Searching For Sanity In NFL Pre-game Shows: Part 1, FOX

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: Head coach Tom Coughlin (R) of the New York Giants is interviewed by Terry Bradshaw after the Giants won 20-17 in overtime against the San Francisco 49ers during the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

SB Nation's Steve Lepore reviews Fox's pre-game coverage from Week 1.

Every year, much is written about the broadcasting of National Football League games, which change timeslots and networks and draw various large amounts of viewers. Not much, however, is written about something that rarely ever changes during the NFL season: pre-game shows. Every Tuesday for the first four weeks of the season, we'll review one of the five major football networks' pre-game shows.

Whenever the discussion turns to someone on an NFL pre-game show in the blogosphere, it's usually the cast of Fox NFL Sunday. Not for their cutting, insightful football commentary, mind you. No, it's almost always for somebody trying to launch an acting career, somebody else pulling a support role in a Matthew McConaughey movie, or another one participating in Survivor, or -- lately -- one of them landing the co-host spot on a talk show. Perhaps as much as any show on television (even more than reality singing competitions), Fox NFL Sunday has been used as the starting point to building an entertainment career.

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When's the last time anyone behind the desk -- Terry Bradshaw, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Strahan and Howie Long --- said anything of real value or real controversy pertaining to the NFL? I mean, the most controversial thing any of them did last year was face the wrath of an elderly Giants co-owner. Even Jay Glazer, who shows up for approximately 4-6 minutes per show and is the only person dispensing actual useful information on the program, has found himself a career broadcasting in the UFC and on Subway commercials.

So, fully knowing all this beforehand, I sat down to watch the first episode of Fox NFL Sunday this season, and what I experienced ... well, honestly I can't remember. The show is so filled with self-promotion (mention of Strahan's talk show), cross-promotion (a bizarre green-screened video game commercial in studio) and bloated comedy that it almost seems to aim to become the stereotype of what other countries might think an American football pre-game show would look like. Because of all that, I'm hard pressed to remember anything anybody had to say.

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Everything in sports is chopped up into statistics nowadays, and every statistic is made into a catchy acronym. The best we could do was PSER (Pre-game Show Efficiency Rating). It sounds kinda' football-ish,' right? Anyway, PSER is based on a rating of 1-10 in five categories: Host Usefulness (HU), Quality of Banter Rating (QB Rating), Bloated Promotions (BP), Actual News Gathering (ANG) and Impact Rating (IR).

Host Usefulness: Be honest, before the season begins, you do not remember who Curt Menefee is upon seeing his face on your screen. You kind of forget at the beginning of each year that James Brown isn't hosting this show anymore. That said, Menefee probably has one of the most difficult hosting duties on television, keeping a gang of raving lunatics like this in line and making for some sort of professional broadcast suitable to air on television. Menefee has gotten better at this each year, and is probably the most tolerable person on the broadcast. Always on an even keel and professional, rarely giving in to the forced humor, and just being a generally pleasant voice to listen to on a show that doesn't have many. Score: 8

QB Rating: Just awful. Watching the Fox pre-game analysts joke around is like giving someone a limbo stick and watching them try and hop over it. They are completely incapable of talking about football without trying to make a crack about 1. Bradshaw's baldness, 2. Johnson's ... opposite of baldness, 3. Long's commercial acting, or 4. How one of them is clearly rooting for [team they played/coached for]. For a show supposedly dedicated to football, there is simply not that much football. Score: 1

Photo credit: Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

Bloated Promotions: Fox is probably the biggest offender here as well. Promos for new Fox shows, video games and the network's other sports properties are never too far away. Erin Andrews has a feature on the show specifically to promote her own football pre-game show! Given that this was opening day, the cross-promotion was out in full force, from Andrews, to that weird green screen promoting a new video game, to the shout out to Ford for being the show's presenting sponsor for 10 years. I mean, I get that television is a business, but this is just ridiculous. Score: 2

Actual News Gathering: Despite his odd appearances in Subway commercials, Glazer is a godsend to this show. He's as connected as any insider in the game, and usually gives us a respite from the banter (kind of like how networks are required to show a few minutes of news per day, so the FCC won't revoke their broadcasting license). Whatever happened to the Fox Watch? You know, when they'd whip around to each game and throw in a short preview and a little bit of news? It was usually informative, and it'd warn viewers which announcer was calling their game. Well, beggars can't be choosers, I guess. Also, Fox addressed Art Modell's death much later than CBS' pre-game show, though I suppose that can be excused, given that the teams Modell owned were primarily in AFC markets. Score: 7.


Photo credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Impact Rating: The IR is given for how much I actually took away and remembered about the show when writing about it a day later. Like I said before, not much of importance. By about 4 p.m. ET, I couldn't really remember a specific thing that anybody had said during Fox NFL Sunday. Is that the point? Is it just meant to be 60 minutes of meaningless, mindless, pro-America, pro football television? Am I just supposed to keep it on in the background while I talk to family members or bar patrons? Is the Fox pre-game show meant to be some sort of avant garde presentation on the uselessness of pre-game shows? Sadly, probably not, though I think we'd all love to see a Michel Gondry-directed edition of Fox NFL Sunday. He'd probably get jokes from Jimmy Johnson about his hair. Score: 3

Overall PSER: 4.20. Glazer and Menefee save the show from being a total disaster, but I don't imagine any pre-game show doing worse than this. Right?

(Next Week: CBS' The NFL Today)

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