Henning: FSD pleased with announcer swaps

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Mario Impemba

Sometimes, at mid-game, Tigers viewers are shifted to the studio of Fox Sports Detroit, where from their booth Mario Impemba and, perhaps, analyst Kirk Gibson, become part of a three-way conversation about that night’s game events in union with versatile Tigers observer and that night’s in-studio critic, Rod Allen.

On another night, during a telecast from Comerica Park, there could be a fourth-inning cutaway to Allen or to Craig Monroe from their dugout-hugging perch in the photographer’s well. There, something intimate or intrinsic to the night’s game can be shared by former big-leaguers who have a particularly intimate view of the field and players at work.

And, of course, there has been in 2016 another wrinkle to FSD telecasts that remain the most highly rated local programming in Metro Detroit. In four different road series, Impemba and radio play-by-play anchor Dan Dickerson have switched seats, allowing each man an interlude with the Tigers’ respective TV/radio audiences.

“Some things have changed, and some haven’t,” said Greg Hammaren, FSD’s senior vice president and general manager, mentioning that another alteration on display this week, Craig Monroe as color analyst during the Tigers-Twins series at Minnesota, had been scheduled from the season’s outset. 

"What has changed is that during home games we’ve tried to involve that second analyst (near) the Tigers dugout – to give a different perspective, physically, from the booth. What do they see from where they are? What’s their take on whatever topic from the day? That, in fact, is new.”

The dugout-side cutaways to Allen or Monroe are part of an overall programming nuance FSD is employing in 2016. Viewers might have picked up on it, not only in the way more of FSD’s analysts have been used from the studio and near-field settings, but as part of an overall theme.

“We’re trying to make sure there’s a flow between pre-game and post-game shows with respect to certain topics,” said Hammaren, who might find that Allen, working that night in the studio, can make a starting pitcher’s approach, or a bullpen’s role – as a potential plus or minus – central to that night’s game narrative. “Involving those folks in each aspect of the telecast helps to ensure that.

“And not just on-air talent, but also the producer. There can be more storytelling. We can try to focus on as much intelligence as we can gather at the game at hand.”

FSD’s telecasts have in the past decade been either the most watched, per capita, local telecasts of any team in baseball, or have finished no lower than fourth.

The audience is powerfully diverse in demographics and in scope, statewide, and FSD and the Tigers have benefited, although they keep financials air-tight.

Programming elements were fairly staid until 2015 when the Tigers and FSD decided to expand their broadcast team. What had been a straight Impemba-Allen on-air booth unit expanded to include as analysts a pair of Tigers stars from the 1980s, Gibson and Jack Morris.

Allen either joined or filled-in for Monroe as an in-studio pundit on nights when either Gibson or Morris partnered with Impemba.

The change appeared to work even as Gibson was sidelined briefly when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Fans generally – generally – have appreciated the different voices and perspectives, even if sports viewers are notoriously vocal, either way, about likes and dislikes of particular broadcasters. Not for a moment has the Tigers audience been an exception to an old TV truism.

This year, Monroe has moved from strictly an in-house seat to expanded work near the dugout and, six times, as Impemba’s booth partner.

Impemba and Dickerson have switched TV/radio jobs 13 times in 2016 but will stick to their regular seats for the remainder of the calendar. Allen was set to work 75 games as analyst in 2016, with Gibson handling 60, Morris (who also works Twins broadcasts) 14, and Monroe six.

Hammaren says he’s happy with the mix but that there are no plans for 2017, including any notions about increasing times Impemba and Dickerson might flip play-by-play shifts.

“Internally, we’re all very, very pleased,” Hammaren said, speaking specifically of the Impemba-Dickerson reversals. “Dan does some work for us during the offseason on hockey and other things, and he enjoys it, so he’s not a novice at TV at all. And Mario, those are his roots (former Angels radio broadcaster).

“But we don’t want to over-do it,” Hammaren said of the TV-radio flip-flops. “We’ve been happy that 97.1 (radio network originator) has been a good partner and has been so cooperative. We think everyone has benefited and enjoyed it.

“But it’s a limited experiment. And it will remain limited.”