MLB Network has a gem of an upcoming documentary with The Colorful Montreal Expos, which will debut on Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET. The one-hour film, narrated by actor and Montreal native William Shatner, highlights the unique culture and history of the Expos, one of baseball’s most interesting franchises given the location, bilingual flavor and iconic players such as Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero and Tim Raines.
Executive producer Bruce Cornblatt said MLB Network officials began thinking about the possibility of a documentary when MLB announced in September that Montreal would once again be holding pair of exhibition games this April. The doc took 3-1/2 months to complete.
“For me, the best kinds of sports stories are the ones folks know about, but not all of it or most of it,” Cornblatt said. “The Expos seemed like the perfect example of that.”
The film travels through the birth of Montreal baseball in 1969 at Jarry Park, the team’s earliest star (Rusty Staub) and the memorable teams in the late 1970s and early ’80s, including the Dodgers’ Rick Monday describing his back-breaking home run in Game 5 of the 1981 National League Championship Series, which Expos fans refer to as “Blue Monday.” There’s also a segment on the 1994 Expos team, which many believe would have won the World Series if not for the strike, and the relocation of the franchise to Washington, D.C., in 2004.
Cornblatt said the filmmakers were looking for a Montreal native to narrate this and knew Shatner had a good voice and was a big sports fan. What they did not know was how connected he was to the era of Montreal baseball.
“[Shatner] told us before we started recording that his uncle took him to see Jackie Robinson when Jackie played for the Montreal Royals,” Cornblatt said. “I think you can hear in the narration a real connection to the team and especially the city. That was a great bonus for us.”
Among the fun parts of the doc are scenes shot in a Miami Beach restaurant with Warren Cromartie, Dawson, Cliff Floyd, and Rondell White.
“All the guys in that scene jumped at the opportunity to get together and relive their Expos memories,” said producer Andrew Brenner. “The chemistry among them, despite representing different eras, was instantaneous from the moment they all arrived at the restaurant. Before we started shooting, you could already see the camaraderie they had for each other. I believe it’s the first time all of them sat together to talk about the Expos in a very long time. That franchise was the first team all five guys played for.”
The last interview the producers conducted for the film was with Martinez, who played for the Expos from 1994 to ’97 before winning a World Series with the Red Sox in 2004.
“What stood out to me was the passion and sparkle in his eye when he talked about his years in Montreal,” Cornblatt said. “I hope that comes through in the doc. His shout-out to Montreal after the Red Sox won in 2004, and the effect it still has on Expos fans was one of my favorite moments of the doc.”
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. The biggest winner of the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry? That would be CBS Sports.
With snow-bound viewers across the country and a pulsating game between the Broncos and Patriots—likely the last showdown between Manning and Brady—CBS Sports drew an eye-popping 53.3 million viewers for Denver’s 20–18 win over New England on Sunday. That's the second-highest AFC Championship Game viewership ever behind 2011’s game between the Steelers and Jets (54.9 million). The Broncos-Patriots game peaked with an average of 62.9 million viewers from 6–6:30 p.m. ET.
1a. Fox’s ratings for the NFC Championship Game were hurt by the Panthers’ 49–15 blowout of the Cardinals. The game averaged 45.7 million viewers, down from last year’s 49.8 million for the Seahawks-Packers. The audience peaked at 49.9 million viewers from 8–8:30 p.m. ET.
1b. ESPN is airing a pretty cool college/NBA job swap on Feb. 3 featuring 16 broadcasters across five games. The studio coverage from Los Angeles will consist of Doris Burke, Rece Davis, Jalen Rose and Jay Williams.
The game coverage:
• Notre Dame at Miami featuring Dan Shulman, Dick Vitale and Jeff Van Gundy (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
• Golden State Warriors at Washington Wizards featuring Mike Breen, Doug Collins and Jay Bilas (8 p.m. ET, ESPN)
• Kansas St. at Kansas featuring Brent Musburger, Fran Fraschilla and Jon Barry (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
• Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Clippers featuring Dave Pasch, Mark Jackson and Jay Williams (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
2. As part of a 4,800-word interview with Jim Nantz that ran Monday on SI.com, Nantz said his broadcasting goal is to work until the 100th Masters golf tournament, which will come in April 2036. He has been part of CBS’s coverage of that major since 1986.
“I know it sounds a little crazy,” Nantz said. “Here we are in 2016 talking like this. But there are great, iconic voices working in their 70s, churning out quality work. This is all subject to be reexamined, but I really want to make it to 2036 health willing and CBS willing."
2a. A Q&A that did not run in the interview: I asked Nantz what he made of Greg Norman parting from Fox as a golf analyst after just one year.
“When Greg was the No. 1 ranked player in the world, [he] had a very strong tie with [former CBS golf producer Frank Chirkinian],” Nantz said. “I can tell you Greg made many, many appearances in the 18th tower when he played in a tournament and was not in one of the last groups. We never had anyone more giving of his time to come up to the tower and put on his headset and tell us what had happened. I always thought he was brilliant. Basically, he got to work one tournament last year. I know all those guys there and I truly wish them well. I talked to Joe [Buck] leading up to the Open and [I’ve known Fox producer] Mark Loomis for a long time. So we don’t know what happened there. I am curious. It takes time for people to be together in any sport on the air, to be able to establish continuity and chemistry. When I interview coaches and players, sometimes you can see who is really gifted at rolling out a sound bite and saying it in a way that has never been heard before—interesting ways in making you think. I worked a lot with Greg over the years and I don’t know why they parted ways. I always had a lot of respect for what he offered when he came to his tower.
“I wish Fox well,” Nantz continued. “Unlike the NFL where everyone is broadcasting at the same time during the regular season, the golf season you hand it off. Yes, we [at CBS] have it for the most weeks but we truly want everyone to do well because when it is your week, you are in charge of trying to make the game sound interesting and advance the sport and document it. It is not the competitive craziness that people want to talk about it. I watch other people call golf events and cheer them on and text them and congratulate them when they do good work, which is all the time. It is a different vibe than you might think.”
3. Episode No. 38 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Fox NFL analyst Troy Aikman. In this episode, Aikman details in-depth how he prepares for a broadcast, what kinds of questions he is asking of coaches and players, how he gets evaluated by his bosses, where he sees his evolution as a broadcaster, why following the Giants-Patriots Super Bowl in Arizona in 2008 he was as depressed professionally as he had ever been, how he views the concussion issue and what role he should take on it as a broadcaster, balancing work and family life, how he approaches talking about the Cowboys on-air, his respect for partner Joe Buck, why he wishes he could work in a booth with Don Meredith and much more.
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4. Sports Business Daily media reporter Jon Ourand reported that the NFL is reconsidering some of its TV rules in Los Angeles as part of the Rams’ move back to the market. In particular, Ourand wrote, the league wants to ease its doubleheader rule, which would prohibit a second game from airing against a Rams home game. Interestingly, Ourand also reported that the presence of an L.A.-based team is not expected to produce bigger ratings for any of the league’s prime-time packages.
“Because the Rams are an NFC team, the Sunday afternoon NFC rights holder, Fox Sports, is expected to see the most impact,” Ourand wrote. “While viewership in Los Angeles should rise, it should fall in St. Louis, and it is expected to have minimal effect on Fox’s national TV ratings.”
5. AXS TV today said it has hired the legendary pro wrestling commentator Jim Ross to call New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). He’ll begin March 4 at 9 p.m. ET.
5a. Next Sunday, The Big Ten Network will air its 100th episode of The Journey, the network’s signature original series.
5b. Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel debuts its new season (and 226th episode in series history) on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Among the features: The conflicts of interest among coaches and doctors and trainers in college athletics.
5c. The NHL All-Star Game will feature a new 3-on-3 divisional format this year, inspired by this year’s new 3-on-3 overtime format, with a prize pool of $1 million to be paid to the winning team. Pregame coverage begins Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The game is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. ET.
5d. Tragic news out of Melbourne: Ted Brown, a well-regarded associate producer with ESPN’s event production, passed away on Monday of a reported heart attack in his Melbourne hotel room while covering the Australian Open. He leaves behind a wife, and two-year-old son. Here’s a tribute from Chris Fowler.