I've been traveling the northeast corridor of this country, asking people -- mostly television executives -- if they think we're anywhere close to hitting a saturation point on football programs. Seth Markman, the man who oversees all of ESPN's football studio shows, told me on Wednesday that he worries about that all the time, naturally. "I honestly do. I think we're getting close to that, too," he said. "One of my biggest concerns is how to make Sunday special again."
Markman was, perhaps not directly, referencing the fact that CBS Sports Network -- along with Fox Sports 1 -- is getting into the Sunday pregame racket this season. CBSSN seems to know that it's entering a crowded field, and has dubbed the program That Other Pregame Show. Don't assume the network is immediately rushing into this 100 percent humble, though, since it's colloquially dubbed the program TOPS.
I spoke to the producer of the show, Shawn Robbins. He's built kind of like an NFL linebacker (or probably more of a power forward in the NBA, to be honest) and has a ton of energy, which is a good sign for a man about to run a four-hour pregame show every Sunday.
That Other Pregame Show will air from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET on Sundays, with the final hour more focused on fantasy football, similar to the show CBSSports.com usually runs. Adam Schein, a man who is extremely well known in New York as well as nationally, will host. His fellow radio personality Brandon Tierney, former New York Jet Bart Scott and former Oakland Raiders executive Amy Trask will serve as analysts. Trask is, to my knowledge, the first woman ever hired as an analyst on a Sunday NFL pregame show.
The show will, aside from NFL Network, be first on the field among all the pregame programs: ESPN's NFL Countdown hits the airwaves at 10 a.m. ET, while Fox Sports 1's Fox NFL Kickoff is on at 11 a.m. ET, preceding the network pregame shows at noon. The show will feature contributions from The NFL Today crew, as well as CBS analysts and reporters chiming in from their game sites. Robbins says they're using "every aspect of CBS" and talent may number in the 20s each week.
I spoke to Robbins about his preparation for the show, keeping things from being too New York-centric with three panelists having been prominent on either TV, radio or the field in the market, and freshening up the pregame show itself.
Steve Lepore: Have you been hired to bring in anything different to [the format of] the pregame show?
Shawn Robbins: I better have. Yeah. It's a four-hour show so I'd better bring something different. The plan of the show is, really, to service the football fan. There's really a need there, to give the fan the setup of the day, and that's what TOPS is gonna be.
SL: You hired Amy Trask who is, as far as I know, the first female to ever be on the desk [as an analyst] of an NFL show.
SR: It's funny, we didn't even talk about that first female thing. I think that's right. It might be right. I can't think of anyone else who was hired in the analyst role, but I'm not sure. It's fantastic to put her on that panel. I know, with her mind -- I got to meet her once, when I was doing games -- now that we're able to work with her ... we're all thrilled to have her at CBS. What she can bring us, as far as the insight of the GM, and a different perspective of the game itself.
SL: Do you worry about it being a little too New York-centric?
SR: I mean, Adam runs a national show every day on Sirius, and he is well-versed in the topic. I'd be scared to put anybody else's mind up against him [laughs]. But as far as being too New York-centric? No, I don't think so. I mean, New York is New York, opinions come out of New York -- that's what people know about it. As a proud New Yorker, I don't think we'll be New York-centric, but I can understand the concern.
SL: Before you go into a show like this, do you look at the competition and look at what's there already, and look for what you might want to emulate about one and not emulate about another?
SR: Sure. I think anybody who puts something together, anybody who maybe writes an article, you kind of take everything you like about some things that are out there and make that your own in some sort of way. It's almost, maybe a filmmaker does that as well. He likes Hitchcock films, maybe he makes a Hitchcock-type film. I could say that I would be borrowing elements from some things that I've liked, for sure.
I've been in the pregame business -- I did The NFL Today for eight years, before that I did games, and before that I was at NBC and did a pregame show, NFL Live -- so I think I'll be drawing on those experiences and what I know now to create this.
SL: You mentioned Jason La Canfora contributing, and some affiliates helping out. How much is mixing in breaking news to this show?
SR: Unbelievably important. That's a great question because now we're on the air at 9 o'clock. At 9 a.m., anything goes for us as far as what we cover. Sure, we have a format, we have a routine, you know what we're going to cover. But if something happens on the field, and we can cover it right then and there, yeah, that's a story. That's what were going after, that's what were gonna give the fan. We're going to try and give it to them as fast and as accurate as possible, or at the sites.
Before, that information probably had to get held until the noon-time hour. Maybe something happened that somebody would give to Jason for The NFL Today. But now, nothing's gonna wait. If something happens at 9:50 on site, at 9:51, there's a good chance our viewers are going to know about it. It'll be out there in the CBS universe, so that's the theory for us.
SL: With everybody on the air at this point [with football shows], do you just kinda have to block it out of your head?
SR: You know, I won't say it's a worry. Competition's great, it's almost like this is a sport as well to us, and what we do. I'm not a player, but this is my rush. I'm not worried about what they're doing. I'm just worried about what we're gonna do, and how we're gonna do it and present it, and what it's going to be. That's what I have confidence in. I just love our team. I really love what they put around to let us go out there and be successful within this show. I think it's going to be great.
SL: You've got Bart Scott, and we've seen -- maybe more than ever before -- a real rush of guys coming immediately into TV gigs out of retirement. Do you think that's good, and that the current players are maybe more well-versed in media than they were 10 years ago? Are there any drawbacks?
SR: You mean, as far as them coming out without any experience on the air?
SL: I mean, that these guys have lived in sort of 24-hour sports television.
SR: Yeah, that's what I think. These guys now are so media savvy coming out. Let's face it, everybody is "on the air" with Twitter now. These guys are on the air, 24/7 if they want to be. So, you know their restraints, based on the fact of what they've tweeted.
I don't know, I think it's great that these guys come out and they're more media savvy, and that there's all these shows for them to draw on and watch. I've seen a lot of pros come out, I watch on other shows, and I've seen how great they are. I'm actually not even surprised that they're so great, but I actually look at them and go "wow, they're so great in their first year." And, I think, 10 years ago, that wasn't the case based on the fact that most guys weren't as media savvy. It probably does make a difference, that's my guess.