TORONTO – There’s a blunt disclaimer that kicks off the made-for-TV movie “Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story Part II.”
“The views or depictions contained in this program are not necessarily those of the National Hockey League and its teams.”
It’s the kind of warning that some might argue should precede any public broadcast involving hockey loudmouth Don Cherry.
The new two-part biopic starts on Sunday on CBC-TV, continuing from 2010’s “Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story,” which concluded with Don ending his professional hockey career as a player-coach.
“Wrath of Grapes” centres on his controversy-filled tenure as co-host of “Hockey Night In Canada’s” popular sideshow Coach’s Corner.
The weekly segment is the epicentre of Cherry’s seemingly endless clashes with CBC brass, politicians and viewers—but Cherry himself is sanguine about his reputation for igniting outrage over comments that often stray far from hockey.
“That’s what Coach’s Corner is, it’s off-the-cuff,” Cherry said at a recent CBC event to launch the broadcaster’s winter lineup.
“The (former) head of CBC called me reprehensible and despicable. I mean, (coming from) your boss, that’s pretty good, eh? You can’t get much better than that.”
Relations have become much smoother in recent years, Cherry added, but he speculated on that being due to the fact that he lets co-host Ron MacLean speak more these days.
“Wrath of Grapes” includes a survey of Cherry’s broadcast highs and lows—which for the most part are interchangeable, depending on where you stand on Grapes—as it traces his ascent from outspoken NHL coach to outspoken CBC institution. It also follows Cherry’s rocky transition to broadcasting, while weaving in flashbacks to his junior hockey days with the Windsor Spitfires and Barrie Flyers.
The second half of the movie airs on March 11.
Lantern-jawed star Jared Keeso, who said he spent up to five hours a day in the makeup chair, said he took particular delight in walking onto a set that meticulously recreated what the broadcast looked like in the ’80s.
“It was just a hell of a good time, to be perfectly honest,” said Keeso, seated alongside Cherry, MacLean and co-star Jonathan Watton, who plays MacLean, for a round of interviews.
“It serves as somewhat of a highlight reel for Don’s career in broadcasting and Ron as well, the more memorable and defining moments.”
Those moments include Cherry’s incendiary comments about the Iraq war, his on-air clash with Brian Williams in which he condoned the 1987 world junior brawl, a swipe at former Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Alpo Suhonen as “some kind of dog food,” and numerous tirades against European or French athletes.
Looking back, MacLean laughed easily about those battles and freely dished on his own favourite brouhahas, while dismissing Cherry’s claims that he egged him on.
He mentioned the time a columnist called Cherry a misogynist, troglodyte “and all kinds of Russian names” and the time the CBC imposed a seven-second delay in 2004 after an apparent attack on players who wear visors.
MacLean and Cherry credited former CBC boss Jim Byrd with being one of their few allies when a storm would brew.
“He just laughed at all that trouble we got into,” said MacLean.
For Watton, portraying MacLean didn’t require nearly as much time in the makeup chair as Keeso required, but the slim co-star said the sidekick role had challenges of its own.
He noted that his uncle claimed to have noticed a distinctive facial tic in MacLean and insisted Watton incorporate it into his performance.
“He said, ‘Now you’ve got to make sure you do this thing that Ron does—it’s a thing he does with his lips, only in the early days, but sometimes he’d be listening and he’d just move his lips just a little way,'” said Watton.
“I think I put one in there just for my uncle. If he doesn’t see that he’s going to say, ‘Well you didn’t do it. You didn’t do the lip thing. I didn’t think you were very good at all.'”
Cherry said he was thrilled with “Keep your Head Up, Kid” but is waiting for the followup to see how he’s portrayed in the final film.
“I will not see it until they put it on television. I like to see it the same time as everybody else,” he said.