Dick Harmon: The mtn.'s talent, content debut well

Published: Thursday, May 17 2007 12:08 a.m. MDT

So, what about this first year of programming on The mtn., a network wannabe exclusively dedicated to covering sports in the Mountain West Conference?

Here's my take on what I've seen since forfeiture of my satellite dish for digital cable and The mtn.

I apologize to those frustrated MWC fans who still cannot get The mtn. Agreed, this is dangling candy. Guilty as charged. But "getting the show" is an issue for another day, a topic in the media business we call "hamburger" because of its volatility and bloodletting every time you toss it about.

No, this is about content and presentation. For a network right out of the chute, I believe The mtn. has done a remarkable job filling a void with entertaining, informative shows and interviews you'd never see anywhere else.

Tonight, you can tune into the BYU-Utah baseball game, part of a series that will conclude the regular season. Next week, you'll see the league's baseball tournament live.

Earlier this month, I threw out a grade for programming at The mtn., posted a B+. That brought some expected, constructive disagreement from some who were horrified at some of the game coverage, particularly some production issues with fuzzy pictures, use of cameras, replays and on-air reporting.

The production flaws are correctable and CSTV and Comcast officials I have spoken with say they are eager and capable of fixing those problems.

This network scrambled to get production people in place. Many of these folks behind the scenes had been unceremoniously burned financially by previous contract work with a regional network that had brought Utah and BYU fans TV games.

Because my job conflicts most Saturdays with watching games live on TV, I find football and basketball replays a gold nugget of The mtn. Same with official coaches shows from the league coaches.

Anchors Courtney George and former KTVX-TV (Salt Lake City) sportscaster Marius Payton are professional, knowledgeable, experienced and throw out an attractive presentation. But most of all, they're passionate, and it shows.

Anne Marie Anderson knows her stuff on the sidelines. I've seen her doing background work, and she's as good as anyone on any other network.

When it comes to game coverage, I single out James Bates. He has a great delivery, a lot of enthusiasm and knows a ton of tidbits on players and coaches. Unlike some broadcasters we've heard on ESPN, ABC and NBC, Bates doesn't come off like he just walked off the plane to do a game.

Tim Neverett comes off as the smoothest on-air personality, and I like the job he does hosting specialty shows. Some of those gigs include "The Mountain View," "The Mountain Cap," "Reaching the Peak," "It's a Number's Game," "Around the Mountain," "A Day in the Life" and "MTN Peak Performances."

Two local guys get a lot of color work: former NFL All-Pro Todd Christensen and former BYU quarterback Blaine Fowler. I know Fowler personally. He's got a photographic memory, his critiques are usually base hits, and he does a professional job.

Some viewers have issues with Christensen because of his vocabulary, but I find his penchant for Scrabble home runs educational and entertaining. Reader Steve Anderson of San Diego hears BYU partisanship in Christensen's commentary, and it bugs him. I didn't interpret Christensen that way, but some may, and I'd be interested in feedback if that is an issue.

How would Christensen have handled it if BYU had lost half the games he did broadcasts for, instead doing color on wins by an average of three touchdowns?

Overall, I don't see any on-air talent as big of a knockout as Charles Barkley. But there isn't an obnoxious jerk parading around on their sets, either.

Generally speaking, I thought the rookie network came through as promised, even if those who are in charge of actually delivering it to the homes of fans struggled mightily and failed.

If this network was up on the satellites and really available as a choice for fans throughout the country, it would indeed be capable of bragging over breaking ground as the first station to exclusively cover a college conference.

But as we're told — or sold — it takes baby steps to get the job done.

Don't fault the talent behind this network. They've assembled a decent, credible team. They work their tails off.

Someday, perhaps in my lifetime, a lot of viewers might even see their work.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com