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In March, Tom Green announced that he would be leaving his post as lead sportscaster on Channel 7 to take the helm of Rocky Mountain Sports Report, a locally based program slated to debut on Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain come late spring. In May, Green divulged that his agreement with Fox had collapsed and his future at Channel 7 was uncertain. In June, he quietly left Channel 7 three days prior to the first Rocky Mountain Sports Report broadcast from Denver and four days before the first appearance of Channel 7's new sports anchor, Lionel Bienvenu, late of...Fox Sports Net.
You can't tell the players without a program, but one thing is abundantly clear: What initially looked like a career upturn for Green went south in a hurry. "A lot of things happened," he says, "and I was left horribly in the middle."
In the beginning, the situation looked considerably brighter. As reported first in this space ("Head to Head," February 22), Fox Sports Net chose Denver to test its new marketing strategy, which de-emphasizes centralization à la ESPN in favor of regional hubs focusing on the home teams of nearby sports buffs. Green seemed like the ideal choice to host this experiment in localism. He had twenty years' experience in the Denver market, including three years at Channel 7, and thanks to a provision in his Channel 7 contract, he was doing occasional work for Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain. As a bonus, he was, and is, a likable presence, able to balance wit with first-rate reporting skills.
Channel 7 types, recognizing these characteristics, offered Green what he calls "a nice offer to stay" at the station. But the opportunity to get in on the ground floor at Fox Sports Net's latest project was too much for him, and he soon reached an agreement with Fox Sports Net Rocky Mountain head man Tim Griggs to take the reins at the Rocky Mountain Sports Report. Unfortunately, Green says, "the corporate office at Fox in L.A. eventually got involved, and they tried to alter the deal. I told them they couldn't, and they told me, 'The deal's off.'"
In early May, when these maneuverings were taking place, Channel 7 had not yet signed a new sports anchor -- seemingly good news for Green. But a number of factors prevented execs from welcoming back their prodigal son. Because word of Green's departure received big play in the Denver dailies, the station might have come across as desperate had it embraced him again, especially considering its generally mediocre ratings. Channel 7 news director Byron Grandy points out that in key demographics for certain newscasts, the outlet is in second place behind Channel 9 but ahead of Channel 4. But Grandy concedes that when it comes to so-called household ratings for the 10 p.m. newscasts, in which Channel 7 regularly runs a distant third in a three-horse race, "we have a long way to go."
In addition, Channel 7 already had a line on Bienvenu, whose availability, appropriately enough, had everything to do with Fox Sports Net's regionalism slant. "Because of the development of the regional networks, Fox Sports was downsizing staff at the national level," Grandy says. "We just happened to catch some discussions with him when that process was beginning, and I think he saw a real opportunity -- and I don't blame him. To be a local sports guy in a market as good as this one is a great job."
Maybe so -- but there's no denying that the timing of Bienvenu's arrival was far from ideal. Amid the confusion over Green, the Colorado Avalanche were working their way through the National Hockey League playoffs on the way to the Stanley Cup -- and because ABC, Channel 7's network, had the rights to the NHL broadcasts, Green wound up receiving more and better exposure than during any other time in his tenure with the station. In particular, he fronted a series of impressive post-game shows, including several during the finals that saw him working with the knowledgeable Ralph Backstrom, a six-time Stanley Cup winner with the Montreal Canadiens who went on to coach hockey at the University of Denver. "It was really unique," Green points out. "Normally a sportscaster is confined to just a few minutes. But on a nightly basis, we were afforded anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to do live television -- to speak extemporaneously in a forum where we not only could start a thought, but finish one."
Grandy says "there was never a doubt" that Green would anchor the Stanley Cup coverage, but he acknowledges that the increased viewership would have provided the ideal platform to introduce Bienvenu. "Depending on what side you're looking at it from, that was uncomfortable," he says. "But that's the way it goes."
After the Avalanche hoopla died down, Green literally disappeared from Channel 7; he didn't make any farewell statement during his last broadcast, on June 14, because, he says, "things are so uncertain for me, I didn't have anything to say that would have made sense." Likewise, Bienvenu's arrival, on June 18, took place with zero fanfare, and no splashy presentations are pending. "I think we'll do things quietly this summer," Grandy notes. "We have five Broncos games this year, so we'll have plenty of opportunities to showcase his work then."