SBJ/Sept. 2-8, 2013/Media

What’s new this year in networks’ NFL coverage

NFL Network is revamping its prime-time schedule, pushing its signature “Total Access” show back one hour into the 8 p.m. ET time slot and switching its focus to offer more analysis and debate.

It plans to lead into “Total Access” with two hours of live studio programming. The move from 7 p.m. ET to the later hour starts this week.

NFL Network is shifting "Total Access" to one hour later and switching focus to more analysis and debate
“We think ‘Total Access’ can work better at 8 p.m.,” said Ron Semiao, NFL Network’s vice president of programming and media events. “We want to take a good brand to kick off our prime-time lineup.”

“Total Access” will go live on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Semiao said it will not run at the same time NFL games are being played — Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.

The move by NFL Network comes as ESPN launches more NFL studio programming, Fox Sports 1 produces “Fox Football Daily” in the afternoon and NBC Sports Network builds a programming strategy around “Pro Football Talk.”

But these rival networks do not feature studio programming around the NFL during this 8 p.m. time slot, which Semiao believes will give NFL Network a competitive advantage.

“They go heavy on the NFL earlier in fringe time,” Semiao said. “Nobody else is doing it when we are. We think we can provide something there.”

NFL Network brass decided several months ago to freshen up “Total Access,” which executives refer to as the network’s flagship show. In July, it hired veteran anchor Dan Hellie from Washington, D.C.’s NBC affiliate to host the show, which was the NFL Network’s first program when the channel launched in November 2003.

In its 10-year run, “Total Access” had been in the 7 p.m. time slot and was devoted to rapidly paced news programming. (At network launch, the show was at 8 p.m. It was moved to 7 p.m. in April 2004). Now, the show will feature NFL Network analysts and guests offering opinions and debating issues. Network executives promise a “higher energy level” around the show, with high-profile analysts like Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin.

“We recognize that as networks evolve, we have to keep our shows current and sharp,” said Ronit Larone, NFL Network’s senior coordinating producer. “Our ultimate goal with ‘Total Access’ is to be lively and spirited. We’re not trying to debate every segment of the show.”

The show’s former host, Rich Eisen, is focusing on other high-profile gigs, including pregame, postgame and halftime shows around “Thursday Night Football” and the channel’s Sunday studio shows.

NFL Network will use two shows to lead into “Total Access” — “Around the League Live” hosted by Andrew Siciliano and “Around the League Primetime” hosted by Lindsay Rhodes. These shows will provide straight news and stories.

Siciliano will host his show in the 6-7 p.m. time slot from NFL RedZone’s studio. It’s being positioned as a fast-paced news show. Rhodes’ show will take a more in-depth look at some of the stories.

“These two hours will set the table for 8 p.m. and our new ‘Total Access,’” Larone said.

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The NFL’s two Sunday afternoon broadcasters, CBS and Fox, are planning to blow out their Sunday morning NFL coverage for the first time on their respective cable channels.

CBS Sports Network is rolling out “That Other Pregame Show” on Sunday mornings, which CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus says will not be nearly as structured as “The NFL Today.”

“It will be more freewheeling,” he said. “We will touch on new topics, including college football.”

Because the show is so new, McManus said to expect the show to evolve as the season progresses.

“It won’t be tied to the standard format that most NFL pregame shows look like,” McManus said. “If it does that well, it will be able to find its own audience.”

Adam Schein will host, and Brandon Tierney, Bart Scott and Amy Trask will be analysts.

For Fox Sports 1, executives chose Joel Klatt to host the Sunday morning show, which will feature former players Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss and Ronde Barber.

During its show, Fox plans to take advantage of the game crews that it has at several sites each Sunday.

“They have stories to tell and pick up nuggets of information,” said John Entz, Fox Sports executive vice president of production and executive producer. “This is the most new NFL coverage we’ve had in many years. We will go to those remote sites early and often. You will feel like you’re there. That’s the goal.”

■ ■ ■

When ESPN kicks off “Monday Night Football’s” 44th season from FedEx Field next week, it will be operating out of four new production trucks that network executives say make up a groundbreaking facility.

“We wanted to build the largest, most technically complex mobile production unit in the world,” said Chris Calcinari, ESPN and ABC Sports’ vice president of remote operations. “I think we’ve done that.”

ESPN added some tech horsepower with four new production trucks it will use for “Monday Night Football.”
ESPN is leasing the trucks from Pittsburgh-based NEP Broadcasting. It plans to use them throughout the NFL season and for other big ESPN events, including the NBA Conference Finals, NBA Finals and the X Games, Calcinari said. “I expect this to become the new standard for big event production,” Calcinari said. “You have all the latest technology from the biggest vendors in these trucks.”

Viewers will not notice much of a difference. Calcinari said the picture quality should improve and the number of replays will increase.

But he said the trucks will help ESPN producers be more efficient during games, as all four units will operate as one truck. It has 3,392 square feet of workspace and 86 workstations.

“It’s bigger than most of our homes,” Calcinari said.

Outside of the NFL season, ESPN is expected to break up the trucks to produce smaller events. Two of the trucks — the A and B units — can handle game production on their own.

ESPN first started developing plans for these trucks two years ago. Typically, leases for the production trucks run alongside rights cycles, and the network started making a wish list for new at-game production trucks that it would use during its new NFL rights deal.

ESPN would not comment on the price of these trucks.

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Nobody knows how former NFL player Ray Lewis will fare as an on-air analyst for ESPN’s NFL programming. After all, ESPN has not had any rehearsals with Lewis because it believes talent on this show works better spontaneously, rather than planned out.

But senior coordinating producer Seth Markman believes Lewis will be effective based, in part, on chemistry he’s already seen with Lewis and his studio partners.

In July, Lewis was in Los Angeles to shoot a commercial with other ESPN talent, including Chris Berman, Tom Jackson, Cris Carter, Mike Ditka and Keyshawn Johnson. Markman said the group immediately started talking football in an entertaining way.

“It’s like the guys have been together for 10 years,” Markman said. “There’s never a sure thing in the business. But with Ray, the tools are all there. The only thing Ray has to realize is that this is a job and you still have to work.”

Lewis will not appear in studio. Rather, ESPN will use Lewis at on-field sets at the “MNF” game sites to take advantage of his energy and passion. Markman believes that his role as a mentor to younger players will create some good TV moments.

“Ray’s not going to be a professional broadcaster,” Markman said. “He’s going to be Ray.”

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