There are few things likely to survive a nuclear war, but I’m convinced NFL studio shows are one of them. Networks continue to expand the chat-happy programming at a rabid rate. “I don’t see people complaining that there’s too much NFL product on,” says longtime NBC Sports producer Fred Gaudelli, who oversees Sunday Night Football. “I think at some point we hit the threshold, but where that is I have no idea.”
Each pro football-airing network has a distinct personality and philosophy when it comes to setting you up for the live action. Below, we’ll outline the key studio players and studio shows in the first-ever The MMQB NFL Studio Broadcasting Guide:
CBS and CBS SPORTS NETWORK
The NFL Today—James Brown (host), Bill Cowher (analyst), Boomer Esiason (analyst), Dan Marino (analyst), Shannon Sharpe (analyst), Jason La Canfora (information), Lesley Visser (reporter).
Airing: 12:00 p.m.-1-00 p.m. ET, Sundays (CBS)
That Other Pregame Show—Adam Schein (host), Bart Scott (analyst), Amy Trask (analyst), Brandon Tierney (analyst), Nathan Zegura (fantasy football analyst), Allie LaForce (reporter).
Airing: 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. ET, Sundays (CBS Sports Network)
• Let’s start with a new pregame show, which CBS Sports Network is branding as TOPS (That Other Pregame Show). It’s the first Sunday pregame show from CBS’ cable sports outfit and features newcomers such as Scott, the longtime linebacker for the Jets and Ravens, and Trask, the NFL’s first female CEO and a longtime management figure with the Raiders. “When somebody asked me awhile ago if there was room for another pregame show on Sunday morning when there is so much NFL programming going on, I said only if the show has a different perspective, a different feel and a different kind of broadcast,” said CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. “I think this will be different.”
Those differences include a free-flowing format where talent is not locked into one area of expertise, according to McManus. The last hour of the show will be centered on fantasy football and the show will also examine the college football games from the previous day. Staffers from The NFL Today will regularly appear on TOPS, as will CBS broadcasters from their game sites. “There is no harm in failing on this show,” McManus said. “It will not generate enormous ratings at first but I think we can carve out a niche because I think our talent is different.”
• Given traditional NFL broadcasting roles for women have been sideline reporting, hosting studio shows or feature reporting, I asked Trask last week on SI.com if she believed this was a pioneering hire. “I have gotten that question before and I stumbled and fumbled my way through it as I am apt to right now,” Trask said. “I have approached my career in the following manner: I have done my job to the best of my ability without regard to my gender, My view has always been that if I don’t want my gender to be an issue, then I should not make my gender an issue. I have been asked about that issue before and I don’t do the best job answering the question because I have spent decades comporting myself without regard to gender.”
• Scott did some guest spots on Showtime’s Inside The NFL, which is where he connected with CBS. “I enjoyed the camera during my career and I was looking for a next challenge,” Scott said, knowing the reporter knew he did not always enjoy the camera. “I thought I could bring something different to CBS in that I would be one of a few former players in their lineup. You think of CBS and you think Phil Simms and Shannon and Steve Beuerlein. I am the only defensive guy. I figured it would be good for me to come in and stir the pot a bit.”
• McManus said viewers should not anticipate major changes on The NFL Today even with a producer change for the first time in 25 years. The network announced last May that Drew Kaliski would replace Eric Mann, who had produced the show since 1988. (Kaliski previously worked as a producer at CBS Sports Network and the NFL Network.) “If anything, I would like to open up the show a bit and make it a little less structured,” McManus said. “We have some passionate ex-players and an ex-coach talking football. You will find it will be a little less structured.”
• McManus said the name “That Other Pregame Show” came to the network after CBS Sports executives kept referring to “that other pregame show” when discussing competitors. Producer Pete Radovich Jr. recognized that the acronym spelled out TOPS. “Everyone likes to be tops in their industry or class so we think it is a good name and says what the show is about,” said McManus, who thankfully was smiling when he said it.
• Stability with The NFL Today: The core on-air group has stayed the same for six years. The show has strengths (an improving Cowher, an ego-free host in Brown, and an ability to be serious about news) and weaknesses (nonsensical laughing at every lame one-liner, an overabundance of Shannon Sharpe, and annually looking foolish with product placement).
Weekday Studio Show Management Wants You To Know About
NFL Monday QB (CBS Sports Network)—The quarterback-happy show is hosted by Schein and features analysts Beuerlein, Gannon, Simms and LaCanfora.
Airing: After Week 1, when it airs at 5:30 p.m. ET, NFL Monday QB will air regularly at 6:30 p.m. ET
The MMQB: What stories are you most interested in for the 2013 season?
Cowher: First, the quarterback class of last year. What is everyone going to do in the second year? Also, the read-option. It is one thing to do it in the middle of the season, but now teams have had a chance study it. It is great transition for a young quarterback to the NFL but at some point you have to transition him to the next level. Seattle and Indianapolis are two teams that are under the radar a little bit and I’m very interested in them. Same with Cleveland. Getting Norv Turner was a great get for Rob Chudzinski and it will help Brandon Weeden. To me that conference is the toughest conference in football.”
Sunday NFL Countdown—Chris Berman (host), Cris Carter (analyst), Mike Ditka (analyst), Tom Jackson (analyst), Keyshawn Johnson (analyst), Ray Lewis (analyst), Chris Mortensen (information/reporter), Adam Schefter (information/reporter), Josina Anderson (reporter), Bob Holtzman (reporter), Suzy Kolber (reporter), Sal Paolantonio (reporter), Ed Werder (reporter), Frank Caliendo (features, though not every week).
Airing: 10 a.m.–1:00 p.m. ET
Monday Night Countdown—Berman, Carter, Trent Dilfer (analyst), Ditka, Jackson, Johnson, Lewis, Mortensen, Lisa Salters (reporter), Stuart Scott (host), Steve Young (analyst), Schefter.
Airing: 6:30 p.m.-8:25 p.m. ET
• Lewis was the most notable sports broadcasting hire of the offseason and he’ll travel to the Monday Night Football site each week to serve as an analyst for Monday Night Countdown. He’ll also work eight Sundays at ESPN’s studios in Bristol, Conn., appearing on Sunday NFL Countdown. The former Ravens linebacker debuts the morning of Sunday, Sept. 8, when he joins the cast of Countdown. The following day Lewis will be in Landover, Md., for his Monday Night Countdown spot, leading into the Eagles-Redskins game at FedEx Field. “I honestly think the sky is the limit for me,” Lewis told The MMQB in July. “A lot of people have only been introduced to my football mentality—and it is hard to get people to understand the football mentality unless you’ve lived it. I think I am totally different when I’m not thinking about battle, and I’m going to try to be the best at this. When people learn my personality and actually get into my head, they are going to be surprised by the way I think on an everyday and every-second basis.”
• Kolber is part of a new Sunday NFL Countdown feature where she’ll be assigned to the most impactful early Sunday afternoon game. This assignment should occur about twice a month, and she’ll be joined on-site for reporting and analysis by either Ron Jaworski or Merril Hoge. Kolber was a sideline reporter on Monday Night Football from 2006 to 2012 and told SI.com last month she’s excited about returning to game sites. “I really missed being on the road and having that personal contact, seeing it and feeling it and talking to players and coaches on-site,” Kolber said.
• When the NFL inactives come out around 11:40 a.m. each Sunday, ESPN fantasy expert Matthew Berry will be on NFL Countdown to discuss what the moves mean from a fantasy perspective. (Mortensen will also have a crossover role on ESPN2’s Fantasy Football Now.) “We have just scratched the surface on the fantasy football part of Countdown,” said ESPN senior coordinating producer Seth Markman, who oversees all of ESPN’s studio shows. “We decided we needed to make Matthew a bigger part of Countdown in general, especially when the inactives come out.” Berry will return to his ESPN2 show, Fantasy Football Now, after his segment.
• Markman said viewers will notice some changes on Monday Night Countdown. In years past, the majority of the show was carried by the studio panel in Bristol. This year, the game site panelists will get more airtime. “Adding Ray, with Trent and Steve, I think is going to feel the most unscripted, free-wheeling football show we have on ESPN this year,” Markman said. “They all get along well, have a history together and they are not afraid to go at each other. I think the viewers will see much more from the game site on Monday night this year in the pre- and post-game.”
• Where is Ray Lewis right now in terms of his evolution as a broadcaster? “I think he is in a great spot,” Markman said. “You never know until someone is on the air. The stuff we have done with him is behind the scenes. But he knows the teams, he knows the players, and he has strong opinions. He has told me many times that if he goes into this, he wants to be the best. Is that going to happen the first week? Of course not. But he is very coachable and he wants to review film of his broadcast afterward. Our goal is not to make him into a professional broadcaster. We want Ray to be Ray. Most of my advice is to him is to be himself.”
• ESPN wants to get continue to get Dilfer as much exposure as possible. Look for his profile to continue to elevate.
• Manufacturing stories across platforms. As Deadspin’s John Koblin notably diagrammed last week, ESPN manufactured a cross-platform story out of Ron Jaworski’s opinion on Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick. We’ve seen the network repackage an analyst’s opinion into news stories on too many occasions. It reinforces the worst of the network’s self-important tendencies. Plenty of smart people at ESPN know this is a con on viewers. Here’s hoping those adults win the day.
• Great to see ESPN management continue to invest in its Fantasy Football Now studio show. The show will again air for two hours this fall (11 a.m.-1 p.m. on ESPN2) and is arguably the best NFL studio show out there. Robert Flores hosts with analysts Berry and Tim Hasselbeck, and injury expert Stephania Bell. Sara Walsh, Mortensen and NFL team reporters from game sites will also be also regular contributors to the show.
• People who read this column know my thoughts on Berman hosting the NFL draft, calling NFL and MLB play-by-play, and his longtime enabling of the NFL as a FOTNFL (Friend Of The NFL). But I’ve never discounted his passion on Sunday as the point guard of ESPN’s highlight and analysis shows. This is his best fit as a broadcaster and he clearly loves the sport.
Weekday Studio Show Management Wants You To Know About
NFL Insiders—The show is off to a solid start with a formula that seems to be working (ESPN also offers the strong NFL Live at 4:00 p.m. ET.) Staffers include anchor/host Kolber, reporters Mortensen and Schefter, former GM Bill Polian, ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton and NFL insider Werder, NFL draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay and a panel including former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, former St. Louis Rams general manager Billy Devaney, USA Today NFL columnist Jarrett Bell, Sirius/XM radio host Adam Caplan, ESPN.com senior NFL writer Ashley Fox, ESPN.com NFC East blogger Dan Graziano and ESPN Insider and ESPN Boston writer Field Yates.
Airing: 3:00–4:00 p.m. ET every day
The MMQB: How aggressive will ESPN covering the concussion issue on studio shows?
Markman: I will tell you that I think we have been in a leadership position covering concussions on Sunday Countdown for many years. We have done some great stories on it predating me being here (he joined ESPN in 1993). I think we have always been the leader and will continue to be. There has never been any talk of backing off for any reason.
FOX AND FOX SPORTS 1
FOX NFL Sunday—Curt Menefee (co-host), Terry Bradshaw (co-host), Howie Long (analyst), Jimmy Johnson (analyst), Michael Strahan (analyst), Jay Glazer (reporter), Mike Pereira (rules analyst), Rob Riggle (comedian), Pam Oliver (reporter).
Airing: 12:00 p.m.–1-00 p.m. ET (FOX)
FOX NFL Kickoff—Joel Klatt (host), Ronde Barber (analyst), Scott Fujita (analyst), Randy Moss (analyst), Brian Urlacher (analyst), Glazer (reporter), Pereira (rules analyst).
Airing: NFL Kickoff premieres Sunday, Sept. 8 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. ET to accommodate a special 90-minute edition of Fox NFL Sunday. Beginning Sept. 15, Kickoff airs from 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET each week. (FOX Sports 1)
• Perhaps you heard: FOX has a new cable sports network called FOX Sports 1 (and they want that network to be good, clean American fun). FOX NFL Kickoff features a host of newcomers fresh off the field, including five-time Pro Bowl defensive back Barber, former Saints linebacker Fujita, and future Hall of Famers Moss and Urlacher. “The philosophy of FOX NFL Kickoff is to combine the FOX Football Daily brand and talent with the FOX NFL Sunday brand and talent,” said FOX Sports executive producer John Entz. “It will also take advantage of the FOX Sports crews at game sites. We’ll do whip-arounds using our game crews throughout the show.”
• The studios for both FOX NFL Sunday and FOX NFL Kickoff are located next to each other, so viewers should expect frequent crossover appearances from both sets of talent on each show.
• FOX Sports executives told SI.com last week they were so impressed by Moss’ earlier work, he will appear at different times on FOX NFL Sunday.
• Menefee continues to grow on me every year; he’s become a very good studio host. He also has a welcome self-awareness of his network’s marketing campaign. Said Menefee: “Everyone has been together for so long [on FOX NFL Sunday] that there’s a natural comfort level in front of the camera and with each other than can’t be manufactured, nor replicated simply by telling people to ‘have fun’ … and you know how we love FUN!!”
• FOX NFL Sunday has the best chemistry among any of the Sunday noon pregame shows, but they are maddeningly inconsistent on how they approach editorial issues of gravitas. One example: Regarding the murder-suicide last year of Kasandra Perkins and Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, the show was terrific on its initial coverage, with Menefee doing something that viewers should really appreciate: He mentioned that Perkins was training to be a teacher, a detail no other network mentioned, and one that humanized the victim of a senseless crime. Bradshaw then followed with a welcome note beyond the usually jockocracy stuff. “Let’s not overstate this so much that we forget about the real importance here of what is left behind,” Bradshaw said. “We have a three-month-old baby girl who has lost her momma and her daddy. Both of them are gone. Therein lies the tragedy.”
The following week, the show abdicated its editorial responsibility with a lack of coverage on the story. There was zero follow-up on the murder-suicide of an NFL player and not even a cursory recap of the news that broke the following week, from the release of police footage to player reaction to the state of then-Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and then-general manager Scott Pioli after watching a man kill himself in front of them. But FOX did make time for a four-minute segment featuring comedian Rob Riggle in Hawaii and some beautiful-looking women in bikinis. Viewers need to see more consistency.
• Jimmy Johnson turned 70 on July 16, but 70 is the new 50 in broadcasting. Hope to see JJ keeping on for years to come.
Weekday Studio Show Management Wants You To Know About
Fox Football Daily—The main on-air talent includes Menefee, Glazer, Pereira. You will also see plenty of Barber on the show. Fujita, Urlacher and Moss will also appear regularly. Klatt will host the show once a week for Menefee and also serve as the show’s lead college football analyst. Longtime FOX NFL Sunday staffers Bradshaw, Long, Johnson and Strahan, as well as FOX NFL analysts such as Troy Aikman, John Lynch and Tim Ryan, will also appear.
Airing: 6:00-7:00 p.m. ET (FOX Sports 1)
MMQB.com: What can viewers expect from you on television?
Moss: I love the game of football. I like to play it. I like to talk it about it. And I’d like to learn more about it. So I hope viewers will not just learn from me but we also have a Hall of Fame cast in Brian Urlacher and Ronde Barber. We have a nice core of guys to educate the football world. I think a lot of X’s and O’s are spent on a lot of nonsense and what I mean by nonsense are things that do not have to do with the game of football. A lot of analysts or writers do not play the game and they think they can go and speak on something they do not know. I want to educate the viewers on how I’ve seen the game, and how I approach it.
Football Night In America—Bob Costas (host), Dan Patrick (co-host), Tony Dungy (analyst), Rodney Harrison (analyst), Hines Ward (analyst), Mike Florio (information), Scott Pioli (information) Peter King (reporter).
Airing: 7:00-8:20 p.m. ET
• Newcomer Pioli will appear on either the FNIA studio set in New York City or at the game site of Sunday Night Football. The former general manager said NBC Sports executives have told him they want him to be an “informationalist.” He described that position as “being able to talk about experiences, tie them into what is happening currently, and attempt to educate fans and viewers about how things really work behind the scenes.”
• NBC said on some weeks Pioli will appear in-studio with Dungy and Harrison or with Florio and King. “I just saw another smart football mind that gives us a different perspective that we don’t have on the team right now—a player personnel guy who has a smart way of looking at the game,” said NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood. “We will try him in different areas throughout the show and it will all depend on his development. I told Scott he’ll earn his airtime.”
• Asked about his comfort level regarding being critical of former colleagues and friends in the league, Pioli said, “I think there is a big difference between criticizing the performance and criticizing the performer. I am not going to be a person who criticizes people. Most of my background in the media is theoretical and academic so I have not entered the realm, but I think that is part of our obligation in the media is to try not to make it personal.”
• The FNIA studio is moving from Studio 8G, the show’s home since 2006, to Studio 8H, the current set for Saturday Night Live.
• This is Dungy’s fifth year as a studio analyst, and he continues to improve. “I’d say my comfort level is probably five times what it was in Year One,” Dungy said. “I am just so much more comfortable and I think I can speak the same for Rodney.” Dungy said last year he felt comfortable going to Flood and suggesting things beyond his own comments. “I would say, Hey, can we look at this or can we show this from a coaches standpoint or here is how we need to show this,” Dungy says. “I have had more suggestions about things I’d like to do or things I think fans would like to see.”
Weekday Studio Show Management Wants You To Know About
Pro Football Talk—The lineup includes Mike Florio (co-host); Erik Kuselias (co-host), Shaun King (analyst); Ross Tucker (analyst); Dungy (analyst), Harrison (analyst); Pioli (analyst); Ward (analyst) and King (reporter). The show faces killer competition against ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption and SportsCenter as well as FOX Football Daily on Fox Sports 1. Ultimately, choosing a studio show is about spending time with people and I’d rather invest elsewhere from Kuselias. The analyst talent is strong.
Airing: 5:30-6:30 p.m., daily (NBC Sports Network)
The MMQB: How much should concussion issues be discussed on a pregame show?
Dungy: I think it should be a big part of it and we should not shy away from it. It is out there on the table and something football in general has to deal with. We could do a good job in painting both sides of it. There are going to be concussions in football—no questions about it. But I can tell you that it so much better than it was 10 years ago. And it is light years better than when I played 30 years ago. We should tell that side of the story, too. And not just, ‘Hey, it is dangerous and there are concussions.’ Sure, all of that needs to be addressed. But also what is football doing to solve it and work on the problem. I think we should hit on both sides.
NFL GameDay First—Melissa Stark (host), Sterling Sharpe (analyst), Shaun O’Hara (analysts), rotating guests
Airing: 7:00-9:00 a.m. ET, Sundays
NFL GameDay Morning—Rich Eisen (host), Marshall Faulk (analyst), Michael Irvin (analyst), Steve Mariucci (analyst), Warren Sapp (analyst), Kurt Warner (analyst). The game reporters are Michelle Beisner, Albert Breer, Steve Cyphers, Stacey Dales, Jeff Darlington, Kimberly Jones, Aditi Kinkhabwala and Ian Rapoport.
Airing: 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. ET, Sundays
NFL Total Access Kickoff—Eisen (host), Mariucci (analyst), Faulk (analyst), Irvin (analyst), Sanders (analyst), Stacey Dales (reporter).
Airing: 6:00 p.m. ET, Thursdays
Given it is a 24/7 network, NFL Network has a ton of daily studio programming. Among the notable ones:
NFL Total Access—Dan Hellie & Amber Theoharis (hosts), Brian Billick (analyst), Heath Evans (analyst), Mariucci (analyst), Willie McGinest (analyst), Sapp (analyst), Darren Sharper (analyst), Michael Silver (analyst), LaDainian Tomlinson (analyst), Warner (analyst). The reporters are Judy Battista, Beisner, Breer, Dales, Jeff Darlington, Jones, Kinkhabwala, Rapoport and Silver.
Airing: 7:00 p.m. ET, Mondays; 8:00 p.m. ET, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; after Thursday Night Football, Thursdays.
NFL AM—Nicole Zaloumis (main host), Paul Burmeister (host), Molly Qerim (host), LaVar Arrington (analyst), Eric Davis (analyst), Terrell Davis (analyst), Jeff Garcia (analyst), Mark Kriegel (analyst), Steve Wyche (analyst).
Airing: 6:00 a.m. ET (re-airs 10:00 a.m. ET)
NFL Fantasy Live—Staffing includes Michael Fabiano, Elliot Harrison, Adam Rank, Dave Dameshek, Jason Smith, Matt Smith, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and Jamie Maggio.
Airing: 5:00 p.m. ET and 11:30 a.m. ET (NFL RedZone)
• NFL GameDay First was renamed from First on the Field and also switched some talent staffing. O’Hara, the former Giants offensive lineman, replaced Tomlinson on the show. Former insider Michael Lombardi left the show for a management job with the Browns.
• The network continues to be aggressive by hiring experienced NFL writers. The latest are Silver, a former SI colleague, and Battista, a longtime New York Times reporter. Both are excellent hires.
• Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand reported that NFL Network lost around 12 percent of its production staff in recent months, with around 15 full-time staffers bolting for FOX Sports 1. Another 10 to 15 permanent freelancers also left for FOX Sports 1, according to Ourand.
• NFL Total Access moves to 8 p.m. ET on four different days and brings in Hellie, a popular sportscaster from Washington D.C., as the show’s host.
• Asked what separates his network from the rest of the networks, NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger said, “I’d have to start with our talent. We try to be very strategic with our hiring. We have been around for a little while now. We do six hours on Sunday morning. We think that is an immediate difference and an immediate choice for the fans. At 7 a.m., we have a group of talent. We have a group of talent at 9 a.m. This is a very position-specific sport. As far as content, this is all we do, all we focus on. I think it is a differentiator for the viewer when they are watching the network.”
• Dean Blandino, NFL’s vice president of officiating, will appear on Total Access every Tuesday.
• NFLN will still get the jump on all the other networks every Sunday with GameDay First, a show that airs (and this is not a misprint) at 7 a.m. ET. It’s the first live pregame show to originate from NFL Films, in Mt. Laurel, N.J., and will feature live reports from game sites.
• Inexplicably, Irvin continues to get primetime assignments.
• The pursuit of Brett Favre. The former Packers quarterback appeared on NFL Network during Super Bowl week and has an open invitation to appear on the network. “I am trying all the time,” Weinberger said. “He likes his life, but we will always find ways to bring him on … When it feels right for him, he will do it.” Weinberger said he would like Favre to have a permanent role but added “it’s not going to happen right now.”
The MMQB: How aggressive are you covering the concussion issue in the NFL?
Weinberger: We are not running from it. We are trying to educate the fan with what the mission is: To make the sport safer. We are handling it dead on.