Since Comcast completed its acquisition of NBC Universal, executives of the company have talked about leveraging their many sports properties – including NBC Sports, VERSUS, the Golf Channel, the 11 regional Comcast SportsNet sites and the network of NBC-branded sports news sites – into a greater whole.
On Wednesday, they took what they believe is a major step in that process, announcing a block of new live programming that will air weeknights from 6-7 under the “NBC SportsTalk” banner. The studio discussion shows will air on the NBC Sports Network (as Versus will be known starting in January), and will incorporate guests from all of the above properties, including Pro FootballTalk’s Mike Florio, who will appear every Monday and Friday.
And, most interestingly for D.C. viewers, the block of live programming will be hosted by former Comcast SportsNet anchor Russ Thaler, who announced last week he was leaving the local network after more than 10 years.
“The partnership of NBC Sports and Comcast will, I hope, create opportunities for a lot of people within the Comcast SportsNet family to spread their wings a little bit,” Thaler told me this week while he was driving to Connecticut, where the shows will originate. “I think this is just the beginning for NBC Sports Network. I was the first on-air hire from one of the regional networks, but I’m gonna be far from the last. That really excites me; to be in on the ground floor, to get it going and just see where it goes from here.”
The SportsTalk show will be devoted to football on Mondays (when it will be called Pro FootballTalk) and Fridays (when it will include Peter King). It will focus on the news of the day on Tuesdays-Thursdays. On certain Wednesdays during the winter, the final 30 minutes will be dedicated to hockey. It won’t be a highlight show or a collection of video clips; “that’s not what this is about,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and VERSUS.
“We’re not looking to break news; we’re looking to take news and analyze it and tell you how to feel about it, what it means,” Miller said. “We want a place for people to go where they know they’re going to see good, intelligent, quality sports television.”
Which is something that appeals to Thaler, the original host of Washington Post Live and one of the final original employees of Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic to leave the network. By this point he has strong Washington roots; he and his wife got engaged near Charlottesville, his three sons were all born at Sibley, and he became entrenched in the D.C. sports scene, working the PA for the Washington Kastles and raising a son who plays hockey and is a rabid Caps fan.
He only found out about the SportsTalk opening five weeks ago, and his mind was still buzzing when we chatted this week.
“It was surreal; I think it still is,” he said. “I half expect to go back to Bethesda and anchor the 6 o’clock show. That’s something I’ve been doing for more than 10 years now, and I don’t know how to describe it. I put a lot of work into it, and I loved every minute of it. I never dreaded going into work in Bethesda, ever. I loved every minute of it. There are stories that are hard – covering Sean Taylor’s murder is hard – but I don’t know of many people who can say for 10-plus years they never once dreaded going into the office, and I hope that showed on-air.”
The NBC SportsTalk shows are scheduled to debut on Sept. 8. The network will also introduce a new 30-minute sports business show hosted by CNBC’s Darren Rovell, Fridays at 7. And Thaler, it goes without saying, is excited.
“Thrilled,” he said. “This is an opportunity that I’ve been striving for.”