They are calling it Johnny Cam. For the mega-showdown this Saturday at Kyle Field between Alabama and Texas A&M, CBS Sports has added an extra camera that will focus solely on Texas A&M quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. "No matter where he is and no matter what part of the game it is, we will have a shot of it," said Craig Silver, the coordinating producer of college football for CBS Sports. "If he is anywhere in sight of that camera, we will catch it."
Welcome to college football's early-season Super Bowl, at least according to the tonnage of television units that will be in College Station, Texas, this weekend. CBS will air the game at 3:30 p.m. ET and its pregame show will also be onsite. So will the sport's most famous program -- ESPN's College GameDay. While Florida and Tennessee drew early-season buzz for their September showdowns in the 1990s, the summer of Manziel and Alabama's quest to three-peat has college football media types frothing at the mic.
Silver said CBS viewers should not expect a dissertation on the off-the-field issues surrounding Manziel during the CBS game broadcast. "By the time we get to kickoff, this thing will have been talked about ad nauseam throughout the sports world," Silver said. "We are not judge and jury. It is not our place, especially within the body of the broadcast, to state whether he should or should not be playing, should have been suspended or should not have been suspended. The way I approach it is how has all this stuff affected him as a football player and affected his team."
Added ESPN coordinating producer Lee Fitting, the executive in charge of GameDay: "I can promise you the show won't turn into 'Manziel Mania' for three hours. Will the viewer get their fill of Manziel? Sure. Will we cover every angle of the game? Yes. But will we go overboard? Absolutely not."
Silver said he considered keeping an isolation camera on former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight when he produced CBS's coverage of Big Ten basketball, and credited CBS Sports executive producer Harold Bryant with the Johnny Cam idea. "The one analogy I can make in terms of covering someone is we obviously spent four years covering Tim Tebow at Florida," said Silver, who has worked on CBS's SEC package since 1996. "I was always careful as a producer, and I think Verne [Lundquist] and Gary [Danielson] were as broadcasters too, to make sure we treated Tebow fairly. But let's face it, the guy was touching the ball every snap. I think people sometimes see what they want to see or hear what they want to hear. My main goal of this game is to just remember there is a lot more going on than Johnny Manziel."
But that doesn't mean Manziel won't get significant attention. Silver said CBS requested an on-camera interview with Manziel, as well as the quarterback's presence for meetings with the CBS production staff this Friday. Silver said he has been in constant contact with Texas A&M officials, including coach Kevin Sumlin, over the summer and classified those discussions as having been professional and productive.
The network also requested Alabama coach Nick Saban as well as Tide quarterback AJ McCarron. (Silver said CBS asked for camera access in the locker room, which most SEC football teams usually do not allow.) Those requests will be decided by Texas A&M this week, and Fitting said ESPN has also requested interviews with Manziel and Saban.
The game presents a number of challenges for CBS. Not only is it the network's college football debut -- which means the crew has not had reps in nine months -- it's also the first time this group has done a game from Kyle Field, which has a very high broadcast booth. Mistakes here, obviously, will be magnified.
As for viewer tune-in, the game is guaranteed to get monster ratings. Excluding last year's SEC Championship Game, CBS's most-watched college football game in 2012 was Alabama's win over LSU last Nov. 3. That game averaged 11.4 million viewers and this should easily top it.
The Noise Report
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. Ray Lewis made his debut on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown this week, and outside of Lewis opening his tenure with his patented "squirrel dance," producers were smart to let him blend into the show rather than make it all about Lewis, even as his colleagues genuflected in his direction throughout the show. Clearly, Lewis is not a game-changing television hire at this point but he was more than adequate on opening morning. He's got a charismatic manner and had moments when you drew closer to the screen to hear what he had to say. He was particularly interesting when explaining how to stop the read-option and the importance of New Orleans coach Sean Payton. "When that guy walks back in, that's the brain of that operation," Lewis said. "He is to New Orleans what Bill Belichick is to the Patriots. Without that, without him, you saw last year they had a great imbalance of what leadership looked like."
Lewis didn't shed any light during the game breakdown segments -- why ESPN insists that its Countdown talent stand to make picks is as puzzling as the network's love of Lou Holtz and Mark May -- but he was part of the show's most interesting moment: a thoughtful conversation with Cris Carter, Keyshawn Johnson and Tom Jackson about the responsibility of NFL teams in regard to draft picks with suspect backgrounds. Lewis wasn't particularly revelatory -- he talked mostly in generalities, using words such as "the situation" for Super Bowl XXXIV -- but Carter was terrific as a moderator, and Johnson recalled a fascinating anecdote about how the Jets' security followed him during his rookie season. Best of all was a back and forth on Aaron Hernandez:
Jackson: "When I look at this Hernandez situation, whether it is high school or at the University of Florida, New England Patriots, I know you would like to disavow any of what was going on with Aaron Hernandez, but in fact at least some people on that team had to know that this kid was headed toward incarceration. I think the mistake that they made was the thought that if we give him the money, it will help to straighten him out. But when they gave him the money, he only spiraled further out of control because he had the money.
Carter: "Typically, that's what happens with young people. People think that you get money and you are going to change. No, getting money makes you a bigger whatever you already are."
Johnson: New England obviously made a huge mistake and if I was a general manager and I have always said this: If the flags are too red, I don't care how good you are -- you are not good enough to ruin my organization. I am passing on you. I don't care what kind of talent you have."
1a. ESPN producers should immediately let Lewis know that he should stop referring to the Ravens as "us." He works for ESPN now. "Baltimore will be fine," Lewis said of the Ravens. "Our pedigree has always been that. And one stumble in the road ain't never stopped nothing."
1b. There were some weird graphics issues during one part of Countdown -- either that or they have a devoted Chicago staffer. Lewis picked the Bengals over the Bears and immediately a Bears logo popped up on the graphics board.
1c. Fox NFL Kickoff analyst Randy Moss continues to provide amusing sound bites. On Sunday, he was asked how he felt about the Vikings giving his number 84 to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. "First of all, that's disrespectful to give a rookie my number," Moss said. "I don't really believe in numbers but from a professional standpoint, I did make that number. He hasn't proven anything yet but hey what can I say? I'm just Randy Moss sitting here in the studio."
1d. CBS Sports has a love affair with shots of Patriots owner (and pal of CBS CEO Les Moonves) Robert Kraft, but nice work by director Suzanne Smith to immediately go to Kraft fist-pumping after kicker Stephen Gostkowski's game-winning field goal to beat Buffalo.
1e. Excellent work by Fox NFL play-by-play newcomer Kevin Burkhardt and analyst John Lynch in the final minute of the Bucs-Jets game. No over-the-top-screaming -- just impressions from what they saw on the field and a legit calling out of Bucs linebacker Lavonte David for taking a terrible penalty to set up the game-winning field goal.
1f. Here is NFL Today analyst Boomer Esiason showering love on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell: "He is head and shoulders above every other commissioner in professional sports. It is not even close...Trying to make the game safer, being open and honest in terms of and being transparent about the physicality of the game and dealing with 32 billionaires is an enormous job and he has navigated it to give us at least nine more years of labor peace. I think that is major get for him and all of us working around the game."
1g. And here is Esiason not showering love on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler: "Jay Cutler reminds me of this generation's Jeff George. That is who he is. A great arm, great player, but for some reason he just can't seem to find his way."
1h. NBC's coverage of the Broncos-Ravens opener last Thursday drew an average of 25.1 million viewers, up five percent from last year's opening-game between the Cowboys-Giants (23.9 million). The 2011 Saints-Packers game remains the most-viewed opener (27.1 million) in the NFL Kickoff series.
1i. The top-rated markets for the game were as follows: 1. Denver; 2. Baltimore; 3. New Orleans; 4. Indianapolis; 5. Nashville; 6. Albuquerque; 7. Washington D.C; 8. Richmond; 9. Sacramento; 10. Las Vegas.
1j. Click and save and make fun of if incorrect: ESPN's Johnson picked Seattle over -- drum roll, please -- Kansas City in this year's Super Bowl.
1l. Nice work by Football Night In America analysts Rodney Harrison and Scott Pioli on the impact of the season-ending injury to Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey:
Pioli: "After looking at that 'street' list of centers, it doesn't look very good right now...Not only is he the best center in the league, he very well may be the best player on the offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Harrison: "If I'm Mike Tomlin, I am concerned. I lose Maurkice Pouncey, who is the best center in the league. That offensive line, they can't block. The run game has been completely shut down. I believe that they miss Mike Wallace, and his ability to go down the field and open up. Big Ben, he wants plays down the field. They no longer have the luxury of depending on their defense to create three or four turnovers and score touchdowns."
2. The signs college students bring to College GameDay is one of the great parts of ESPN's traveling college football circus. For the most part, what we see on television falls within the boundaries of good taste. As USA Today reported last week, ESPN's security team removes one of every five signs that violate a preordained set of rules, including no religious signs and no political signs. More than anyone else, the network doesn't want an offensive sign to sneak into the show. But that's what happened Saturday, when someone on the University of Michigan's campus held up a sign that said, "Hi, Lizzy Seeberg." Seeberg was a 19-year-old freshman at Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Ind.; she accused a Notre Dame football player of assaulting her on Aug. 31, 2010, and 10 days later committed suicide in her dorm room. What happened? "Security at the gate, screening each fan who enters the pit, makes a good faith effort to remove vulgar, profane, overtly inappropriate, sexual or exploitive signs," said an ESPN spokesperson. "Clearly, and regrettably, this one was missed."
2a. I initially called the person above a clown for the sign given how insensitive it was. Deadspin posted a piece on Sunday from a reader who claimed to be the person holding the Lizzy Seeberg sign. The poster said the sign was intended to draw attention to the case. If so, the word choice of the sign was seriously ineffective. The case, obviously, deserves more attention. Few would argue that.
2b. First week's viewership numbers are in from the morning college football pregame shows, courtesy of Sports Business Daily media reporter John Ourand. ESPN's College GameDay averaged 2.1 million viewers from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. while Fox Sports 1's Fox College Saturday averaged 107,000 from 10 a.m. to noon.
2c. The overnight numbers from this week's college football morning show demonstrated that the spread might be even bigger. College GameDay drew a 1.5 overnight rating on Saturday while College Football Saturday drew an 0.1 overnight.
2d. How concerned is ESPN's GameDay crew about discussing issues that are uncomfortable or unpopular with the Texas A&M crowd behind them? "This really isn't an issue," Fitting said. "Will there be a few more boos than normal? Probably. Will the kids be yelling at our guys more than normal? Probably, but that's all theater. Trust me, through the years, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Herbstreit and Desmond Howard have heard it all -- good and bad."
2e. The scene for GameDay will include another pregame show, which is rare for ESPN, but Fitting said the show got the same location they had when they were in College Station for last year's Florida game. How does the game rate for GameDay regarding hype? "It's up there for a September game," Fitting said. "Every year we have monster games of this magnitude -- two years ago some people were calling the LSU-Alabama game the "Game of the Century." But to have a game like this in September with as many different storylines is great. There will certainly be a little different type of buzz this week."
2f. Though it desperately needs a reporter on set with news-breaking bona fides, Fox Sports 1 wisely announced it will have an on-site presence at some venues as part of a "Fox College Saturday Tour." The network said Fox and FS1 shows will feature live cut-ins from each tour stop throughout the day, with at least four on-air segments planned each weekend.
2g. I asked Danielson how compelled he feels to discuss Manziel's off-the-field activities during the CBS game broadcast. "It's an excellent question and one of the reasons why Verne is valuable in his expertise, and Craig Silver, too," he said. "You can't ignore it. We went through the Cam Newton stuff when we were doing the Auburn games. We have a lot of experience with this. So you have to address it. It is part of your job. You cannot look like you are avoiding it. But the [studio shows] Tim Brando's or Herbstreit and Corso's can put it in a little different perspective. I think when we do it, we have to tie it to the football game."
3. So how did Eminem end up on ESPN's college football telecast Saturday night? Five months ago, ESPN Music Director (yes, the Empire has one) Kevin Wilson told Bill Bonnell, the executive producer of ESPN's Saturday Night Football package, that Eminem's manager, Paul Rosenberg, was interested in getting involved with the show, timed to the release of a new Eminem song. Bonnell then met with Rosenberg in New York City, where Rosenberg played him a single called "Berzerk." "It sounded like something that would be a great song to open up Saturday night football," Bonnell said.
So a partnership was made and last Thursday, ESPN shot its opener featuring the song. (The ESPN opener will debut next Saturday for its coverage of Notre Dame-Purdue.) During the shooting, Bonnell said Rosenberg offered ESPN the opportunity to play a teaser to Eminem's official "Berzerk" video. "I told him that we were doing Notre Dame and Michigan on Sept. 7 near Eminem's hometown and asked if he thought Marshall [Mathers] would stop by to talk about the shoot and the debut of the "Berzerk" song."
Eminem's people were interested and while Bonnell said ESPN was not interested in interviewing Eminem during the game, there were openings during one of the three halftime segments. The producer scheduled Eminem for the final halftime segment, about two minutes long, during which ESPN would roll a sneak preview of the video and then get a comment from Eminem. Bonnell said Eminem arrived at Michigan's Big House with a small group in the second quarter, and hung out on an ESPN bus for 10 minutes before ESPN escorted him to a room next to the broadcast booth. Prior to the interview, Bonnell described Eminem as "legitimately nervous doing a live interview." The rapper spoke with Herbstreit and Musburger before the interview started and asked them, "How do you guys do live TV week to week?"
Bonnell said what viewers did not immediately recognize was that Eminem took on the persona of his Berzerk character in the video. "He was just messing with everyone," Bonnell said. "We had no idea he would do that, but if you see the music video, it's him looking into the camera and doing a throwback to the '80s. You clearly saw after the video was over, he became Marshall Mathers again. He was goofing around."
As for the on-air love affair between Eminem and Musburger, Bonnell said Rosenberg told him months ago that Musburger was a hero to Eminem. "He really likes those old-school announcers like John Madden, Al Michaels, Brent Musburger, and Pat Summerall," Bonnell said. "One of the first things Paul Rosenberg said to me was 'Do you think it's possible for us to get Brent Musburger's autograph for Marshall?' I was like, Are you kidding me?"
After the interview, Eminem was trending worldwide on Twitter. (I was hoping Slim Shady and Musburger had met up later to roll through Detroit in a Chrysler, but Bonnell sadly confirmed that was not the case.) "He's a mesmerizing performer and it was a great clash of pop cultures," Bonnell said.
Bonnell told SI.com that he's not afraid to take a stand on pairing Eminem and the broadcast again. Said Bonnell: "He's welcome back any time."
3c. SI.com's Campus Union crew graded Emimen's appearance.
4. PBS's acclaimed POV series debuts a documentary this week on competitors at the over-80 World Table Tennis Championship Show. "Ping Pong" premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET and will stream on POV's website from Sept. 10-14 here.
4a. Outside The Lines was officially buried this week, with its move from ESPN at 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. on ESPN2. The show drew an average of 846,000 viewers for its last Sunday appearance on ESPN. I'll give you a report on how the show did on ESPN2 next week, but I bet the viewership is cut by at least 50 percent if not more.
5. My latest piece for The MMQB.com is a viewers' guide to the NFL broadcast teams across CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and the NFL Network this fall.
5a. Here's the first part of that guide, which features NFL studio shows.
6. Continuing our season-long roundtable, I paneled a mix of writers and bloggers who cover sports media to answer a series of sports media-related questions. This week's panel includes SB Nation NHL and media writer Steve Lepore, Sports Business Daily media writer John Ourand, and Matt Yoder, the managing editor for Awful Announcing. The question: How successful will NBC be with its English Premier League package?
Lepore: Moderately successful. There's an audience for the product, even though ratings are down. If NBC keeps its expectations reasonable, they will succeed initially. I think the weekly presence on NBC could be a real key here. What's the audience for a live Premiership game at 12:30 p.m. ET on a Saturday? Can it match the marginal 1.0-1.2 range hockey draws on Sundays? If so, that could be a big breakthrough for the league and the sport here in the States.
Ourand: The EPL provides great weekend morning programming. But because it's just a three-year deal, it's hard to forecast how successful it will be. ESPN or Fox or someone else could wind up with the package three years from now.
Yoder: I have high hopes. They've assembled a quality team of on-air talent (led by Arlo White) and the hours of EPL on NBCSN will rival anything on Fox Soccer. The depth of coverage will be awesome for soccer fans, the question is whether or not NBC can attract those soccer fans given how dispersed soccer rights are and NBCSN's struggle to gain eyeballs.
7. Notable sports pieces this week:
•The ESPN ombudsman examined the network's thoughts on using the name "Redskins" and why ESPN did not cover the dismissal of staffer Hugh Douglas.
•The New York Daily News examined Eight Men Out 25 years after the film's release.
•SI.com's Lee Jenkins, on the sad case of Lamar Odom.
•Reddit user Tim Proby designed Game Of Thrones-style sigils for all 32 NFL teams:
It was a terrific week for non-sports pieces of note:
•A fascinating essay on how jellyfish are threatening the future of our oceans.
•This is brilliant obit in The Economist on the poet Seamus Heaney.
•The Big Picture had a terrific photo gallery of schools around the world.
•This first-person piece by Amanda Lindhout on being kidnapped in Somalia is a scary, engrossing read.
•CJR asked the question: What is journalism for? Here were the answers.
8. Westwood One Sports (formally Dial Sports) will broadcast 51 NFL regular season primetime games as well as every postseason game, including the AFC and NFC Championship Games and Super Bowl XLVII.
8a. The Westwood One NFL crews are as follow:
Monday Night Football: (Kevin Harlan (play by play), Esiason or Dan Fouts (analyst).
Sunday Night Football: Kevin Kugler (play by play) and James Lofton (analyst)
Thursday Night Football: Ian Eagle (play by play) and Trent Green (analyst).
Sunday afternoon Doubleheaders: Tom McCarthy and Dave Sims (play by play); Mark Malone and Rod Woodson (analyst).
Tom Brady and Larry Fitzgerald will join Jim Gray each Monday night as part of the pregame show.
9. On Saturday Angela Hermann became the first woman in North America to call a full thoroughbred card when she handled the full card at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.
10. If you were curious about which U.S. cities are most interested in the Premier League, NBC Sports reports that Washington DC, Providence and Richmond-Petersburg have ranked among the top 10 markets in more than half of its EPL windows.
10a. Christopher Harris of WorldSoccerTalk.com went behind the scenes with NBC's Premier League coverage. A cool piece for soccer fans.
10b. The Dino Costa Show has moved to a new time and channel on SiriusXM Radio. Formally the primetime anchor for Mad Dog Radio, Costa's show will now first-run weekdays from 7:00 am to 11:00 am ET on SiriusXM Sports Zone (Sirius channel 92, XM channel 208). Interestingly, the program head for that new channel will be Tim Sabean, a familiar name to Howard Stern fans. Costa will now go head-to-head with Stern, a tall order for anyone on the SiriusXM platform.
10d. For my Buffalo readers: SiriusXM NFL Radio will air No Huddle, a weekly show hosted by former Bills Jim Kelly, Andre Reed and Steve Tasker every Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET.
10e. SB Nation has a new weekly college football show (Easy Call) which examines the nexus between food and college football.
10f. Whither Mike Wilbon as a staffer on NBA Countdown? Jason McIntyre of Big Lead Sports examines the prospect and the possibility of Doug Collins joining that show.
10g. NBCSN has launched a new, weekly half-hour NFL studio show called FNIA Coach's Clicker. The show will debut each Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with Football Night In America staffers Tony Dungy and Harrison providing an Xs-and-Os preview of the upcoming week's biggest games. Liam McHugh will host the new program. NBC NFL insiders Mike Florio and Pioli will also appear weekly.
10h. NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus released a public relations-happy statement on the selection of Tokyo as the site of the 2020 Summer Olympics. "Tokyo is one of the world's most fascinating cities, and will provide a spectacular setting for the 2020 Olympic Games. Tokyo is particularly special to NBC as our rich Olympic heritage began there with the 1964 Olympic Games. We are excited to return in 2020, 56 years later, to broadcast what will be our 17th Olympic Games overall and 11th consecutive."