Pierce: CBS' Thursday NFL games are a sure bet

Published July 22, 2014 2:09 pm
Sports on TV • But is NFL just using CBS for one season to build up the NFL Network?.
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Beverly Hills, Calif.

There are few things in TV you can count on. Sometimes even the most anticipated new shows fall flat.

However, the smart money this fall is on CBS' "Thursday Night Football."

"This is a sure thing," CBS Corporation CEO Leslie Moonves said. "This is the program we know is going to work, we know is going to be on the air for many, many years on broadcast television. … This is the single best product on network television."

CBS will air half of the 16 games in the Thursday package. That's seven consecutive Thursdays, beginning with Pittsburgh-Baltimore on Sept. 11, and a matchup TBA on Dec. 20. CBS will also produce and provide the announcers (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Tracy Wolfson) for eight games on the NFL Network; six on Thursdays and two late-season Saturday games.

About the only person brave — or foolish — enough to express any doubt about "Thursday Night Football" is Robert Greenblatt, chairman of rival NBC Entertainment.

"I'm hoping that those Thursday games are going to take a long time to kind of take root," he said. "We know football is potent, but I don't think you're going to see the kind of ratings that we see on Sunday night, at least in the first season."

He's dreaming. Or, rather, he's spinning. Nobody expects "TNF" to match the 21.5 million viewers "SNF" averaged in 2013. But "TNF" will blow the competition away. There's no way this won't work.

CBS and the NFL Network will co-produce a pregame show that will begin at 4 p.m. MT on the NFL Network — a show that "combines the best of the CBS talent and NFL Network talent," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said. "Which I think is great for CBS, and I think it's great for the NFL Network, also."

CBS is ramping up its production on the Thursday-night package for both networks, and McManus promised it will be "second only to the commitment that we've made to the Super Bowl. The equipment is more than any game that we do on CBS all year long during the regular season or the playoffs. Every bell and whistle that we could possibly have we're utilizing."

That will include super-high-definition 4K cameras that will be suspended over the goal lines and over the sidelines and a new graphics package for both networks. They've added former NFL referee Mike Carey, who will be offering rules analysis from the booth. They will wire at least one player per team with a mic for "quick audio turnaround" on big plays, McManus said.

CBS is so sure this is going to be the Next Big Thing it is already campaigning to make "TNF" an annual event on the network; the partnership is just a one-year deal at this point. And there's certainly the feeling that the NFL might be doing this just to draw an audience to Thursday night games on the NFL Network.

"Well, just to be clear, we have not made a determination," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who also admitted that this is a "short-term decision" with a "long-term strategy."

If I were CBS, I'd be worried. But the folks at CBS are clearly campaigning for Season 2 and beyond.

"It is our job to show the NFL what we can do and how great the partnership is going to be," Moonves said. "We're confident … they're going to feel like CBS did a tremendous job."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter: @ScottDPierce.



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