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Cablevision makes commitment to high school sports

Woodbury: Theresa Chillianis, president of MSG Varsity, on

Woodbury: Theresa Chillianis, president of MSG Varsity, on Wednesday, September 9, 2009 in Woodbury, New York. (Photo by Howard Schnapp) Photo Credit: Newsday/Photo by Howard Schnapp

The slickly produced TV commercials, full of fresh young faces and what initially appears to be a cryptic message, suggests something out of a national Nike campaign.

The fact it actually is for a local cable channel focused on high school sports is telling, as it illustrates the commitment - in money, clearly, but also in labor and even channel position - behind MSG Varsity.

No one can be sure how this is going to go over when it launches Thursday, but there is no doubt that Cablevision is taking a leap into a television unknown.

So why do it? "We see this as an extension of the commitment Cablevision has had to the community over the past 30 years,'' said Theresa Chillianis, the station's general manager.

That it may be, but business is business, and another motivation is for Cablevision - which owns Newsday - to differentiate itself from competitors, as it does with its regional News 12 channels. As Chillianis put it, "MSG Varsity is part of Cablevision's ongoing commitment to deliver significant value for its customers and communities.''

(Initially, Varsity will not include advertising, but that is expected to come in time.)

The concept is complex and multifaceted, including four regionalized versions on TV Channel 14 - one for Long Island, naturally - as well as an interactive station on digital Channel 614 and, a Web site that will allow for hyper-localization.

The sprawling mandate includes more than 400 sports events (seen on tape delay) as well as activities such as marching bands, debate teams and cheerleading, and content generated both by professionals and students, with Cablevision providing equipment and training for the latter.

(Newsday will contribute content and expertise to the Long Island channel.)

The anchor program will be a five-nights-a-week roundup called "High School SportsDesk,'' hosted by Shawna Ryan and Jared Greenberg.

"I don't think that has ever been done before in the history of television,'' executive producer Michael Lardner said of the nightly high school highlights show.

Also planned are a call-in show featuring Mike Quick - a veteran of metropolitan area high school coverage - an academic quiz show and a list of other stuff that consumed five pages in a recent news release from MSG.

If it's all too overwhelming to explain fully here, imagine trying to run it.

Executives say they have the personnel to deal with an inundation of content, but both the best and most challenging part of the project figures to be the direct involvement of students at schools signed up to participate.

That also is the part that has educators most intrigued.

"It's a massive undertaking, but they want it to be right and they want it to be professional,'' said Don Buckley, athletic director at St. Anthony's in South Huntington. "Everyone is excited about this in all the schools.''

That is part of the idea: Engaging teenagers, not to mention the parents who will want to see their teenagers' names and pictures on TV. But can Varsity bring together a region as vast as the New York area or even Long Island itself when it comes to a subject as local as high schools?

And will jaded 21st century students look up from their text messages long enough to watch themselves on TV or the Internet? We shall see.

"It's quite ambitious what we're doing from a programming standpoint,'' Lardner understated.

He was a three-sport captain at Great Neck North, from which he graduated in 1966, when something such as MSG Varsity would have been difficult to imagine.

Now it's less than a week from reality.



STANGE BUT TRUE: Strahan says: 'I can do that'

It was just over a year ago that the Giants reached out to Michael Strahan to un-retire in the wake of an injury to Osi Umenyiora.

Strahan said “no’’ then, so surely he has playing out of his system now, with a season as a Fox analyst under his belt and a sitcom premiering next Friday.


“Watching the guys have fun on Sunday, definitely I go, ‘Wow, I could still do that,’’’ he said.

“But thinking about coming out every day, I don’t know. I love the physical part, but I only love it on Sunday. The problem is you can’t do it only on Sunday. You have to do it those other days of the week.’’

JUST WONDERING: YES says no to postgames

Unless YES can convince the Yankees not to do anything interesting on certain Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, its lack of a postgame for most My9, Fox and ESPN games will continue to frustrate fans.

Latest example: Tuesday, when it did not cover the brawl with the Blue Jays seen on My9.

YES is a victim of its own success, because viewers have come to expect the thorough shows that follow games on the network. But the Yankees are the primary reason for the network’s existence, so it should be all over every game.

“We’ve had more pre- and postgame shows for those [non-YES] games than in previous years, and we are heading in that direction,’’ spokesman Eric Handler said.

(For example, YES offered an extra postgame when Derek Jeter was near the team hits record).

Handler would not say why YES does not cover every game, as SNY began doing this season.

Here’s a hint: Money. (Duh!) To produce 162 postgames, YES would have to fire up its studio when it otherwise would have been dark, which is quite expensive. SNY’s added costs are not as daunting because its studio already is live each day for news shows.

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