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Volume 24 No. 156
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Pregaming: Media Critics Give Thoughts On Sunday's Best And Worst NFL Shows

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 --’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, 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"

Q: Is there an analyst or host that you prefer?
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.