NBC drives straight down pre-game field

Phil Jackman

September 10, 1990|By Phil Jackman

Greg Gumbel looked as if he was dying to slip out of his anchor chair for a quick nap on the floor. Who could blame him? In the best tradition of CBS and despite bright, freshly scrubbed new faces on the set, "NFL Today" was flashing midseason boredom.

On the other hand, Fred Hickman appeared to be hyperventilating. Who could blame him? It was TNT's maiden voyage into pro football pre-game shows and the "Stadium Show" still was tied up at the dock.

Meanwhile, Brent Musburger showed up at ESPN and a usually snappy "GameDay" bogged down badly as the show added 30 cumbersome minutes and Brent was accorded treatment normally reserved for visiting royalty.

It was war out there in televisionland yesterday, gang, and NBC proved best in the battle of hype simply by "playing within itself."

All shows, be they network or cable, jumped on the Eric Dickerson situation as though Saddam Hussein had called a news conference to announce he's yanking his troops out of Kuwait and all oil will be free for a year.

Even Mrs. Dickerson couldn't care less.

After getting rid of Musburger for apparently working too hard and inundating us with insipid ads touting its changed look, CBS had Gumbel open up with a recitation of some of the new NFL rules. Some opening salvo.

This being Week 1, ESPN went for a quickie update of what has happened in the offseason and there's none better than Chris Berman when it comes to narrating such features. Score an A.

It immediately went away from its lively round-table give-and-take, however, by gloating and gushing over the good fortune of having Musburger on hand. Brent indicated he was somewhat relieved being away from "Mount Olympus," to give you some idea of the lofty status he assigned himself as the CBS host for the past 15 years.

The scores of people on the set didn't seem the slightest bit perturbed when "Big Dog," as Musburger dubbed himself at CBS, condescendingly allowed that "you fellas do a pretty good job over here."

Just so you wouldn't get the idea this was just a bunch of guys (and Lesley Visser) shooting the breeze, reporters fanned out to cover the hard news.

Jerry Glanville got more air time than President Bush ending up his summit meeting with Mickey Gorbachev in Helsinki. Jerry's an interesting guy, which makes him almost unique among coaches.

A plethora of holdout stories led one to realize how welcome commercials can be on occasion.

Is there anything left to say about Joe Montana? Of course not. But we got a couple of updates anyway. Joe Theismann's was best.

Ditto Buddy Ryan. Did you know that the pudgy little coach of the Eagles was St. Francis of Assisi in a previous life?

Obviously, producers feel a show can't be put on the air sans an interview with Mike Ditka, whether he has anything to say or not. After all, Mike's in the No. 2 market. Same goes for the tedious tandem of Bill Parcells and John Robinson, coaches in the Nos. 1 and 3 markets.

Naturally, everyone did service to the Al Davis-Raiders business. By actual count, 14 people talked to Al "within the last hour."

Stretching out to an hour was clearly too much for ESPN, especially when one realizes that come kickoff time the cable goes tractor-pulling or checks out the women body builders.

The idea of starting at noon is to get fans so wrapped up in the show, they won't go to the nets at 12:30. But there's only so much you can do advancing an afternoon of football.

This was painfully apparent in TNT's first shot at it. Five minutes into the evening show and going against ESPN's dynamite "Prime Time," a recap of the day's action, and the Turner legions were dead.

Hickman was moving the show along at 90 mph and nothing was getting said or done. Just when it appeared the germ of an idea showed up, it was time for a promo or a return to the studio where Snake Stabler was doing something totally beyond his scope, talking over the top of game highlights.

Craig Sager, Pat Haden, Kevin Kiley, Hickman and Larry King, all raising their hand seeking permission to speak. Imagine King finishing a sorry fifth in a talk-a-thon.

The reason NBC was a clear winner is it decided to go the proven route and stick with the proven elements of a pre-game show format. Bob Costas, as always, was super-prepared, knowing exactly the right time to lighten up. Will McDonough covered all the pressing issues of the day with his usual reassurance.

He said the Colts weren't really interested in having Dickerson play for them, fearing that he'd "take a dive [feign injury] and they'd have to pay his $1.5 million salary."

Quick, direct, deadly. Everyone else hemmed and hawed. One encouraging note is as far as the pot-boilers are concerned, there's no place to go but up.

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