Skating Toward -- Or Away From -- Big TV Events, With New Backdrops

We here at TV Watch may not have been the biggest fans of ice hockey over the years, until the Winter Classic came along four years ago. Something about hockey outside in the elements -- snow, cold, perhaps sleet -- made it  seem like tough-guy stuff. This NHL game had the appropriate backdrop. (What's the reverse? Arena football -- football games played indoors.)

Set design and presentation can be everything. In the 1990s, NBC’s "E.R." started a modern era of "live" episodes that has since been repeated by a few select scripted shows like "West Wing," "Will & Grace" and most recently, "30 Rock." These shows, full of theoretical danger for TV producers -- from blown lines and other snafus – generally grabbed higher ratings. Welcome to the high-wire act that stage actors go through.

In a similar vein, taking somewhat ordinary sports content and giving it different settings can offer a new spin. This year's NHL Winter Classic was to be held outdoors in in Ann Arbor, Mich. on New Year's Day with two of the league's original franchises, the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, It would have been another great contest. But the league's continued lockout, the NHL’s second in a decade (the other was the cancellation of the 2004-2005 season) put a stop to it.

While a bunch of regular season games had already been scrapped, the hope was that the league wouldn't need to go as far as cancelling the Winter Classic. The NHL has been making a comeback with fans and viewers, on the NBC Sports Network for example. Now this happens.

The annual Winter Classic had been one of the highlights of the NHL schedule, averaging 4.1 million viewers since its inception in 2008. Last year's game on NBC was the most watched regular season game in 36 years. Four of the five Winter Classics rank in the top five most watched regular season NHL games since 1975.

Special TV events like these helped bring ilapsed fans, non-fans, and light-NHL fans back to the league. Now, a real crimp has been put on the league, with not only another season seemingly down the drain, but one of its marquee events also disappearing.

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