“Promising he’ll show up later will build our audience to be quite frank.”
Beginning Saturday, delayed more than three months by the NHL lockout, Cherry will also appear during the first intermission of the second game of the CBC double-header, which begins at 10 p.m. Toronto time.
More air time for the bombastic Cherry and his loud attire is one of numerous changes to mark the 60th season of Hockey Night in Canada.
“We’re building on the strengths of the personalities we already have,” Bristow said during a break in a rehearsal for the show.
To that end, the studio’s main anchor desk has been expanded to accommodate four analysts — Glenn Healy, P.J. Stock, Kevin Weekes and Elliotte Friedman — alongside MacLean. They will be there from the 6:30 p.m. pre-game through the end of the second contest of the night.
“I’m concerned that we’ve got four guys on the panel who are all capable of filling the six minutes in one answer,” MacLean said. “So, that’s going to be the clear challenge. We will have, I’m sure, have our moments where we’re stepping all over each other and it’s not working but the good thing about group discussions is that it gives somebody a moment to breathe and think.”
Backing up Cherry, MacLean and the four panelists in the studio is Andi Petrillo, who will interact with viewers via social media at the I-Desk as the first full-time female in-studio personality in the show’s 60 years.
As part of what Bristow calls a push to “broaden the fan base,” Hockey Night in Canada is giving people the opportunity to log in via computer during broadcasts to a so-called “second screen” for more interactive features. Later this winter, it will expand to Xbox consoles, allowing viewers to watch live games and stay up-to-date on special in-game features.
The 60th anniversary celebrations will also include Cherry and MacLean visiting each of the seven Canadian NHL cities over the course of the season and a free concert series outside rinks, beginning Saturday in Montreal.
Healy said he understands if fans are angry and perhaps reluctant to watch the NHL after the lockout, which was “an embarrassment to both sides.” But he said the skill of the players, thrill of the game and “Kentucky Derby race to the finish” in a shortened season will no doubt help to bring them back.
“Our role is to bring the fan closer to the game because they’re not going to make the NHL,” Healy said of the analysts role on Hockey Night in Canada. “If you can bring them to the game, bring them to ice level, get them some insight into the game, then you’ve accomplished that.
“But we’re not the show. The players are.”