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.
Hey, internet! Want to hear some depressing numbers? Football Night in America, which airs in a TV dead zone (7 p.m. ET on Sundays) and in a timeslot that already features way too much football (4 p.m. ET games almost never wrap up by 7 p.m., plus highlight shows on NFL Network, ESPN, etc.) draws higher ratings than literally every one of the internet's favorite NBC shows. That's right, the 2.6 demo rating for Football Night was higher than the season premieres of Parks and Recreation, The Office, Up All Night, that weird Thursday edition of Saturday Night Live, and almost every episode of Community. I told you this would be depressing.
Anywho, I thought I'd put that statistic out there because very little is ever written about the show in comparison to Fox's Hollywood disaster film version of a pre-game, ESPN's 500 talking heads, and CBS' bore show. Maybe it's because a lot of the people covering football are all watching actual football up until about 8 p.m. ET. However, until NBC Sports Network debuts their own morning pre-game show in 2014, this is all they've got. Maybe -- as is the case with a lot of long running shows -- it's a difficult show to nitpick because it is the rare pre-game show that's... gulp... good? Let's dive in to last night's broadcast and see.
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 NBC is kind of disqualified from this category, because they have two hosts: Bob Costas live from the site of the game, and Dan Patrick live from 30 Rock. It's a long show, so neither really finds themselves lacking for screen time (don't forget, this show used to have threehosts before Keith Olbermann got fired for 94th time) but it does make for a bit of a bipolar broadcast, even tripolar when Mike Florio and Peter King do their segments. Score: 3
QB Rating The banter on Football Night is probably as natural as it's going to get on NFL TV. Dungy, as righteous as he often comes off, has found a way to speak to viewers like they're adults. His rapport with Rodney Harrison and Patrick is fairly easy-going. Costas, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth and newcomer Hines Ward also have a pretty easy chemistry. It shows off the embarrassment of riches NBC displays. It also speaks to the difference between this show and the Sunday pre-game shows, in that they have actual football results to talk to. But they mix in that -- as well as previews of the night game -- quite well. The forced laughter is often there a bit -- and Patrick's old SportsCenter schtick is as stale as it gets while doing highlights -- but this is a fairly tolerable collection of personalities. Score: 7
Bloated Promotions A lot of NBC's promotional efforts are in service of NBC Sports Network, including a full segment flat out ripped from an NBCSN show in NFL Turning Point. Florio's presence on the show itself is a commercial for his Pro Football Talk show on the network. The cross-promoting is largely non-existant or invasive, however, minus the typical sponsorships.Score: 6
Actual News Gathering An unfair advantage NBC has over the other networks, but they use that advantage. It doesn't hurt having King and Florio, who are excellent at news gathering. Again, NBC has outdone the other networks, using two insiders. When they get into opinion it can be a little much, but when it comes to getting breaking news, these two are the best on TV. Score: 10
Impact Rating NBC's pre-game did something that the other pre-game shows haven't done yet: they stayed with me hours after I tuned in. Between Ward's reminiscing of how he was treated in Baltimore to Rodney Harrison's interview with the entertaining Rob Gronkowski. NBC brings a pageantry to sports broadcasting that isn't seen elsewhere (perhaps CBS on occasion), and that extends quite nicely to Football Night, which is easily the best I've seen of the pre-game shows this season. Score: 8
Overall PSER: 6.80
Current PSER Rankings:
1. Football Night in America (NBC) - 6.80
2. The NFL Today (CBS) - 5.203. Fox NFL Sunday (Fox) - 4.20