CBS Praised For Its Handling Of "TNF" Pregame Show; Several Segments Scrapped
CBS hit the "perfect note of treating sports as news and sociology in the wake of the ongoing" Ray Rice story during its "Thursday Night Kickoff" pregame show prior to Steelers-Ravens, according to David Zurawik of the Baltimore SUN. CBS News' Scott Pelley appeared "on-camera at the top of the broadcast." While he "didn't have anything new to offer," his presence "as the network anchor, brief as it was, established a zone of seriousness for all that followed." CBS' James Brown also deserves kudos, as he "had to constantly navigate between sports, news and sociology" as the host of the pregame coverage. No one played a larger role in "helping the telecast hit the right tone than him" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 9/12). In Boston, Chad Finn writes Brown "rose to the occasion" Thursday night. Through a "brief, powerful essay" during the pregame show, Brown handled the Rice situation "with sympathy, intelligence, grace, and well-placed outrage" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/12). In DC, Emily Yahr wrote the pregame "played out like a serious breaking news story for the first 25 minutes." Even at certain points during the actual game, the announcers "couldn’t help but dissect the situation." The telecast also "devoted time to the issue of stopping domestic violence." CBS Sports Network's Amy Trask "appeared in a segment on the field and discussed how sports 'can serve as a catalyst for social progress.'" During the game, there was "no Rice talk until close to halftime." A timeline of the Rice fallout "appeared on the screen, showing his actions that the announcers said 'triggered arguably the darkest week in the history of the league.'" Play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz and analyst Phil Simms between plays "talked about how Rice was always going to sit out this game because of the initial two-game suspension." They also "got technical, discussing his actual playing ability and how sitting out this year will affect his skills if he ever plays football again" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 9/11).
ALTERING THE INITIAL PLANS: CBS Sports Chair Sean McManus spent months planning the net's inaugural "Thursday Night Football" telecast, but he was forced to scrap most of those plans given the Rice story. McManus consulted with current CBS News President David Rhodes and Exec Producer Steve Capus about how they would integrate the net's news department into the pregame show. It was ultimately decided to use Pelley from the N.Y. studios and put "CBS This Morning" co-host Norah O'Donnell on the game set with Brown. "All the meetings and phone calls and e-mails are meaningless," McManus said before the game. "We're going to be judged on the kind of job and the kind of objective job we do from 7:30-8:00pm and when we reference Ray Rice in our game coverage. That's what we should be judged on. I feel confident that we've got the right plan and will execute it as best as we can." CBS decided to scrap its high-energy opening at 7:30pm. It also shelved its 8:00pm opening featuring actor Don Cheadle and Rihanna and opted not to run a comedic bit that had been planned for the pregame show. "Everybody does a high-energy opening at every sporting event in America," McManus said. "To eliminate ours for one week in the wake of what's happened is the right thing to do." While commentators at other networks have called on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign for his role in the Rice story, McManus said he gave instructions to his on-air talent not to personally call out "individuals involved in the story, whether it be team ownership, whether it be NFL management." He said, "I don't think in this half-hour of programming that's our job to do." He said on-air talent was instead encouraged to "express opinions about the situation, to express opinions about domestic abuse, to express opinions on how the NFL has handled this" (John Ourand, Staff Writer).
SOME GOOD, SOME NOT: SI.com's Richard Deitsch writes the CBS portion of the pregame "was a mixed bag." The highlight was Brown's "impassioned speech," as his words "came across the screen like they were from the heart." Brown’s interview with Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti "was also strong and revealed that Ravens’ security called the Jets and the Giants" during its investigation of the Rice incident. What "didn’t work" was the byplay among Brown, Bill Cowher and Deion Sanders. Cowher "has improved," and he "personalized the Rice situation as a father." But he "did not answer Brown’s question on whether Goodell should lose his job if evidence exists that someone in the league office saw the tape." Cowher instead "predicted Goodell would lose his job if there was evidence of a cover-up -- a big difference" (SI.com, 9/12). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes Sanders, Cowher, Trask and Brown all "offered strong words about domestic violence and how the NFL can be at the forefront of fixing it." But after a commercial they "made the awkward switch into adrenalin-pumping pre-game mode with Sanders nearly drooling all over himself in Stephen A. Smith style to hype the Steelers-Ravens rivalry" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 9/12).
SOMETHING MISSING: In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes CBS "left a gaping hole when it came to discussing the independent investigation the NFL is conducting under the direction of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III." The net did not mention that Ravens President Dick Cass "worked at WilmerHale, the DC–based law firm where Mueller is a partner." There also "was no attempt to define the relationship between the two suits overseeing the investigation" -- Giants President & CEO John Mara and Steelers President Art Rooney -- and Goodell, which "has been characterized as extremely close" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/12).
NFL NET'S APPROACH: SI.com's Deitsch writes NFL Network's coverage of Thursday's game "got off to a strong start thanks to host Rich Eisen." He "gave a rundown of the events, called the situation a disaster for the league, and throughout the NFLN’s portion of the pregame, he exhibited the proper skepticism regarding an independent investigation run by people with significant NFL ties." NFL Network reporter Albert Breer "did well spelling out the conflicts and where the investigation would focus." Several other NFL Network reporters talked about "different parts of the story," and they all "did solid work" (SI.com, 9/12).