New media era for Dodgers

Every new relationship takes some getting used to, whether it’s with another person or your HD TV.

For those still struggling to adjust to the marriage between the Dodgers and Time Warner Cable, think of it as something old, something new and something, well, blue.

Much is familiar about this partnership, which resulted in the birth of SportsNet LA. The new 24/7 home of Dodgers baseball officially launches at 7 p.m. on Tuesday with a 90-minute version of “Access SportsNet: Dodgers” featuring the network’s entire on-air team, including Vin Scully, who recently regaled his new teammates with an anecdote-filled pep talk at SportsNet LA’s El Segundo studios.

TWC has done this before, having launched the Lakers’ network, Time Warner Cable SportsNet, in October 2012. The networks are in the same building, sharing the same infrastructure. SportsNet LA’s studio — which captures the spirit of Dodger Stadium in its set design, including corrugated metal siding, stadium lighting and a miniature version of the zigzag pavilion roofs — is right down the hall from TWC SportsNet’s.

Despite a ratings dip this season — a result of the Lakers having a down year — TWC SportsNet has been an unqualified success, including distribution on all major multichannel video providers in the Los Angeles market. It wasn’t that way at launch, and Dodgers fans are enduring familiar concerns and frustrations with only one carriage agreement — with Time Warner Cable — in place less than a week before the start of spring training games.

TWC and the Dodgers are offering a familiar refrain to worried fans: tell your provider that you want SportsNet LA. (You can do this digitally via the subtly named website,

Executives with the cable company and the team are confident the deals will get done in relatively short order. It happened with the Lakers, who, despite their 2013-14 struggles, remain the biggest show in town. The Dodgers, coming off a 2013 NLCS berth and featuring a star-studded lineup, are as popular as they ever have been.

“In virtually every case … it gets done and everybody winds up very happy if the product is good,” Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said. “From my standpoint, it’s really the only thing I can control — making sure it’s the best product it can be.”

That’s true for the on-field team as well as the on-air team, which consists of seasoned broadcast veterans — familiar voices — in somewhat new roles.

Scully will do his thing, of course, including the Dodgers’ season-opening games against the Diamondbacks in Australia. His travel schedule will be limited otherwise.

When Scully doesn’t work, Charley Steiner and Orel Hershiser will fill in (to the degree anyone can). Steiner had been doing Dodgers radio exclusively; Hershiser had been with ESPN. They’re building chemistry one meal at a time.

“We’ve been going to dinner as much as possible,” said Hershiser, the former Dodgers pitching standout. “We’ve been getting to know each other. We call each other 2-3 times a week, just to get that rhythm and feel for each other.”

Steiner and Hershiser will work the vast majority of the Dodgers’ Cactus League games. So yeah, it’ll be spring training for them too. But the beauty of broadcasting baseball is that it’s conversational. As far as Steiner is concerned, the games shouldn’t be too much different than those Dinners with Orel.

“All the other sports are rhythmic, where you have to keep pace,” Steiner said. “Baseball, on the other hand, is a 3{- to 4-hour chitchat that’s rudely interrupted by an occasional pitch.”

Steiner plans to give Hershiser “BP fastballs,” allowing him to tap into his vast and varied baseball experiences. Hershiser has been a player, a coach and an executive, and he excelled as a national analyst for ESPN.

But Hershiser, who has Dodger Blue in his blood, missed being with a team. He missed “living the win and the loss” and believes being embedded with the Dodgers — in the locker room, on the bus, on the charter — will make for a more satisfying experience and a richer telecast.

Hershiser also will serve as a studio analyst, along with ex-Dodgers Nomar Garciaparra (also lured from ESPN) and Jerry Hairston Jr. The host for pre- and postgame coverage will be John Hartung, who had been with KABC/7 for the past 11 years.

Hartung grew up in Woodland Hills, and the Dodgers were his first love. As a youth, he experienced the heartbreak of crushing losses to the Yankees in the 1977 and ‘78 World Series. As a college student at San Diego State and aspiring sportscaster, he experienced the elation of Kirk Gibson’s winning home run in Game 1 of the ‘88 Series first-hand thanks to a girlfriend whose season-ticket-owning parents planned a vacation to India at an inopportune time (for them, anyway).

“I was there when Gibson hit the home run,” Hartung said, sitting in a gray leather chair in a clubhouse-like side set in SportsNet LA’s sparkling new studio. “I was there the next night when Orel Hershiser threw the shutout.”

Now Hartung will work alongside him. And talk Dodgers every day. Nothing could be better for a diehard fan and 18-year local-news vet.

But like the team, Hartung knows he can’t afford to feel satisfied. It takes work to sustain a relationship.

“When I walk in here every day and see this set, to me it just kind of raises the bar for all of us,” Hartung said. “All of us want to put the absolute best product on the air.”


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