No. 2 CBS has the chance to be a hipper, smarter alternative, but chooses to be largely boring.
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.
Who would you argue are the top five biggest draws in the AFC and NFC? You could argue for a few teams here and there, but here's how I would put it:
1. New England
3. NY Jets
2. NY Giants
3. Green Bay
4. New Orleans
This may explain why Fox's pre-game show always trumps CBS's The NFL Today. The Cowboys will draw a huge audience no matter how good they are. Ditto for Green Bay. The AFC only has one team like that in Pittsburgh. The AFC has the second-most popular New York team, and markets like Boston and Baltimore and Denver are smaller than Philadelphia and Dallas. This doesn't even mention the fact that the NFC has teams in Chicago, the more popular team in the Bay Area, and sleeping giant markets like Washington, Detroit and Seattle.
Searching For Sanity In NFL Pre-Game Shows: Part 1, Fox | Week 2 NFL TV Ratings
You've gotta think execs at CBS have always prayed that if the NFL ever came back to Los Angeles, they'd go to the younger conference. It may be their only chance to ever take back the race against Fox (and surging NBC) for top NFL ratings. So, with The NFL Today locked in permanent second banana status to Fox (acquiring James Brown briefly led CBS neck and neck a few years back, but like Jay Leno, the Fox fellas always fight back) one would think that there's an opportunity to be younger, hipper and smarter than the bloated behemoths over at Fox NFL Sunday. Do they accomplish that? Let's take a look at Sunday's episode of the show.
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: While Rich Eisen comes close, no one more effectively navigates an NFL pre-game show like James Brown. While CBS flipped Jim Nantz and Greg Gumbel in the role throughout their first 10 years since reclaiming an NFL rights package, Brown is clearly doing what he was meant to do on Sundays at noon. He's got an easy, comfortable style that allows him to have chemistry with a brick wall if needed (and given some of the athletes and analysts that come his way, it is) and he is clearly as knowledgeable about football as anyone on the panel. He tries to be funny a little too often, but mostly, he is the Aaron Rodgers of the NFL pre-game circuit. Score: 9.
QB Rating: While the Fox NFL Sunday crew too often bloviates and talks about things tertiary to the sport, the CBS crew often feels too much like a football version of The McLaughlin Group. Boomer Esiason is a man on New York radio and TV five days a week, so I've seen that he can be drawn out by more interesting personalities, but they are not to be found here. Esiason, for the most part, is the "edgiest" of the bunch. Shannon Sharpe's entire schtick is "Hey, you guys, I played for the Broncos," Bill Cowher has kind of been Tiki Barber-esque in not fulfilling on his potential as an analyst, and sadly, you kind of forget that Dan Marino is on this show at times. It all makes for very dull proceedings overall. But hey, at least they don't try to force the comedy too much? Score: 2
Bloated Promotions: This is where CBS actually out-duels its competitors at Fox. CBS almost always dresses up a promo spot with information, and there are no blatant crossovers to other CBS products, at least during the regular season. Who knows, the E*TRADE baby could be back by the playoffs again. Everything is sponsored, but never overbearingly. Score: 7
Actual News Gathering: Jason La Canfora recently replaced Charlie Casserly as The NFL Today's version of Jay Glazer, and he's a big improvement on both. Smart and informed, without the bromance with Michael Strahan or Subway endorsement deals that make Glazer occasionally annoying (... for now). La Canfora offered up prime information on the officials' lockout, the Saints scandal and injuries around the league in a very straight-forward manner. Who knows if that'll make for compelling TV over the years, but for now, he's doing solid work.
Also, James Brown's interview with Michael Vick was quite nicely done. CBS often beats Fox out in the "quality of interviews" department, which I should've made a sabermetric when I started this, but this is already pretty absurd. Score: 6
Impact Rating: Here is where the show really suffers, because frankly, I didn't remember a single word anyone -- aside from La Canfora -- said a day later. I took notes (as I did last week) and I found myself having so much less to say about the show. While the less annoying aspects of The NFL Today will lead to it rating higher than Fox NFL Sunday, it is by no means an endorsement of the show. It remains dull, predictable and easy to forget. Yes, that's the same as Fox's show, but at least they try to occasionally be outside the box and entertaining. Even if they fail, at least there's the knowledge that someone is consistently trying to improve things. CBS remains static and stuck in second. Score: 2
Overall PSER: 5.20
Current PSER Rankings:
1. The NFL Today (CBS) - 5.20
2. Fox NFL Sunday (Fox) - 4.20
(Next Week: NBC's Football Night in America)