Spectacle awaits when world tunes in

Football? CBS plans to grab viewers with ads, glitz, latest technology

Television

January 28, 2001|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN TELEVISION WRITER

Today's Super Bowl is not only the testing ground for the Giants and the Ravens. It's also D-Day for the television industry - the culmination of months of work by hundreds of people charged with devising ways to keep 130 million viewers glued to the tube.

"It's the biggest media spectacle of the year," said Alex Bogusky, creative director of the Miami-based advertising firm Crispin, Porter & Bogusky. "So many people are watching television that the streets are clear."

As is even acknowledged by CBS, which will carry the game locally on WJZ, much of what viewers see will have precious little to do with football. The network and its advertisers are attempting to wring every potential promotional drop from the day, and they're tinkering with their presentations until the last possible moment.

"You do have a percentage of women who would watch the Super Bowl but who would not watch a regular weekend football game," says Terry Ewert, executive producer of CBS Sports. "You've got the fringe fan out there who barely knows a thing about football."

And, Ewert says, the network also hopes to appeal to a younger generation that might not follow football but would keep the television set on if properly enticed.

WJZ will start its programming at 8 a.m., with morning anchors Marty Bass (in Tampa, Fla.) and Don Scott (in Baltimore) fronting a four-hour Raven-centric show.

The first Super Bowl program of the day on CBS offers a remarkable blend of entertainment and corporate self-promotion when at noon, CBS will show "TRL @ the Super Bowl" (the initials stand for Total Request Live). Presented by teen heartthrob Carson Daly, "TRL" is the most popular show on MTV, which, like CBS, is owned by Viacom.

Celebrities, top musical acts and NFL standouts are supposed to join Daly at the site of the game in Tampa to introduce music videos, although it wasn't clear who would appear. (The halftime show also is produced by MTV, featuring the unlikely pairing of Disney-fied pop group *NSYNC and aging rockers Aerosmith.)

At 1 p.m., CBS analyst and former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, joined by play-by-play announcer Greg Gumbel, will reveal his picks as the toughest players and coach in the NFL. At 2 p.m., on "Extreme Super Bowl," Dan Dierdorf and other commentators will examine the game's matchups position by position.

From 3-6 p.m., the conventional pre-game show will lead viewers closer to kickoff. It will broadcast from the pirate ship of the host Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hanging from inside the stadium. Among the scheduled highlights: a taped interview of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis by CBS sports reporter Lesley Visser.

During the game, announcers Gumbel and Simms will concentrate largely on the on-field activities. Kickoff is scheduled for about 6:18 p.m.

"There is a definite difference between making a guy out to be a saint and recognizing him as an extremely good football player," Gumbel said last week. "In the case of Ray Lewis, there's obviously a lot to be settled - a lot that has not been said. Will we talk about it during the game? No question about it. But it won't be a focal point because we are there to do a football game."

During the game, fans are likely to notice "EyeVision," the name for a special effect that involves 33 cameras arrayed in a crescent around three-quarters of the oval-shaped stadium. Taken together, they will be used to capture a single player at a given time from almost all directions. As the cameras simultaneously wheel about, pan and zoom, they should allow producers to record and freeze the action digitally.

The intended result is seemingly to show a play in three dimensions. Although it might not be used more than a few times each half, the device could hold the promise of silencing many living room disputes: Did the ball cross the goal line? Did the receiver really catch the ball?

Based partly on the work of researchers at a robotics institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, "EyeVision" should mimic the effects in the movie "The Matrix," in which stop-time, 360-degree camerawork allowed for dazzling, almost balletic photography of martial arts fights. CBS officials, who spent more than $2 million to develop the technology, were at the same time cautioning against high expectations and touting its promise.

"We think, once it's perfected, it's going to revolutionize the way people watch sporting events," said Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports.

After the game, CBS will offer an extended post-game show with interviews with players. Win or lose, all four Baltimore stations intend to expand their late Sunday newscasts to focus on the Ravens. WBAL is advertising that it will even pre-empt NBC-generated programming to air its own post-game show from Tampa.

Then there's the main event - the ads. What the Cannes Film Festival is for movies, the Super Bowl is for commercials. Many major campaigns are unveiled before and during the game, when viewing levels are unusually high.

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