5 Questions with...'SW on TV' creator John Roach

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5 Questions with...'SW on TV' creator John Roach

Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestan award-winning producer, screenwriter, satirist, etc. who has been the driving force behind the ground-breaking sports television talk show The Sports Writers on TV, which makes it triumphant return to Comcast SportsNet on Friday, September 10 at 11:00 PM and online for the first time at CSNChicago.complus, even though hes a Packers fan, Chicago always liked to consider him one of its ownhere are 5 Questions withJOHN ROACH!

BIO: John Roach is president of JRP, an Emmy Award-winning video and film production company that tells compelling stories for corporate communications, television advertising, and broadcast.

John and Mary Sweeney co-wrote the screenplay for The Straight Story, a motion picture directed by David Lynch. The Straight Story premiered at Cannes and was released in October 1999 by Walt Disney Pictures. The screenplay was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, and the films Richard Farnsworth received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Like Hemingways dialogue, wrote Roger Ebert, the screenplay by John Roach and Mary Sweeney finds poetry and truth in the exact choice of the right everyday words.

Prior to forming his own Madison-based company in 1985, John was a producer at CBS and ABC in Chicago for six years. His credits include six Chicago Emmys, a National Iris Award for Best Television Special and a national CableACE nomination. He received the Peter Lisagor Award for Special News Production, plus recognition from the Organization of American Women in TV and Radio for his documentary work.

Additional accolades include the San Francisco Film Festival Award, the Silver Anvil, the Golden Spotlight, the Addy, the Cine Golden Eagle and numerous Tellys.

John produced the CableACE-nominated The Sports Writers on TV and the critically acclaimed The Back Table with Chet Coppock for FOX Sports Chicago. Past broadcast credits include work for ESPN, FOX, NBC, and Ebony Jet.

John writes a monthly column for Madison Magazine. His book, Way Out Here in the Middle, was published in 2003.

1) CSNChicago.com: John, after a 12-year drought, The Sports Writers on TV is finally making its way back to television with Comcast SportsNet premiering the return of Gleason, Jauss, Telander, Bentley and the accompanying cigar smoke on Friday, September 10 at 11:00 PM (and online at CSNChicago.com). As the creatorproducer of the show from Day One, what does it mean to you personally to finally bring this classic slice of television back to viewers and, a follow-up question, what new twists did you make to these existing shows that will be of interest to older and hopefully younger Sports Writers fans?

Roach: As close as I was to The Sports Writers, and with the usual drama that can take place over nearly fifteen years, I was also one of their biggest fans. Im also a big fan of (Comcast SportsNet Chicago President) Jim Corno, the patron saint of the show for years. It feels great to have us all back together. I hope viewers feel the same way.

The guys had chemistry and knowledge that they communicated in an authentic, uninhibited way. They treated each other like family, which isn't always pretty. They shared a Chicago voice and view that resonated nationally. Looking at the shows again, its easy to see why. Bentley and Gleason have passed, but seeing them is comforting in a bittersweet way.

I think folks will see that all four really knew their stuff.

We've added running, quick-graphic postscripts to offer current perspective to the conversations. We think it augments the discussion without upstaging the guys. Kinda like singing a very quiet harmony to a great song.

2) CSNChicago.com: The stars of The Sports Writers on TV were certainly unique to say the least and sports talk television hasnt really seen the likes of characters like them since the show signed off years ago. This wont be easy, but tell us your top three favorite standout moments from the shows history that defined these guys as not only local icons, but icons on a national level as well.

Roach:

1) The first is a tie between two Ben moments. The day he lit the table on fire with his cigar. And the day he showed up to do the show wearing sunglasses because he had undergone eye surgery and had not told anyone. He did the entire show wearing shades! Gleason began the show by saying that he looked like "a Chicago alderman."

2) Our "Good Bye to Comiskey was an emotional tour de force with a great touch by our director Bob Albrecht.

3) The day Gleason casually mentioned that he had met Ty Cobb. The conversation continued for a half minute before Telander stopped everything and turned to Gleason and said, "Hold on! Billyou MET Ty Cobb?! How is that possible?!"

3) CSNChicago.com: The brilliant screenplay you co-wrote for Walt Disney Pictures The Straight Story received acclaim from critics around the globe back in 1999 and was even nominated for top-level screenplay honors from the film industry. What was it like for you personally when the film made its premiere at Cannes? Alsocome on Johnits been over 10 years now, when can we expect another Hollywood film to come out with a Screenplay by John Roach credit attached to it?

Roach: "The Straight Story" was a beautiful project. A gift. Proud of the script I wrote with my Catholic grade school friend Mary Sweeney, not to mention getting to know David Lynch. He became and remains a friend. Sweet guy and stunning artist. To hear your written words spoken by Richard Farnsworth and Sissy Spacek the first day on the set kinda took my breath away. My wife Diane and I did the whole red carpet thing at Cannes, which is where the film premiered. We were treated like European royalty. The red carpet was funny. Thousands of photographers and press. You are told to walk three steps and turn to your right. And then three steps and turn to your left. I whispered to Diane, "Every time we turn I can hear these Europeans saying, "Who the hell is that?

I have completed several screenplays since. One is a great sports story and is in development, which is a clich, but true.

4) CSNChicago.com: Youve never hid the fact that youre a huge Green Bay Packers fan, which is understood since youre from Wisconsin. In your opinion, what would you say is the biggest difference between Bears and Packers fans?

Roach: Not much difference other than the color of their jerseys. They both love their teams and, unlike other pampered NFL fans, they are willing to sit for hours in the cold to prove it. I actually think that Bears and Packers fans secretly like each other. Its the Vikings everyone hates.

5) CSNChicago.com: Name the top 5 greatest films you have ever seen.
Roach: In no particular order....

"Network": Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was prescient.

"Being There": Peter Sellers was perfect. The story was killer. Funny and sadly believable.

"The Longest Day": My late, great uncle Jack McCann was in the first wave at Omaha Beach. He lost an eye. The film is epic and humbles anyone who was not there. We are all their beneficiaries. It also reminds me that Gleason won the Silver Star in that war, which is not surprising. If you worked with him, you know he never shrank from a fight.

"Animal House: Because I am a guy. ("The Hangover" was great too.)

"The Elephant Man": An early David Lynch film, his first Best Director nomination, produced by Mel Brooks. Powerful cast: Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt, Anne Bancroft and John Gielgud. Everything a film should be.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you would like to promote John? Tell us, we want to hear about it

Roach: Slowly circling the laptop to do a novel, but right now, I simply hope folks tune into Comcast SportsNet to watch the guys. They haven't lost a step.

Roach LINKS:

John Roach Projects (JRP)

Comcast SportsNetThe Sports Writers on TV returns

John Roach columns in Madison Magazine

John Roach on Facebook

John Roach on Twitter

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Jay Cutler remaining Bears starter not assured when he returns from thumb injury

Lovie Smith was clear: “Rex is our quarterback.”

Phil Emery was clear: Jay Cutler is an “elite” quarterback.

John Fox isn’t so clear: When Jay Cutler is cleared to return from his thumb injury, Cutler is not automatically still the Bears starting quarterback.

"I don't think there are any givens and that's not an indictment on anybody,” Fox said on Monday. “This is a day-to-day, week-to-week, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league and so we’re just trying to get the best 11 guys out there regardless of the position to where we can play a full 60 minutes and get a victory.”

Tough love is arguably the most effective management style with Cutler. Unlike the contracts and praise heaped on Cutler by prior administrations, current coaches and the organization withheld judgment on him after taking over in 2015. Cutler, who typically played worse after getting contract extensions and gaudy compliments, responded with the best season of his career.

Cutler watched from the sidelines as the Bears were beaten 31-17 by the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday behind Brian Hoyer, who was able to give the Bears some production in the second half for the first time this year, albeit only after the Bears were down 24-3.

“I thought [Hoyer] made good decisions,” Fox said, then qualified, “Not all of them. I think the very first play of the game didn’t go quite as smooth as we’d like. I thought he did some good things. I thought the pass-pro and some of those things helped the situation. I think we did have some explosive runs — we had more explosive plays in this game than we did in the prior two. We’ll evaluate that as we move forward and prepare for Detroit.”

The ultimate question is not whether Brian Hoyer is as good as Jay Cutler.

The evaluation will be whether Hoyer had success because the pass protection and run game worked better, or the bigger question, did those phases of the offense work better because of Hoyer. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has stated that a primary job of a quarterback is to get the other 10 players on the huddle to do theirs well. If the evaluation process, which could include another game next Sunday when the Detroit Lions come to Soldier Field, points to the offense functioning better for Hoyer, the Bears will have a major decision to make.

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Cutler has been benched because of performance only once in Chicago, late in 2014, for one game. He started the following week because Jimmy Clausen sustained a concussion.

Some perspectives on Bears QB switches

Back in 2005, while over at a social event during Super Bowl week in Detroit, a prominent member of the Bears’ defense vented on a decision that in his opinion cost the Bears their season. That decision was to go back to Rex Grossman as quarterback from Kyle Orton, who had been the quintessential game manager as a fourth-round rookie filling in while Grossman worked back from a broken ankle suffered in preseason.

“We’d’ve been here [in the Super Bowl] if we’d’a stayed with Kyle,” the Pro Bowl defender said.

That didn’t happen in the “Rex is our quarterback” phase of Smith’s tenure.

Josh McCown by his own assessment was not as good a player as Cutler in 2013 when the best-chance-to-win decision had to be made between those two. Coaches wanted to stay with McCown, the GM insisted on Cutler; the team stayed on course with Cutler, accelerated that direction actually, letting McCown leave for Tampa Bay and giving Cutler the “Jay is our quarterback” max contract.

But while Smith was invested in Grossman, who did get the Bears to the Super Bowl the next year, and Phil Emery invested in Cutler, who has won just one playoff game in his seven Bears seasons, coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace have not gone all-in on quarterbacks they inherited. They stayed with Cutler without any real alternative last year, and Fox admitted that Cutler was perhaps one of the biggest positive surprises coming out of last season, when then-coordinator Adam Gase was the loudest voice in the room on that quarterback decision and the organization stayed with the quarterback to whom millions were guaranteed.

Now there is an alternative, who like McCown was vis’a’vis Cutler, is not Cutler’s football equal physically (“Have you seen him throw?” McCown answered one reporter asking what Cutler did that he, McCown, couldn’t).

Whether the Bears take that alternative will play out in practice and possibly a game over the next seven days.

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Blackhawks: Abbott happy to be back after season in Sweden

Spencer Abbott enjoyed his short stint in Rockford, which came after he was acquired by the Blackhawks in February 2015. At the time, he thought staying here was his most likely plan.

Then he got an offer Frölunda in Sweden.

“I thought, ‘why not give it a shot? Maybe it’ll be a good experience and bring it back with me,’” said Abbott on Monday. “It was worth it, for sure. I have no regrets.”

Abbott, who’s back with the Blackhawks, had never been to Europe prior to getting that Frölunda offer. But his first trip across the pond was a good one as Abbott was part of Frölunda’s run to its Swedish and Champions hockey league titles. Abbott had 14 goals and 21 assists in 51 regular-season games. Abbott got plenty out of the games, but not nearly as much as he did in the team’s training camp.

“The first month and a half you’re over there, you’re there from 8 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] every day. I think over here there’s a rule against being here for more than 3-4 hours, but not over there. It’s like a 9-5 job for a month and a half, a lot of working out, a lot of bike riding. So for me, that was good because I had never been in that kind of shape before,” said Abbott, who added he’s trying to incorporate some of that into his routine here. “Training camps here are hard but they’re just different over there. There’s a lot of ice, bigger ice [overseas], so they really condition you. So my conditioning may be a bit better.”

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As much as Abbott loved his time in Sweden, he ultimately wanted to be back in the NHL. So when the Blackhawks offered him a one-year deal, he jumped at it. He’s gotten off to a good start this training camp, scoring a few goals in the team’s early scrimmages.

“I wasn’t sure how it would play out, to be honest. I’m 28 and pretty early in the summer they were showing interest,” Abbott said. “This is one for the places I really wanted to come, because I did l really like the organization when I was here for that brief period of time. Now I get the full effect as long as they’ll have me. It’s such a good organization.”

Abbott probably could have kept playing overseas but he wanted another chance in the NHL. He’s happy it’s once again coming in the Blackhawks’ organization.

“It’s overwhelming. There are so many places to play hockey nowadays in Europe. There are tons of leagues over there. But it didn’t interest me,” he said. “I wanted to come back and give it one more shot.”