Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Kliph Nesteroff's Oral History of Hockey Night in Canada - The Dave Hodge Pen Flip (1986)

From the unpublished Oral History of Hockey Night in Canada by Kliph Nesteroff.

Bill Good, Broadcaster: I remember when Dave Hodge threw the pencil in the air in disgust - when they made him wrap up a game that wasn’t completed yet to go to a previously scheduled broadcast.

Dave Hodge, Host: It was a pen.

Bill Good: They’d gone into a second game going into overtime to fill time on the network and they made him bail on the game that they were in. He was obviously furious and that was the beginning of the end for Dave at CBC.

Frank Selke Jr, Executive Vice President: It certainly didn’t take long for the CBC to say “no more.”

Steve Armitage, Broadcaster: He left under less than ideal circumstances. He was very critical of the CBC’s decision not to pursue a game that went into overtime. I was there the night he threw the pen in the air, but that had a little bit of a history.  

Jim Robson, Play-by-Play: He was very good on camera, but there was always politics involved. For example, when he had his disagreement with the famous tossing the pen in the air. I think at that time he was negotiating a new contract and there was some kind of a difficulty in that. So there were other factors involved. It wasn’t simply that incident … There was a timing problem. They were going to overtime and decided not to carry it. Some decision was made to go to [other] CBC programming, I guess, and Dave used that to protest on-air. That lead to him leaving the CBC and Hockey Night in Canada, but that wasn’t the only factor, I don’t think. 

Steve Armitage: Dave had been critical on-air of the CBC management’s decision. Dave had been involved in a telecast that afternoon where [they had cut] away from a curling match and it involved B.C. in The Briar and it was [with] Bernie Sparks. I was doing skiing that weekend, and I was in the truck, where that decision had been made to cut away from The Briar to an NDP political convention in Ontario. Dave had been critical of that CBC decision – it had nothing to do with hockey. 

Dave Hodge: Well, Bob Cole and I and perhaps some others were in the studio just before six PM eastern time watching the Briar. Newfoundland was playing, so Bob was terribly eager to follow the progress of every rock. As six o’clock came the CBC cut away for news. Bob was furious. I shook my head and said, “This is no way to run a network,” and thought no more about it at the time. Until we hit the evening of hockey.

Steve Armitage: When Dave ended up making the stink about “the asinine” decision to leave a hockey game in overtime, Dave brought that in to play. He said, “This is the same network that left curling to go to the NDP convention and the only reason they did it,” in Dave’s way of thinking, “was because it was Ontario. Had it been any other part of the country it probably wouldn’t have happened.” We had done skiing that afternoon and then we went to curling and the curling was going [long] so the decision was made to cut to the convention. The [western feed cut to] Star Trek! So, that was eating away at Dave. 

Frank Selke Jr: CBC has made some very strange decisions in its history and that was one of them.

Steve Armitage: The final blow for Dave came when he had to pull the pin on coverage of an overtime game [the same day] … Dave had been told, “Hey, you’re paid to do a certain job. Your job is to do Hockey Night in Canada, you don’t schedule the network.” This was a network scheduling decision that was made, right or wrong.

Dave Hodge: The Leafs game ended. We threw over to the end of a Philly-Montreal game which Montreal was leading three to two until Scott Mellanby tied it up and it went to overtime and again the CBC cut away from the game, or made plans to go to other programming. I got the message in my ear to explain that we had no more time to cover this game. I remember pleading with the producer in the truck to sign off with a wide shot and I would be prepared to deliver verbally that message – but I did not want to have to come on camera and explain this policy. Clearly, I didn’t agree with it. Hadn’t agreed with it earlier in the day. More so, wasn’t in line with it when it was involving me directly. They said, “No. Sorry. The way to do this is to come on camera and apologize to the viewers.” I probably had five or ten seconds between actually been told that and being on the air. So, I didn’t have a chance to really compose myself.

Steve Armitage: You can’t talk about those kinds of things on the air. You’re airing internal dirty laundry. When everybody says to me, “It was the throwing of the pen and the comments before that, that led to his firing,” I tell people there had been a little bit of a build-up before that. It had been explained to him that if you continue in this manner you’re walking down the wrong road. Nothing but bad can come out of this … At that point he just said, “Screw it.” In his philosophy he couldn’t believe that they would do this. “I’m saying what I’m saying and to hell with the consequences!”

Frank Selke Jr: He felt that, as did everyone else connected to the show, we’re over here in Toronto, but let’s go to Montreal to finish the evening with this great [hockey] struggle that’s going on in Montreal … very quickly, he was told in his ear that the network says we’re not going to Montreal, we’re going to the news. And that’s when the pen was flipped and he made his statement to the effect of “What kind of a network is this that we’re dealing with?” to paraphrase. It was pretty obvious that he was fed up with the way the network was treating the hockey telecasts. “Hey, the news can wait for five minutes for gosh sakes,” and surely it could have. 

Dave Hodge: I said what I said, and I did what I did. I walked out of the studio – and realized I would probably never be going back in.

Harry Neale, Color Commentator: We went down to the Westin Hotel after. I was staying there and I said, “Why don’t you come down for a beer?” and we had a beer and neither one of us knew what was going to happen then. 

John Shannon, Producer: I had already been hired at Global [Television]. Twenty minutes later I phoned Hodge at his hotel and offered him the hosting job on Global - twenty minutes after his walking off the Hockey Night set.

Dave Hodge: I remember both of those things. I didn’t, as time went on, think what I did was that bad. At the time, I knew what the reaction would be. I knew that I would have to deal with it. I knew that the way I would deal with it would be to say, “What the network did was wrong and whether what I did was wrong or not is up to other people to decide.” It didn’t change the fact that live sports television should not be done that way. Nothing was going to change my mind on that. So, yeah, I said to Shannon, “Clearly we’ll talk as the days go on. Let’s see how this thing plays out.” I went back to Vancouver and was told that I would not be working the next weekend. I said, “What does that mean? Am I suspended? Am I fired?” “Well, no, you’re just not working.” I think that was the case for maybe another week after that. Then I finally said, “If I’m not suspended and I’m not fired and I’m not working, then I think I have to move on.” “How about coming back to Toronto and meeting with CBC executives and offering an apology?” I said, “No. I’m not about to do that.” I never got a call saying I was fired and I never phoned anybody and said I was resigning. I just sort of showed up on another network.


PPH Services said...

Haha...this made me can see him trying to cover that he couldn't talk about what he needed to talk about!

Tom Misnik said...

Great story , thanks for sharing that, especially during the Stanley Cup Finals.

Must be a wild time in Vancouver right now.

Anonymous said...

Dave is correct, thats NOT the way to cover hockey. I think it was 1993 Hockey Night had brutal coverage during the playoffs. Some of us (here in Ontario) would JIP games from the west, or not see games at all forced to watch news... yawn. We would watch the east game forced into news coverage then get the 3rd period only of another game while other parts of Canada saw the entire game. If you go back and look at the distribution for that playoff year you will see what a fiasco it was. Either show the games that you have rights for in its entirety or show some other programming period but dont give us parts of all different stuff. Then about the Briar.. who cuts it off!? Stupid. You ask yourself why did I waste time to watch it in the first place. Brutal decision making.

Anonymous said...

I remember this incident and as people have said it was but one example of how shoddy CBC is run. It should have been the executives who should have been forced to appear on TV with an apology, to their viewers who have been cheated, and in fact with this network the viewers as taxpayers are the people paying their salaries.

So in the end CBC got what they deserved, the goofy Ron McLean who I'm sure was more than happy to kiss CBC's retarded butts. They no longer deserved Dave Hodge, although it was we in the end who got cheated here. That's just the way things go with this network though.

Anonymous said...

Dave Hodge was the best sports announcer the CBC ever had, was their loss and if so many still recollect the pencil incident, it's detrimental to CBC sports - Dave was right.

Anonymous said...

I have no ax to grind with Ron MacLean...he knows hockey too. That said though, Dave Hodge was, by far, the best hockey sportscaster I've had the pleasure to watch. He was television's Foster Hewitt, and it was clearly CBC's assinine programming decisions resulted in him complaining on air and subsequently leaving HNIC. Their (and our) loss. I also have to respect the integrity to his own principles shown by Dave in NOT apologizing. Good on ya, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the silly sods remember hearing the sustained roars of outrage crossing the border from the States in the late-1960s when NBC cut away from a football game to show the movie "Heidi" at its scheduled start? Man, learn from the mistakes of others. It could have been THEIR jobs out the window--and no name recognition to aid them in a job search.

Anonymous said...

It's funny. For decades, they're the only game in town, but those in charge must have been aware that their monopoly would eventually be lost them. So, what the hey, let's treat our customers cavalierly! A little benign contempt never hurt anyone, eh? Come the day, where's the loyalty?! Down the drain with your beer, mate.

Anonymous said...

Hey, it *is* funny - especially after Don Cherry joined CBC and, as his bio-pic films recalling back, how he and Mellanby had to take on the same misguided CBC brass on their own. It's too bad CTV gave up its sports coverage all together to cable TSN, because Dave Hodge deserved a high profile on the national stage and it would have been nice to see him take on the competition at CBC with their bureaucracy. I agree with the others that Dave Hodge is one of Canada's best sportscaster and surprised CBC made much ado about nothing. Ron Maclean seems like a nice guy but a lightweight-- weak puns and all. I have more respect for the guy always willing to take a stand than towing the line.

Ian Ross said...

Blows my mind when people say over the years that CBC Sports and Hockey Night in Canada is the gold standard of sports broadcasting. What are they watching in comparison to other networks?

Anonymous said...

This week I saw James Lipton in the credits following The Goldbergs. It was the episode where they were giving friend advise to a restaurateur who married a woman with 4 sons, who were all now grown and mooching/imposing off the parents. I wonder if that was one and the same James that we have come to love?