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The Inside Story on Morency's Firing at HSR
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In 1990, William Houston started writing the Truth and Rumours column at the Toronto Globe & Mail. Focusing largely on the sports media, it was noted for its strong reporting and sharp edged commentary. It was a popular feature of the Globe’s sports section for 19 years. After taking an early retirement, William Houston resumed Truth & Rumours as a Web blog in October, 2009.  www.truthandrumours.net/about/

Here is Houston's take on the departure of Gabriel Morency form Hardcore Sports Radio this week and Score Media:

Three years ago, Gabriel Morency, a shock jock and sports host from Montreal, was hired by Score Television to be the driving force in re-making of the network.

    He was going to help it get younger, louder, more compelling and more “authentic,” a term that was repeatedly used by the new head of programming Richard Garner.

   Authenticity, as Garner saw it, meant strong opinions and also profanity — swearing that was bleeped during Morency’s dinner hour show on the network, but allowed on the late night satellite radio show on Hard Core Sports, which is produced by the Score.

   But, after more than a year of internal discord and squabbling over the image conveyed by Garner’s vision, he resigned in March.

   For Morency, the beginning of the end wasn’t a philosophical dispute with the powers that be. Instead, it was his attendance at a  Toronto Argonaut game three weeks ago. He went with some friends, had several drinks and returned to the downtown Toronto studio to do his late night radio show from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

  “I had a few pops,” Morency said earlier today. “I forget sometimes that I’m part of a company. Did I push the envelop? Sometimes I do.”

   Morency, 39, admits he was over the top that night. He started dancing in the studio. And since the show was cybercast on the Score’s website, he was seen as well as heard.

  “The bottom line is, it’s like taboo to have alcohol in the studio,” he said. “It was a wild night. I was dancing. I might have crossed the line as far as . . . Listen, when I’m on top of the mountain, I’m King Kong. I might have said some things.”

  He was suspended for seven days. The Score also removed him from the network’s dinner hour show. His co-host Cam Stewart will continue to do the show, starting next week, apparently.

  After some Twitter remarks by Morency about his situation, the Score went the rest of the way and fired him.

   Morency couldn’t believe it.

  “I’m shocked by what’s transpired,” he said.

  John Levy, Score Media’s chairman and CEO and principal stakeholder, wouldn’t come to the phone, but Morency says Levy was a supporter.

 “I don’t have a bad word to say about John,” he said. “I just think my relationship deteriorated the past year or so with some other people in that building in the corporate structure.”

  Said a source, “There’s a real divide in the board room between Hard Core Sports and the Score. Radio and TV collided, and there’s a corporate battle going on in there. It’s really tough.”

   Morency was caught in the middle, but his departure was expedited — and his critics were given ammunition — by his act in the studio after the Argo game.

  But he’ll be back. He’s in the process of building a website called morencysports.com. He expects it to be up in two weeks. He will then resume his one-hour afternoon show and his late night show on the site.

   What’s wrong with the Score?

   It’s almost impossible to evaluate the Score Television Network without calling it a mess.

   Consider the events of the past year and a bit:

  • Head of programming Anthony Cicione, well respected, forced out.
  • Vice-president and general manager David Errington, well respected, gone, sources say pushed.
  • Head of programming Richard Garner, radical but smart, gone, pursuing other things.
  • Al Strachan, high profile hockey analyst, dumped at the end of last season.
  • Shock jock Gabriel Morency fired this week.

   At best, the company’s vision and leadership is conflicted; at worse, the vision is dim and the leadership unstable.

  John Levy would disagree with these assessments, but since a request for an interview was not granted, we don’t know for sure. Levy has plenty of issues to keep him away from the phone.

  For starters, the company’s stock has plummeted to 53 cents a share from two dollars in 2007.

   It reported a net loss of $1.5-million for the fiscal year that ended Aug. 31, after earning net income of $2.5-million the previous year. Of course, it’s been a tough economic year for everybody.

  And, in April, Canwest Global bailed out as a part owner, selling its 16.6 million shares, thus denying the Score a broadcast partner for TV property purchases in the future.

   The good news? The Score cut a deal with BlackBerry in 2009 to provide mobile content. The iphone service received more than 10 million monthly page views during its peak period in the spring. Web traffic is up. The network carries Toronto Raptors and English Premier League games. That’s good content. And the $1.5-million net loss in 2008-09 can be explained in part by money spent to upgrade the downtown Toronto studio to high definition television.

  But is the Score’s future bright? Or is the future the company’s worst enemy?

   The digital universe has helped the Score with mobile content but also made it vulnerable. After all, the network’s once-important status as an analogue channel is now largely meaningless. Digital networks are beginning to get distribution comparable to the analogues. TSN2, for example, which launched just a year ago, is now in four million households, and growing closer to the Score’s six million.

  As for the programming on the Score and TSN2, there is no comparison. TSN2 airs NHL games, Raptors, NBA content and Toronto Blue Jays games, plus repeats of the premium programming on TSN.

  The Score, for the most part, has hitched its wagon to content that includes WWE, poker, and U.S. college sports, which is in this country is about as marginal as it gets.

  “If the suits at the Score had their way, they’d limit the programming to the cheap stuff — poker and wrestling,” said one source.

  And the competition isn’t letting up. It’s just a matter of time until TSN2 becomes the No.3 sports channel in Canada, ahead of the Score and behind only TSN and Rogers Sportsnet. TSN2 is already the top sports digital in the market and ranks No.3 overall among all the diginets. As well, the CBC is planning to launch its own sports digital channel a year from now.

  In the pre-digital age, the Score was able to survive by employing a programming strategy that mandated 24/7 sports news and highlights.

  But that service, in terms of being the sole domain of the Score, is long over. TSN and Sportsnet have been running news crawlers at the bottom of the TV screen for years. On Bell TV, TSN provides an interactive service that allows the viewer to select the sports news he wants.

  The Score, with its original programming strategy redundant, moved to  into aggressive, profane content, and that divided the company. The network doesn’t appear to know what it wants to be. And it’s getting rapidly overtaken by the competition.

Please go to Truths & Rumours website to post comments on this story www.truthandrumours.net/2009/11/05/the-inside-story-on-hosts-firing/
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