By: John Molori
July 03, 2006

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THIS WEEK:

- Comcast's call
- Paul's post pattern
- Visser's victory

Comcast revamps sports programming lineup NESN's Devlin huddles with NFL Network; Visser's call from Hall

Just two weeks after the abrupt departure of Boston-based sports host Ed Berliner, more changes are afoot at Comcast CN8.

Beginning in September, "Sports Pulse," the 10:00 p.m. weeknight show formerly hosted by Berliner will move to 11:00 p.m. and morph into a live sports news and highlight show hosted by John Carchedi and Phil Burton. The show will most likely be entitled "Out of Bounds."

According to Leslie Padilla, Lou Tilley, host of CN8's current "Out of Bounds" program, (weeknights, 11:00 p.m.) will no longer host the program, but will remain with CN8 as a contributor.

Beginning in September, Gregg Murphy will host a live early edition of " Out of Bounds" at 7:00 p.m. The moves are part of Comcast's continued development into a regional network.

"In September, we launch in Washington, DC," says Padilla. "All of our efforts are to create shows that air simultaneously in all 13 of our markets and 14 states, the same shows at the same times."

The DC launch will add 9 million homes to CN8's audience. Padilla states, "To appeal to our network-wide audience spanning from Maine to DC and Virginia, CN8 will launch a new fall lineup in September that will add two hours of live programming per day plus additional sports and entertainment programming on the weekends.

"As a result, regional-specific shows will be replaced with network-wide programming of interest to CN8's audience."

Heretofore, Comcast aired different shows in different regions. As an example, "Sports Pulse" did not air in the network's Philadelphia hub. Late last week, a Philadelphia Inquirer article detailed layoffs and changes resulting from the shift from local programming to regional programming.

Says Padilla, "There were several inaccuracies in the article and a correction was published the next day. We are excited about the two live hours of sports programming that will begin in September."

When Berliner left Comcast two weeks ago, a CN8 Boston source told Media Blitz that the staff had split into pro and anti-Berliner factions. Padilla said she knew nothing of this and that Berliner's exit was a "mutual decision. "

Comcast is hoping that the sports changes will cement CN8 as a true regional network. Padilla states, "The 7:00 p.m. show hosted by Gregg Murphy will be a fast-paced panel show with participants from Boston, New York, Philadelphia and DC. Panelists will discuss issues that are national in scope, while local in impact.

"At 11:00 p.m., John Carchedi and Phil Burton will cohost a live one-hour sports highlight show airing from Boston and covering the news from all of our regions. There will also be an opportunity for guests and features on the program." Padilla says that decisions have yet to be made regarding specific panelists/guests for the new shows.

A source at Comcast, unaware of the specific changes outlined by Padilla here, told Media Blitz that as far back as January, Comcast planned to end the current versions of "Sports Pulse" and "Out of Bounds" due to a lack of advertising revenue and the cost of producing the shows.

The source also said that CN8 did little marketing and promotion for the sports programs, a "tell-tale sign that the writing was on the wall." Said the source, "Employees in the Boston region are scared right now. No one knows what's going on. There are a lot of people who think sports won't survive on CN8, that the network certainly won't be a major player in sports."

The current changes of which Padilla spoke seem, on the surface, to belie that point. In essence, with live sports shows at 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., CN8 is following the model of regional rival Fox Sports Net (FSN), which airs "Sports Tonight" hosted by Gary Tanguay and Greg Dickerson at 6:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. weeknights.

The question is whether CN8's personalities can reach the level of recognition and success that Tanguay and Dickerson have gained.

In addition, Comcast will continue to provide game and event coverage. Says Padilla, "The changes will allow us to provide a lot more sports. On weekends, there will be more coverage of games, events, high school and college sports, ice skating and boxing."

Devlin's day

NESN reporter Paul Devlin has improved and flourished in a number of roles for the regional network from SportsDesk anchor to Patriots beat reporter to would-be hockey star on "Be a Bruin." What Devlin has not gained is career stability.

He does not receive the salary and benefits of a full-time employee at NESN, but he has been doing full-time work. Recently, Devlin has been doing some reporting for the ever-growing NFL Network.

He states, "They are keeping me in the loop on a freelance basis. I would love to work there full-time. Don't get me wrong. NESN is terrific and the potential here is amazing, but it would be nice to eventually have something more stable."

Devlin, like many NESN reporters and other freelancers, does not have a contract. Essentially, he works when there is work. Often, the hours and effort are not comparable to the pay and constancy. Such is the life of the freelance reporter, long on work, short on long term financial stability. In addition, Devlin does not work with an agent.

"I was represented by IMG (one of the largest media and entertainment firms in the world) for four years, but I got most of my jobs on my own," says the 39 year-old Devlin. "All they were doing was taking my money."

Devlin is a true media lifer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Radio, Television, & Movie Production from the University of North Carolina (UNC) and played two seasons (1988-89) in the Boston Red Sox organization in the Carolina League.

In addition to his current work as weekend anchor at NESN, he has worked as a videographer/reporter in Erie, PA, Binghamton, NY and Fort Myers, FL. In 1998-99, he moved to WABU-TV 68 in Boston doing Red Sox and Celtics broadcasts.

From there, he headed south as a weekday anchor for Fox Sports Net South and Arizona from 2000-03. Before returning to Boston at NESN, Devlin served as a supervising integration producer for ESPN.

While at UNC, Devlin had the opportunity to play a small role in the classic baseball film "Bull Durham." In a memorable scene, Kevin Costner's Crash Davis character tells an opposing batter what pitch will be thrown by Tim Robbins' Nuke LaLoosh. The batter, played by Devlin, hits a home run.

He states, "It was just a fun thing. I was playing ball at UNC and was in the right place at the right time. The funny thing is that later, when I was in the Red Sox organization, I played against the Durham Bulls on "Bull Durham Night" and hit a home run to the same spot."

That was the movies. Real life is not as nicely wrapped. Says Devlin, " NESN has great potential. There is no ceiling to what they can do. When I was at Fox Sports South, it was similar to NESN. I was working full-time hours. In this business, that's just the way it is."

As the crown jewel in the Red Sox corporate crown, NESN is a much sought-after place to work. Being in the talent mix often means making personal sacrifices.

Take the case of Eric Frede. Frede did a great job as NESN's Red Sox in-game reporter, but was replaced by the talented Tina Cervasio this season. It would be easy for a guy like Frede to storm out in anger, but the work and potential is too good to forsake.

Devlin is hoping that the NFL Network is his ticket to career growth and permanence. "I sent tapes over there," he relates. "The Network started out with minimal opportunities, but there are so many teams all over the country.

"They said that they are going to keep me in the mix. I am looking forward to doing the Patriots beat for NESN again, but there should be some good opportunities at NFL Network with Training Camp and once the season gets going."

Viva Visser

CBS' "NFL Today" reporter and former Boston Globe scribe Lesley Visser is the 2006 recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.

A 34-year media veteran and one of the truly good people in the business, Visser is humbled by the honor. "I'm overwhelmed," she told Media Blitz while in Boston for the Fenway Park wedding of San Diego Chargers president Jim Steeg and USA Today scribe Jill Leiber.

"When I started in the mid-70's, media credentials said, "˜no women or children in the press box.' There were no ladies' rooms. It was like a foreign country.

"(Patriots owner) Bob Kraft was the first owner to let me in a locker room, when he owned the (pro tennis) Boston Lobsters! I had the blessing of the support of the Boston Globe and the NFL, first Pete Rozelle, then Paul Tagliabue, who created equal access in 1982."

The Quincy native, Boston College grad and wife of superb sportscaster Dick Stockton says that football has been a true passion. "I always loved pro football. I saw my first game, the Patriots against the Raiders in 1964 at Fenway Park."

Visser, who has worked at CBS, ABC, ESPN and HBO, is the first woman to host a Super Bowl postgame show, the first woman on "Monday Night Football," the first female Super Bowl sideline reporter, the first woman to work a Final Four broadcast and the first female NFL analyst.

She is the only sportscaster, male or female, to work a network broadcast of the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Triple Crown, Olympics and World Figure Skating Championships. Still, it is football that really jogs her memory.

"I've been blessed to do games in Soldier Field, Lambeau Field, Gillette, and in Miami from the Orange Bowl to Joe Robbie to Dolphin Stadium. I really owe people like (former Globe editor) Vince Doria and (CBS executives) Ted Shaker and Sean McManus. This is too much. I'm beyond thrilled!"

John Molori's columns are published in The Boston Metro, Patriots Football Weekly, ColdHardFootballFacts.com, Boston Sports Review, New England Ringside Magazine, Boston Baseball Magazine, Methuen Life, TheRemyReport.com, PatsFans.com, BostonSportsReview.com, BostonPressBox.com, BostonSportsMedia.com and BostonSportz.com. Email John at MoloriMedia@aol.com.


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