and he remembers them all. When he’s on it’s really good sports talk radio.
TTH: What’s the talent line up for the Raptors?
JM: Gareth Wheeler will be hosting this year. Duane Watson is back. And it’ll be a combination of Paul Jones, Sherman Hamilton and Jack Armstrong. Jack whenever we can get him.
TTH: No Meghan McPeak this year? How come?
JM: Just the differences with programming changes, and Gareth going to nights. Between our Leafs and Raptors commitments, if we didn’t utilize Gareth and his passion for basketball then there would be a lot of nights when he wouldn’t have any work. We think Meghan is great, and we’re still going to use her on Home Court on weekends, and she’ll fill in for Gareth when he’s not available.
TTH: How much has the business model changed since you took the job?
JM: It’s changed dramatically, but I think anybody that is doing anything in broadcasting would say the same thing over the last three years. We’re not unique in any sense of that. It’s been an eye opening experience and something I don’t know if everybody saw as quickly as it did, but it’s been a pretty dramatic change.
TTH: I read this week that the new Tesla cars do not have AM radio in them. Where do you see AM radio in 5 years?
JM: I think that’s why Bell Media has committed to the iHeart Radio App. They made that move nearly two years ago because that was a vision of, ‘We want to be on the dashboards of cars.’ So, that very issue that you talked about, you could still download an app on the dashboard and find that station that you want with sound quality a lot higher too. That’s where the race to the dashboard is going, with apps like iHeart Radio, the TSN GO app. But a five year plan? I don’t know if you can look much past six months. You don’t know what’s coming next. Technology and consumer habits change so quickly that I would hesitate to figure out where anything is going to be in five years. I do know this, I was at a conference last November, and one of the speakers there who does a lot of work in data accumulation and analysis said if radio was a new platform just being introduced with a different name, it would be instantly successful and the thing that everybody was talking about, but because it’s considered traditional media, it doesn’t have that sex appeal, or that shiny new car look about it. The listener trends are there, the overall listening minutes tuned has has not has not dramatically changed over the years, and there’s still a personal connection to radio that you just can’t replicate elsewhere. You’re right, the digital components and how we deliver that content everywhere in the way people want it. Podcasting is not going to diminish, it’s only going to get bigger.
TTH: How much do you think about what the other guys are doing down the dial?
JM: What the competition does, it’s very well established. It’s something that we understand. Our pre-occupation is more about what we’re doing and how we create a sound and an editorial vision and show structures with hosts that are uniquely ours and not trying to be influenced by anything else.
My thoughts: So, there are a couple things to note about the TSN 1050 morning show co-host search, neither are specific to what MacDonald told me during the interview. I talked to two industry people this weekend who told me they’ve heard that TSN may not believe Landsberg is long for this particular job for whatever reason. I know working on a morning show is a real grind. Ask anyone who does it, or has done it. Most of them will tell you your body never really gets used to the waking up at such an early hour. I applaud anyone who can do it. So, anyways, this will be worth keeping an eye on.
I was also told this weekend that 1050 could be looking at doing something “different” with the morning show. Different could mean anything of course, but in this case it may mean it won’t be a traditional “Landsberg & Insert Co-host Name Here” type of show. I have a feeling this could take a while, but as MacDonald told me, they’re focused on getting it right, rather than worrying about the timing of it all.
I didn’t think I’d get much from MacDonald on my question about the Blue Jays missing the playoffs. He didn’t say he was jumping up and down when they were eliminated from contention, but he definitely didn’t say he was crying in his beer, either. I may be in the minority here, but I’ve always been a believer in wanting all the local teams to excel, no matter if you’re a rights holder or not. You want the local clubs to go on deep playoff runs in sports radio because it creates massive interest in the teams, and therefore sports fans might listen and engage more. It might help your competitor with the play-by-play rights, but if you’re making good programming, it should help you too.
I was disappointed to hear that basketball broadcaster Meghan McPeak won’t be a permanent fixture on 1050’s Raptors pre and post game shows this season. People outside the basketball community may not know McPeak, but let me tell you, she is a terrific host and basketball play-by-play voice. She calls the games for the Raptors G-League team, the Raptors 905. She should be getting more opportunity to be part of the NBA Raptors radio and TV broadcasts.
“Joe, great job, we’ll see you next spring,” and just like that, Blue Jays radio play-by-play man Jerry Howarth signed off Sunday from the Bronx, for the final time for the 2017 baseball season. There were rumours swirling around Twitter Friday night that perhaps it could be Jerry’s last weekend calling Blue Jays games on the radio. When Jonah from the Toronto Sports Media Blog tweets something like that, you have to take it seriously. I looked into immediately and a source told me there was no plan in place to make to a change. Jerry seemed to confirm on Sunday that yes indeed, he would be back behind the microphone in 2018.