How The MSG Hockey Show Comes to Life

Before I get to the topic at hand, I want to give a shout out to the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford, CT.

It was a pleasure to volunteer at their annual multicultural event on Friday night. They have the heaviest wood tables I’ve ever moved, but those tables sure held a lot of food! The performances were also a lot of fun. Great job by all involved.

For those interested in taking a peek behind the scenes at how a broadcast is put together, I thought I’d break down the latest #MSGHockeyShow, which was a special episode on-location from Prudential Center in Newark.

Each show actually starts the next day after a previous episode ends. We are constantly checking hockey news, and sites and blogs, for content that would be good for the show. Personally, I’m always on hockey reddit and follow a few blogs and social media accounts (Puck Daddy is a great one, for example).

Sometimes the story is a no-brainer (like the Quinnipiac University goaltender who is allergic to ice). Other times we make a case for it, depending on how passionate we feel about it (one example from a previous episode would be the story of Fatima Al-Ali from UAE and her trip to the States, visiting the Capitals — I loved this story and brought it forward and it was well-received).

Some stories will be discussed and won’t make the cut. It’s a show with 22 minutes of content, after all. Not everything can get in. On some episodes there’s no shortage of stories. Others, especially if we have a show two or three days after the last one, we have to debate topics that are “evergreen” (have a long shelf life with no real time sensitivity). From a previous episode, debating the top 10 NHL players of all-time was one such topic.

Our producer, Fran, is the mastermind that collects everything from all angles: a text from me, an email from Will Reeve, a call from Anson Carter, all of his notes and research. He puts it in his big boiling cauldron of magic (read: computer) and from the ashes, emerges a “rundown” of the show. This is basically an item-by-item spreadsheet of what the show will look like. You can’t script everything on live TV, but you can put together a skeleton outline of what the show will look like, so we know what video to roll where, what graphics to show when, etc.

This special episode was planned well in advance: the crew did site surveys, looking around the Prudential Center weeks in advance to find the best location for the set. It’s not just the scenery that’s important. You have to consider where to put cameras, lighting, power/extension cords and all the behind the scenes technical aspects the viewer at home might not necessarily be thinking about. Who needs to be where is also a factor.

Before the very first episode of the #MSGHockeyShow back in November, we did a couple of “dry runs” in October, acting as if the show was live but not actually going on air. This was done so the three of us could get comfortable with each other and begin building an on-air rapport. But also so that the crew could get familiar with angles, sequences and positioning as the segments went along. Since then, we haven’t really done a rehearsal and everything you see on the show is unfolding for the first time, but for this on location episode, we actually did rehearse because of the new environment.

Earlier that afternoon, the three of us actually hosted a special presentation on MSG Networks called “MSG Power Play.” During the first period for both RangersDevils and Islanders-Blue Jackets games we weaved back-and-forth, and provided analysis for both games. Lots of fun.

After that, we jumped in a car and headed over to Prudential. We were going to take the train, but we ended up taking a car. Because it was raining. HARD. So, good choice!

We got to Prudential around the second intermission and settled in. I finalized my notes for the show, a couple tidbits here and there. If you were ever wondering what’s in my cue cards, it’s the rundown and notes/tidbits for each segment. One big piece of advice I received early in my broadcasting career is that you can never be over prepared.

Sometimes we have guests on the show. On this program, we were scheduled to have two: “Mr. Devil” himself Ken Daneyko and Devils forward Miles Wood. Sometimes, we can’t control when the guest arrives and the rundown of the show will move around. We originally had Ken in the first segment and Miles in the second, but Miles showed up early! Stand-up guy.

Some of you might be wondering how we prepare questions. For Miles, it was a little easier because there was a lot to draw from — his father Randy Wood played in the NHL. Miles has been in a fight or two this season. That led me to think how many career fights his father had in the league. I looked it up online and saw that Randy Wood had 12 career NHL fights, with a maximum of three in one season. Miles has five already this season, so he crushed his old man’s single-season record in his rookie year. Perfect fun little tidbit to throw out there with Miles for our show.

Miles had also recently done a Twitter takeover of the @NJDevils account and there was some fun stuff posted — for example, “a hot dog is not a sandwich.” This is a cute little way to get things going with a lighter tone (which is what our show is all about). By the way, Miles is on our side, the right side of that debate. A hot dog is NOT a sandwich. Never was, never will be. So get over it.

Beyond that, you find the big stories that have happened with your guest recently. In Miles’ case, he lost teeth in a game last Sunday. Of course, you have to show that and get his thoughts on it.

For Dano, Anson remembered when he was playing with the Bruins and Ken fought his teammate, Joe Thornton. When something like this comes up, Fran and our researcher Thomas (Thoommmaassssss!) will find the footage and clip it for us. It worked out perfectly. Dano had some funny anecdotes while watching the fight back (“that was the only time I ever got cut!”)

When we were getting organized on set, there was already a great crowd on hand, which was amazing! I can’t tell you what a pleasant surprise that was. I spent some time talking with people — many had been watching since the first episode, while some were checking it out for the first time. It was a great mix.

I sent a text message to a great friend of mine who works with the Devils to see if we could get some merch to give away to kids in the crowd. Three minutes later, a backpack full of t-shirts showed up. Props to the entire Devils events team, they are a terrific crew. That was fast!

We get into our chairs, take a breath, the floor director counts down “5..4..3..2..1…” and we’re off to the races.

Live TV, in my opinion, is the best kind of TV. No net. Anything can happen. As someone at an old job once said, “there are no mistakes on live TV.” Well, except when I tried to say “Quinnipiac” University. It came out Quinniac. I practiced it too before the show. Can’t ever over prepare, but sometimes “Quinniac” happens! All good, you laugh about it and move on.

My job during the show is to act as the traffic cop, to lob the ball in the air so Anson and Will knock it out of the park. Anson is the former NHLer with insight none of us have, which makes his perspective very interesting. Will gives the fan point of view, and it makes for a great mix.

The show went great. The crowd enjoyed it, guests had fun, we had fun, the crew was on point, social media connected with it, a success all around. By the way, we actually do read your tweets — if you’re going to chirp us, at least check your tweet before you send it. A troll job with poor grammar and spelling is pretty cliche at this point.

After the show is over, the digital team is in the office cutting up the best segments to post on the website (shout out to Lucky and the crew!). We get an email with links and @MSGNetworks tweets them out as well.

Show is done!

High fives and fist bumps all around, and sometimes we pick a bar and have a bite or a drink. Or two. But never, ever more than two.