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CBS topped all NFL telecasts yesterday with the net’s best overnight rating this season. Fueled by the Cowboys' 27-24 OT win over the Steelers in the late window (90% of markets), CBS earned a 17.2 overnight Nielsen rating. That figure is down from a 19.5 overnight for the Week 15 late window last year, which featured Patriots-Broncos. CBS’ national window peaked at a 20.8 rating from 7:30-8:00pm ET as the game was in OT. With the runover into primetime, CBS will likely get a win for the night in primetime. The net’s early window regional coverage also earned a 10.8 overnight, up 50% from last year. Meanwhile, NBC earned a 15.2 overnight for the 49ers win over the Patriots on “SNF” last night, up 35% from an 11.3 rating for Ravens-Chargers in Week 15 last year. Shortly after the start of the telecast, the game on NBC switched to President Obama’s address from Newtown, Conn. (8:36-8:56pm), and the game was moved to CNBC and NBC Sports Net, while continuing to be streamed online. The President’s address is included in the “SNF” overnight. Despite likely finishing second on the night to CBS, “SNF” was the top-rated program in primetime. The game peaked at a 16.8 rating from 9:30-10:00pm while the 49ers were well ahead. The audience dropped after that, but picked up again late in the game as the Patriots mounted a comeback, giving NBC a 16.1 rating in the last half hour. The telecast earned a 36.8 local rating in Boston and a 26.8 rating in the S.F.-Oakland-San Jose market (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).NFL WEEK 15 OVERNIGHT NIELSEN RATINGSNET'12 GAMERAT.'11 GAMERAT.% +/-Fox(single)n/a(single)15.0n/aCBS(regional)10.8(regional)7.250.0%CBSSteelers-Cowboys (90%)17.2Patriots-Broncos (79%)19.5-11.8%NBC49ers-Patriots15.2Ravens-Chargers11.334.5%
A call for creativity and a marked improvement by the NFL Network are two themes that emerged from an editorial roundtable assessing the state of Sunday NFL pregame shows. For viewers, the pregame shows offer the first window into the weekend’s games, but a general consensus among the media critics surveyed is that more can be done to tell better stories and inform viewers. THE DAILY spoke to three members of the media who often comment on NFL programming -- SI.com’s Richard Deitsch, the Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik and The Big Lead’s Jason McIntyre -- about their likes, dislikes and suggestions for the networks' pregame programming. Tomorrow, we feature a separate panel who offered their impressions of the networks’ announcing teams. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: Which pregame show stands out to you?
Richard Deitsch, SI.com: The show that provides viewers with the most service-oriented material right now is ESPN2’s “Fantasy Football Now." They have a specific charter, which is to provide the fantasy football fan with the most updated, unique, interesting and real-time information. To me, that’s really smart television because it’s something that provides a service to millions and millions of people. In terms of the traditional pregame shows, I like NBC’s “Football Night in America,” but they have a built-in advantage in that the games have already been played. The problem with “Football Night in America” is that people are not going to that show until midway through it because they are going to watch the live, late Sunday afternoon game over a highlight show. I think NFL Network’s “NFL Gameday Morning” has improved the last couple years. Depending on who is talking, there is some interesting conversation. ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown” show has the best features by far. I think they really make an investment in reporting and in storytelling. They’ll always do one feature that really resonates with the viewers.
David Zurawik, Baltimore Sun: I really like NBC’s “Football Night in America,” and I also really like NFL Network’s “NFL GameDay Morning.” I love that. But the pregame show that I enjoy the most and I get the most out of is NBC’s show. I love that show and really like the pace of it. There’s a reason the whole Sunday night package is the No. 1 show on television.
Jason McIntyre, The Big Lead: I would say they’re all equally horrific. Unless you can tell me Jay Glazer is going to jump in on Fox and give me some breaking news. Where’s the news that any of them are providing? We’re past the point of “Hey, Dan Marino played in the NFL and it matters.” Sunday morning, the only show I’ll watch is ESPN2’s “Fantasy Football Now.” That’s the only show I watch for last-minute nuggets.
Q: Is there a show that you think is least effective?
Deitsch: Where I think all the shows are suffering is with a lack of creativity. Too often you see the same, tired, happy-pick segments. There’s a little bit of a lack of creativity among CBS’ “The NFL Today” and “Fox NFL Sunday.” They are doing some good things within the larger show, but they could improve or try some different things. In particular, more service-oriented elements like added fantasy and added reporting segments. That would be far more interesting than who Fox’ Terry Bradshaw or CBS’ Boomer Esiason are picking in the Colts-Jaguars game.
Zurawik: Once upon a time, I did like Fox. But it now strikes me as old and slow, and it is nothing but the kind of locker room ex-jock camaraderie that the shows used to all have. Fox has almost become set in stone and some weeks I feel like some of the guys are just going through the motions. From Jimmie Johnson, Howie Long and Terry Bradshaw, I don’t get a real sense of "energy." I get a sense of "forced." I watch CBS’ “The NFL Today” and I feel dumber than when it started. They’re often dead wrong in their predictions in what’s going to happen that day. Also, in terms of features, I hate it when any pregame show hosts walk through a play and take their jackets off and go through one of those plays, it’s just pathetic and embarrassing.
Q: What do you want from these shows and what do you think viewers want to see?
Deitsch: Viewers definitely want fun, but I’d like to think viewers would want information that they can use prior to entering the games. You can tell anyone who is on Twitter is really focused on information. With a little more creativity and thoughtfulness, the shows could be a lot better. When I watch a pregame show, first and foremost, I want that show to provide me with thoughtful and interesting and relevant reporting and commentary.
Zurawik: I’m looking for information and analysis and an explanation of what I can expect and sort of get sense of.
McIntyre: Viewers are looking for news and valuable information.
Zurawik enjoys the energy that Eisen brings to
NFL Network's "NFL GameDay Morning"
Deitsch: I like NFL Network’s Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. I don’t like Michael Irvin or Deion Sanders. My issues with Sanders and Irvin are that far too much of their commentary is of the look-at-me variety, especially Deion, who has a rare gift to make nearly every story about himself. Both Warner and Faulk are thoughtful with their analysis and I find myself learning something when they discuss the quarterback and running [back] positions, in particular. I like Terry Bradshaw in the pregame role because I think he understands the balance between honesty and fun. I’ve always liked ESPN’s Tom Jackson. I think he’s for the most part a pretty thoughtful thinker when it comes to the game. I like CBS’ James Brown, Fox’ Curt Menefee and NFL Network’s Rich Eisen because I think they are all very good at being unselfish as hosts and allowing their analysts to sort of shine and put them in really good spots. The same goes for NBC’s Bob Costas or Dan Patrick. I always respect any ego-free hosts -- Brown and Menefee in particular are that.
Zurawik: I like Dan Patrick because he sets a tone for “Football Night in America.” He brings an energy to it. And then Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison -- compared to some of the other coaches and athletes -- are really disciplined in their remarks. They’re really focused and have done their homework, and you can tell in the production. If Rodney Harrison is going to talk about a linebacker that maybe isn’t playing so well, they have the three perfect pieces of film to show you the point he’s trying to make. And then after all that you get Peter King reporting what’s going on around the league. I think NBC especially demands more of their analysts in terms of being focused and succinct and presenting things clearly to the audience. I always felt like I know a lot more after I watch NBC.
On NFL Network, Rich Eisen brings a different type of energy. He’s a little bit more on the edge, kind of a pop culture sensibility. Not like Bob Costas, he’s more serious. But I really like the edge that Eisen brings. I really like Deion Sanders, he’s developed into a fine analyst. He’s a very disciplined guy and has learned how to be a member of that team. Just think of the difference between ESPN’s Chris Berman and -- just put him on one side and Costas and Eisen on the other. Not to be mean, but once upon a time he was really good, but I think he’s over the hill and just doesn’t have that edge. Eisen and Costas really respect the game and respect professional football as much as anyone else.
McIntyre: I don’t really need analysis from CBS’ Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason. News is at a premium for me, which is why Peter King, Mike Florio, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Fox’ Jay Glazer are guys I like to follow. I will say this, the two guys at ESPN who I like are Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. With McShay and Kiper, I don’t think it’s manufactured, I think it’s genuinely strong opinions from guys who are knowledgeable about certain players. And I almost think that’s the only debate I can stand.
ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys yesterday said that "no decision had been made" regarding Rob Parker's future after he was suspended last week for comments on "First Take" regarding Redskins QB Robert Griffin III and race, according to Michael Hiestand of USA TODAY. Parker "hadn't been scheduled to appear on-air again" until this coming Thursday (USA TODAY, 12/17). In N.Y., Bill Carter noted ESPN “did not take any action in the immediate aftermath of the show," which initially was broadcast at 10:00am ET. It was “not until much later in the day, after the issue had been taken up on various Web sites” that ESPN “issued a first statement labeling the comments inappropriate.” The incident was “instantly connected to other racially oriented comments made on ESPN” (NYTIMES.com, 12/14).
KNEW WHAT THEY WERE GETTING: In N.Y., Bob Raissman wrote ESPN “knew what it was getting" in Parker, who has “officially transitioned into the role of convenient fall guy.” ESPN should "find out why (if Parker’s comments were so offensive) a replay of 'First Take' aired when he again could be heard asking if Griffin is a 'brother or is he a cornball brother.'" Raissman: “He will probably get fired. For doing his job.” NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said that Parker “needs to be held accountable” for his comments. But Raismann asked, “What about the suits who not only hired Parker, but recently elevated him to lead 'debater' on the weekend edition of 'First Take?' What about the producers of that show?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/16). Also in N.Y., Phil Mushnick wrote Parker was “just meeting -- and exceeding -- the terms of his engagement.” Parker was “hired to be an outspoken black man -- no credibility required.” He was “just doing his job -- and very well!” (N.Y. POST, 12/16). In Akron, George Thomas asked of Parker’s comments, “Were they worth suspending someone who has a history of making controversial statements? I’m not sure about that” (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 12/16).
SECOND THOUGHTS: SI.com’s Richard Deitsch “spoke to a half-dozen ESPN staffers Thursday, none of whom would go on the record about the Parker incident.” But “all were dismayed about how ‘First Take’ too often casts the company's employees under its negative umbrella.” Most “believed that even with the show's healthy ratings … ESPN's management was not blind to the cost it brings collaterally” (SI.com, 12/14). Deitsch in a separate piece writes ESPN management has “enabled this circus for years and it leads to rightful skepticism.” The provocative style of "First Take" is “what ESPN is currently embracing and it makes you shake your head” (SI.com, 12/17). In Missouri, Joe Walljasper wrote ESPN’s indefinite suspension of Parker was “a little like Dr. Frankenstein chastising his monster for strangling a few innocents.” ESPN “created a show where egomaniacs with limited intellects create controversies to provoke each other, so it should not expect enlightenment to come out the other end” (COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE, 12/16). PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Michael David Smith wrote ESPN’s review “should include not just Parker, but also everything about the show.” On Friday morning’s “First Take,” Parker’s comments “were never mentioned” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 12/14). In Houston, David Barron wrote, “This is what happens when you put newspaper columnists in front of a camera and tell them to say anything they can to create controversy and engage each other in shouting matches and otherwise act like mindless egomaniacs.” Barron: “Other than 'Pardon the Interruption,' I can’t think of anything worthwhile that has come out of this columnist-as-TV-talking-head movement” (CHRON.com, 12/14).
HEATED DEBATE: In Tampa, Eric Deggans wrote, “I hope ESPN doesn’t fire Parker. Because his comments unveiled how racial identity issues can simmer beneath the surface in sports.” But if the “First Take” commentators are “going to try talking about this stuff, they better exercise more care than Parker or co-hosts Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless have shown so far.” ESPN execs should “have Parker return to ‘First Take’ with some people who can talk about this issue with intelligence and insight.” Deggans: “When that talk is done, I’d give Parker a break for a week or two, to demonstrate that such ham-handed talk about race has consequences” (TAMPABAY.com, 12/14).
Boxing's return to network TV on Saturday "for the first time in 15 years went off smoothly," according to Lance Pugmire of the L.A. TIMES. Showtime Sports Exec VP & GM Stephen Espinoza “breathed a sigh of relief" when the Leo Santa Cruz-Alberto Guevara fight was "barely delayed" by the Butler-Indiana basketball game going to OT. Espinoza said of Santa Cruz' victory by decision, "It was a good match and performance for this broadcast, all-action from the opening to the final bell." He added, "We'll look at the ratings and have the discussion about when we can do it again, but I thought the production went extremely well." Pugmire noted the Butler-Indiana lead-in "should help the bout's ratings.” Meanwhile, Espinoza’s plans for next year “start Jan. 9 with the debut of ‘60 Minutes Sports’” on Showtime. Negotiations “are underway” for Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s May 4 fight, with Robert Guerrero “the top candidate” to fight Mayweather (LATIMES.com, 12/15). CBS earned a 1.3 overnight rating for the bout from 4:45-6:00pm ET. The telecast retained 90% of the audience from the Butler-Indiana lead in (Austin Karp, THE DAILY).
SMALL FALL: Top Rank Chair Bob Arum said that the fourth fight between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao on Dec. 8 “generated about 1.15 million buys on HBO PPV.” ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael reported throughout the promotion for the fight, “apparent fan fatigue resulting from their three previous bouts was evident.” After “a bit of an admittedly slow promotion,” Arum said that PPV projections were “sluggish -- until the buys picked up significantly on the final day with a rush that he said helped push the fight into seven figures.” Rafael noted the fight “will generate in the neighborhood of $70 million in domestic television revenue.” Marquez-Pacquiao IV “did just a shade less than the third fight between them” in November ’11, which “did 1.25 million buys.” Their second fight in ‘08 “did 407,000 buys and their first fight in 2004 was live on HBO, not on pay-per-view” (ESPN.com, 12/15). Meanwhile, MULTICHANNEL NEWS’ R. Thomas Umstead cites industry insiders as saying that Pacquiao’s recent losses mean he has “lost a bit of his in-ring aura and some of his PPV box-office appeal.” That could “deliver a major body blow to a PPV boxing category reliant on Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. for the majority of its PPV revenue over the past three years.” After back-to-back losses, Pacquiao “might need to take a tune-up fight on HBO or Showtime before returning to the PPV arena” (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 12/17 issue).
FINAL BELL: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes HBO “did a cool retrospective” of announcer Larry Merchant’s career during Saturday's Nonito Donaire-Jorge Arce bout, “then let Merchant say goodbye with a brief monologue.” Merchant is ending a 35-year stint as the net's main ringside analyst. Jones: “I’m sad to see Merchant go. Sometimes I disagreed vehemently with his opinions. Sometimes, his style was holier-than-thou. Sometimes he acted like he was the smartest guy in the room. But, always, he was straight-forward. He said what he believed and made no apologies for it. And he was as intelligent of a broadcaster as you could find” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/17).
Showtime has opted not to renew its deal for “Inside NASCAR,” bringing an end to the show’s three-year run on the premium cable channel. NASCAR, which produces the show, has begun searching for a new partner. The studio-based show resembles Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” with behind-the-scenes footage and high-quality features. Showtime did not respond to requests for comment. The channel promoted the show heavily, even buying a race entitlement in '10 and '11 for the Showtime Southern 500, but NASCAR Managing Dir of Productions & Programming Tally Hair said Showtime decided to discontinue the show because its programming strategy changed. Hair: “We’re very proud of the show and believe in the franchise. We believe there is a home for it with the right partner.” Hair added that NASCAR will speak with other premium pay channels like HBO and also will explore partnerships with more traditional cable channels. He added, “We want to build a huge and great partnership with a partner who can really promote the show. It’s all about reaching the fans.” He said it will continue to be a premium show with high-end production and a format that offers exclusive behind-the-scenes content and features. Hair said, “The show really hit its stride in ‘12 from a flow standpoint and talent standpoint. We think it’s a great benchmark. We’ll look at it and say, ‘How can we improve this? Is there a way to reach a younger fanbase?’ We’re constantly looking at that stuff. The partner, whoever we go with, is going to dictate that as well.”
Comcast has “delivered on its promise to add beIN Sport's English-language feed to its cable systems,” but the move “has come at a cost: the nation's largest cable provider has dropped Gol TV,” according to Jonathan Tannenwald of the PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS. beIN Sport's English-language feed “took the slot previously occupied by Gol TV's standard definition English feed." The channel that was occupied by GolTV's Spanish-language feed "is now dark." beIN Sport is “only available on Comcast in standard definition.” No timeline was given “for the addition of HD feeds.” Comcast in a statement said, “Recently, GolTV lost its most popular programming -- La Liga, the top division of the Spanish soccer league -- which chose to give its games to beIN Sport.” Tannenwald wrote GolTV's "lack of carriage is a serious problem.” Tannenwald: “I suspect that it will now be very hard for Gol TV to secure advertisers, given its lack of exposure. We will see how long the network lasts, especially if another channel is able to win the next round of Bundesliga rights bidding” (PHILLY.com, 12/15).
JOINING THE TEAM: beIN Sport on Friday announced soccer announcer Kay Murray has joined the network. Murray initially will be part of the net’s pre- and post-game show “The Express" (beIN Sport).