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75 to be laid off at CSN Houston; Astros fans losing a great product

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Most of the on-air talent and production crew is gone. Julia Morales is back.

Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESS

Rarely is bad news buttressed so closely with good. But, both stories this week about CSN Houston were far from surprising.

On Monday, we learned that the fledgling network garnered 16 Lone Star Emmy nominations. On Tuesday, we learned that 75 employees would be laid off, as the station restructured in advance of its purchase by AT&T and DirecTV. Gameday personnel will remain in place for the rest of the Astros season, but many talented people got very bad news this week.

The juxtaposition of the two stories showed exactly the dual nature that the network possessed for much of its run. From the start, CSN Houston provided an excellent product. For the last two years, no one could see it. That's the cruelest cut of all.

Of those 75, a few are on-air talent. CSN Houston basically eliminated all its non-game related content. Gone are the studio shows with Cory Hepola. Gone are John Kelly's reports from the field. Gone are Leila Rahimi's interviews and feature stories. Gone are the numerous people behind the cameras who worked tirelessly for a product that never got embraced.

It's a shame that for so many, CSN Houston proved to be a source of irritation rather than a delight. If more people could have watched, they'd have appreciated the kind of programming the network sought to create. They covered local colleges. They covered the Dynamo with verve. They covered high school football with both depth and breadth, broadcasting games, previewing seasons and giving content for just the Houston area.

It's unclear how the network will be restructured, but there will likely not be as much original programming about the greater Houston sports scene. It will likely focus just on the Astros and Rockets, which is fine. Word is that a deal may be worked out to broadcast Houston Dash and Dynamo games, too, but many of the college broadcast deals were cancelled.

For Astros fans, not much will change. In fact, this is a sign of relief in some ways. This means the end of this horrible bankruptcy case (and larger network debacle) is in sight. This means the purchase will happen eventually and Rockets and Astros fans can see the teams soon.

Bill Brown, Alan Ashby and Geoff Blum will all still be around the TV broadcasts, as they're employed by the Astros. Julia Morales will also have her contract picked up by the new network, along with Bart Enis, Kevin Eschenfelder and a few more of the Rockets people, including a personal favorite and Woodlands-ite Matt Bullard.

The future for CSN Houston was always uncertain. For a brief moment, it glowed brightly, promising excellent content delivered to a wide audience for years to come. When the rhetoric between CSN Houston and the major TV providers heated up, that future dimmed. Bankruptcy cast a final bit of shade on any hope of it continuing in this incarnation.

But, it did deliver on one thing. It delivered on content.

CSN Houston reminds me so much of what Sports On Earth used to be. Before USA Today pulled out of the joint venture, the website was a weird, eclectic place for brilliant long-form writing. Not everyone went there, but any time spent on a story there was worth it.

Neither were appreciated by a mass audience and both flamed out with a whimper, as good people got blindsided with job loss. Both deserved better than they got.

Thanks, CSN Houston. For all of those who aren't long for the network, your excellent work was appreciated. Keep on, keepin' on.