By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Kerry Healey will not pre-empt the Red Sox

The city’s daily papers strain for significance in reporting on the debut of two shows on NESN, home of the Red Sox and the Bruins. The programs are “Shining City,” to be hosted by former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, and “After the Game,” co-produced by Linda Pizzuti Henry.

First up is Jessica Heslam of the Boston Herald, who reported on the new programs (sub. req.) on Aug. 13. Although Heslam’s account of Healey’s innovation-and-technology show and Henry’s sports-celebrity program was pretty straightforward, she also wrote:

“Shining City” rolls out as NESN, the flagship station for the Boston Red Sox, beefs up its lifestyle programming. The network has lost 36 percent of its viewers from last year as the injury-plagued Sox struggled this season.

Today the Globe’s Johnny Diaz goes one better than Heslam by not simply laying out the fact that Red Sox ratings are slipping, but also tying it all together with a neat bow. He writes:

The shows, called “After The Game” and “Shining City,” are an attempt by the station to reach new viewers who aren’t necessarily sports fans but who may watch entertainment and science-related shows, as the network’s bread-and-butter programming — baseball games — is declining.

I believe this is called the “if-then fallacy.”

Here is the fundamental problem: It’s not as though Healey and Henry are going to pre-empt Red Sox games, or even the pre-game and post-game shows. Healey’s program will cablecast on Fridays at 4:30 p.m., followed by something called “Pocket Money” at 5 and then “After the Game” at 5:30. There will be plenty of repetitions during the week as well, but NESN will continue to offer a one-hour pre-game show, and Tom Caron will keep right on yelling at you as soon as the game is over.

It’s not that Red Sox ratings aren’t down. They are. But that is irrelevant to the debut of two new programs in time slots that don’t crowd any Sox-related programming. The Sox are still one of the biggest televisions draws in New England, as Diaz himself notes: “Five Red Sox games last week ranked among the top 10 most-watched shows in Boston.”

So why try to tie the new shows to declining baseball ratings? Because the urge to come up with an interesting story line — a narrative — is irresistible. Even when there is none.

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  1. Jerry Ackerman

    Hey, it’s August, a month notorious for a lack of news.

  2. BP Myers

    Don’t know how you can write an article on NESN without mentioning the significant decline in ratings that their bread and butter programming has suffered. Not sure either where or how you make the leap to “pre-empting Sox games.”

    I think NESN branching out is an interesting story, but frankly think the bigger story is what took them so long, why their efforts have been halting at best, and what happened to Tom Werner’s golden touch?

    Glad to see too that “Pocket Money” is back, if only because it signals a commitment to something. I think two of their problems have been either a) giving up on original programming too soon, or b) sticking with abysmal programming (the stupid “New York / Boston” Poker tournament repeated endlessly) too long.

    And yes, I liked “Sox Appeal” and wish that was still on too.

  3. Mike Benedict


    How long until a) Tom Werner whisks “Linda Puzziti Henry” off to Hollywood to star in his next big TV show or b) “Linda Puzziti Henry” goes all Jamie McCourt on Big John?

  4. Julie Manganis

    What really surprises me about the Globe story is the lack of any detail on the financing of these shows. They sound very similar to several shows that have also appeared on New England Cable News, including “Open Book Club,” hosted, you’ll recall, by the wives of two fairly prominent figures. In that case, the show was produced by a company set up by Jay Cashman, who then paid to have it shown on NECN, according to a Globe story that appeared after NECN canceled the show (over potential conflict of interest concerns).
    If that’s the case here, then these shows are probably more about generating revenue than ratings. Someone ought to at least ask the question.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Julie: I’m pretty sure Healey’s show is paid time, as you say. I know nothing about the other show. But John Henry is obviously a major NESN shareholder.

  5. Julie Manganis

    Just to be clear, I have no facts on which to conclude that either is paid programming and I’m not saying it is — I’m simply asking the question that the Globe reporter should have asked and addressed in his story. You may very well be right that Healey’s show is paid for, but we don’t know that until someone asks the question and gets an answer.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Julie: I have been told by people who should know that Healey’s show is, in fact, paid programming. Haven’t verified it. But you seem to be suggesting that there’s an ethical problem with not disclosing that. Am I reading you correctly? And what would be the ethical problem? Not sure I see it.

      My guess is that Healey wants a résumé reel, and she’s willing to pay in order to get it. We are talking about a science and technology show that will be cablecast on Fridays at 4:30 p.m. on a sports channel. The audience will number in the dozens — and it wouldn’t matter if Bill Nye the Science Guy were hosting it.

  6. Al Fiantaca

    Is there that much of a market for vanity programming? These things remind me of the book discussion one late of NECN with the ex Speaker’s wife as co-host. They may not be bad, but will they make me get NESN, or watch if? No.

  7. L.K. Collins

    Ms. Manganis — but having all the facts may get in the way of a a good rant against someone with whom Dan disagrees.

  8. Al Fiantaca

    Infomercials are identified as such prior to their running. While we may assume that the Healey program is paid programming, identifying it as such prior to its running should be a given.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Al: I don’t see how it’s an infomercial if nothing is being sold. If Healey’s show is paid programming, that doesn’t make it unusual. The model is that she owns the show, she pays NESN to run it, and then tries to sell enough commercials to make a profit. That’s how Pat Whitley does his restaurant show. “The Phantom Gourmet” works that way, too. Also several lesser-known radio talk shows.

      The only danger I can see is that your ability to exercise editorial control is limited. If Host A did a puff piece on Company B, with whom he has an ongoing business relationship, would Media Company C even know it?

  9. Julie Manganis

    Dan, in a small way it is about the ethics, but my main point was that the reporter failed to address an important element of the story.
    I agree with you that the entire premise of the story is not supported by the facts presented. What I’m suggesting is that if NESN is accepting some of this paid programming, it is being done to generate revenue, not ratings. I think you’re absolutely right that a science and tech show airing on a Friday afternoon is not going to generate a big audience — which would totally undercut the Globe’s analysis of the move.

    @LK: I consider Dan a friend and colleague. I once worked with his wife and I think highly of both of them.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Julie: Totally agree it was an angle that should have been explored.

  10. Aaron Read

    TV stations (public or commercial) have certain rules about disclosing paid programming, but I don’t think cable-only “stations” are required to do the same…?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Aaron: If those rules also pertain to broadcast radio, then they are not followed. Maybe the rules apply only if it’s a true infomercial in which a product is being sold.

  11. Al Fiantaca

    Dan: the reason why I followed the infomercial thought was in response to your comment that she bought the space as a résumé reel. In effect, I saw her as selling herself, the value of her thinking and her decision making, although not so much to most casual viewers, as to those in her business who might utilize her skills. In any case, I won’t be watching, nor do I ascribe to any of her opinions.

  12. Off topic slightly but what really ticks me off about Comcast and NESN is that back in 1999, Comcast added $1 to everyone’s bill and put NESN on as a basic channel. However, sometime between then and three or four years ago, NESN became a digital trunk channel with a fee again (with no reduction in our cable bills of the original $1). So, folks like me don’t watch Red Sox baseball anymore because it was taken off the basic. And, while I’m complaining, C-Span, which is a free channel, isn’t on the basic service at all even though it always was before. And yet, there are three friggin’ Spanish language channels on the basic service. The first chance I can get to drop cable TV, I’m going to, just like everyone else.

  13. I concur with what the other Al said… she’s selling herself, quite possibly to eventually relaunch her political career.

  14. Al Fiantaca

    @Al Quint:
    Other than her ride with Mitt Romney, what kind of political career has she had? Certainly not one of winning races for elective office, even on the most local stage. Her best bet is that of wife of money raiser, the one that got her the Lt Gov bid in the first place. Anything else is make believe.

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