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Heidi Watney not part of Lakers' coverage

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 13, 2012 12:36 PM

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Heidi Watney, who left NESN last November to return to her native California as the sideline reporter for Time Warner Cable SportsNet Lakers telecasts, has left the regional network without working a single game.

Time Warner, which began hiring its staff for Lakers broadcasts last year in advance of a rights agreement that begins with the 2012-13 season, announced its on-air team in a press release Wednesday.

Watney's absence was confirmation of summer-long speculation that she was no longer part of the network's plans.

Watney, a popular if occasionally controversial personality during her four years (2008-11) as NESN's in-game Red Sox reporter, was replaced by Mike Trudell as the Lakers' sideline reporter.

A network spokesman would not confirm an official date when her employment at TWC ended. But the network did provide a statement, first to Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News, on Watney's departure.

"Heidi Watney and Time Warner Cable Sports have reached an agreement that allows Heidi to leave the organization to pursue other opportunities. Both parties entered into their original agreement some months ago with the best of intentions, but as Time Warner Cable Sports has evolved toward its official launch, the talent needs of the network have been altered.

"Heidi and Time Warner Cable Sports have parted on good terms. Heidi is extremely talented and TWC Sports expects that she will have great success in her next role and throughout her entire career. We wish her well in her future endeavors."

Industry sources told the Globe that there was frustration on Time Warner's part that the news of Watney's hiring last November became public before the Lakers had been informed of it.

Further, the Lakers were livid, according to one source who was at one point a candidate for the job, because they had been assured by Time Warner not long before the news of Watney's hiring became public that they would have input in all personnel decisions. Time Warner had already hired Watney, the source said, when it agreed to the Lakers' wishes for a significant and perhaps even final say in each hire.

Her departure from TWC ends an unusual arrangement in which she was essentially on stand-by for a year, having been hired nearly a full year before the network would air its first Lakers game.

In August, the website The Big Lead was the first to report that there had been falling out between Watney and the network. That speculation was fueled further when Watney recently auditioned for a role on ESPN's "First Take" that eventually went to Cari Champion.

Watney's next endeavor remains a mystery. She has not responded to a message Thursday inquiring about her status and whether she'd consider a return to Boston. But such a scenario seems unlikely.

While she was popular with viewers and handled her role with increased capability each year she was on NESN, the University of San Diego graduate admitted to occasional homesickness for the other coast while she was in Boston. Her eventual departure was not greeted with disappointment by some co-workers who found her difficult.

Watney nearly left the network after her second year by mutual decision, but the network picked up the option on the third year of her contract.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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