Versus TV will soon be a memory

Curses, it's on Versus.

That at times has been the battle cry of frustrated NHL fans who wanted to watch a game on the Versus channel, which hasn't been picked up in many places through the years no matter what name it has gone by since being launched in 1995 as Outdoor Life Network and later being known simply as OLN.

But if the grand plans now in place for Versus come to fruition, the network that has specialized in hunting and fishing shows plus the Tour de France, then the NHL, will become a major player in the cable TV sports landscape.

Next week it is to be renamed "NBC Sports Network" — a move that has been in the works since Versus' owner, telecommunications giant Comcast, bought NBC Universal early this year.

Comcast has gradually been upgrading programming on Versus, adding sports-talk and NFL-related shows, and the transition officially comes at 4 p.m. EST on Monday when it switches names in time to carry the NHL Winter Classic postgame show. Bob Costas will host the program after the Flyers-Rangers game in Philadelphia airs on NBC.

NBC Sports Network plans to continue to add programming, both live game coverage as well as ancillary shows, as the year goes on and will de-emphasize the outdoor fare in favor of sports that have more widespread interest.

"We came to it with a real strategy and vision," Jon Miller, NBC Sports' president of programming, said in a recent interview.

He added that the plan is "to try to create a sports network that we could all be proud of but would be representative of what the NBC Sports brand has come to represent — which is high-quality production, really good story telling and a real respect for the viewer as well as the property we are in business with. We made some initial changes when we got the keys, eliminated programs we thought were off brand and off target."

Among those dropped were shows such as "Whacked Out Sports," "Sports Jobs" and the program featuring football's Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Programs that have been added, or are forthcoming, include "NBC SportsTalk," "NFL Turning Point," a sports-business show with CNBC's Darren Rovell, Major League Soccer live telecasts, the Olympics and more NFL-related shows.

"We've tried to make the network a little stickier, give people a reason to come every night to see what we have," Miller said.

An eventual centerpiece of the network will be Costas. He will conduct quarterly "Town Hall" issues-oriented programs, beginning Feb. 2 from the Super Bowl, and also do monthly "Costas Tonight" in-depth interview programs similar to what he once did on HBO.

Then this summer, Costas again will be NBC's lead Olympics host.

"He is the single brightest star in our talent stable," Miller said. "The fact he has embraced this and wants to be a big part of it is great for us. Everything he touches is done first class and to me that's such an important thing to have. His voice will be the voice of the NBC Sports Network, literally and figuratively, and that is key for us."

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