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.