ABC bets big money on Super pre-game results


January 28, 2000|By Milton Kent

Chances are, you will remember your neighbor Marcy's guacamole, the beer-shilling frogs and the Phil Collins halftime spectacular from Sunday's Super Bowl better than anything from the four-hour pre-game show, and John Filippelli hopes to change that.

Filippelli is the vice president of production for ABC Sports, and it's under his watch that the network's Super Bowl telecast falls. It's telling that the other day on a media conference call he was willing to invest the most promotional capital on the pre-game show rather than ABC's main game coverage.

Filippelli has worked on six of these Super Bowl shows, and thinks he has figured out why the pre-game shows rarely stick with viewers. "The problem with these shows is that they don't emotionally have any ring to them," said Filippelli, a six-time Emmy winner. "They don't resonate emotionally, and the following day when people are around the water cooler, they don't sit there and say, `Did you see or hear the Super Bowl pre-game show and that feature on Mr. X or Mr. Y?' "

That's why the network plans something different this year. There will be the standard features on the game's participants and a few network plugs thrown in here and there.

But there will also be stories with heft. For instance, the network followed Miami quarterback Dan Marino, who, along with his wife Claire, went to China to adopt a baby girl. That story will air in the final two hours of the show, as well as a moving tribute to the late Walter Payton and a piece jointly produced by ABC and NFL Films on Fritz Pollard, the first black to quarterback or coach a team in the NFL.

"I'm hoping that we make some sort of statement and it's accepted by people on Sunday that it's some step in the evolutionary process that makes these shows a better watch than what they traditionally are," Filippelli said.

Chris Berman will be host of the pre-game show, and will be joined on-set by San Francisco quarterback Steve Young.

Three themes have swirled around the game's coverage. One has focused on whether the presence of teams from the relatively smaller markets of Nashville and St. Louis will hurt the Super Bowl's ratings.

Nonsense, Filippelli said.

"It will still be the most widely viewed show of the year," Filippelli said. "Of all the sports, the NFL is the least a prisoner to the teams involved or the markets."

Said CBS Sports President Sean McManus: "If the Super Bowl goes down to the wire or at least is close into the fourth quarter, they [ABC] should come close to last year's rating [40.2]. The Super Bowl seems to be immune to big, big swings in the ratings."

Other buzz around the broadcast is about analyst Boomer Esiason. The former Maryland quarterback, in his first full season as the sole analyst on "Monday Night Football," has taken some critical lumps this year, and there was wide speculation that a third analyst would be added for the Super Bowl.

Add that chatter to the whispers that recently unemployed coaches Jimmy Johnson, Bill Parcells and Mike Ditka could all be headed for the "MNF" booth and it could make for a nervous analyst, especially one making his maiden Super appearance.

But Esiason appears to be bearing up well.

"One of the reasons I took this job was because of the high profile nature [of it], much like a quarterback in the NFL," Esiason said. "You will be criticized on Monday, or in this case on Tuesday. I have a great time doing this job."

Lesley Visser and Lynn Swann will patrol the sideline for the broadcast, with game kickoff at 6: 18 p.m. on Channel 2.

For Internet-heads, ABC will offer "Enhanced TV" through its site (, including a live, interactive game that allows users to guess the ball carrier before each play.

Other Super stuff

A game that draws as much attention as the Super Bowl provides other telecasters a chance to climb aboard the gravy train, and no one is passing up the opportunity.

For instance, Fox, which did the game last year, is offering up the annual "All-Madden" team selections at 1 p.m. Sunday (Channel 45) with John Madden and Pat Summerall presiding over the festivities. TNT, meanwhile, will present a live 90-minute special, "Friday Night at the Super Bowl," oddly enough after the New York-Atlanta NBA game around 10: 30 tonight.

CNN's "Page One" (11: 30 a.m. tomorrow) will look at the game from an offbeat perspective, namely through the eyes of an Atlanta police officer, agent Drew Rosenhaus and members of the Titans and Rams.

ESPN's Mike Tirico will host a special "Monday Night Countdown" at 7 p.m. tomorrow and "Sunday NFL Countdown" at 11 a.m. Sunday.

And finally, the most amusing take on the Super Bowl will likely come from Cartoon Network, which is airing its third annual "Big Game" parody. It premiers at 6 p.m. tomorrow with a re-air at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore during the past week (R-Rating; S-Share):

Event Day Ch. R/S

NFC champ. Sun. 45 22.0/33

AFC champ. Sun. 11 19.2/34

NFC post-game Sun. 45 10.7/14

AFC post-game Sun. 13 10.4/18

NFL Today Sun. 13 7.1/14

Fox NFL Sunday Sun. 45 6.9/12

Lakers-Blazers Sat. 11 5.3/9

Md.-Clemson Sat. 54 4.7/10

NBA post-game Sat. 11 4.7/8

Skiing Sun. 11 3.2/5

Note: Each local rating point represents 9,992 households.

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