Super Bowl Review: Without Bradshaw, Fox ably improvises coverage
Every football-airing network has its own philosophy for broadcasting a Super Bowl but they all share similar goals: Every key moment must be covered comprehensively, replays need to be timely and voluminous, controversial plays should be diagnosed with the audience in mind, and every important shot should be procured by your camera people. Obviously, you want your broadcasters to be accurate, entertaining, and smart.
You also have to prepare for all contingencies and Fox dealt with a sobering one for its pregame show when producer Bill Richards received a call from Fox NFL analyst Terry Bradshaw on Thursday afternoon. The news was not good, as Bradshaw relayed to Richards that the health of his 86-year-old father had taken a dire turn and both men agreed Bradshaw needed to leave New York for Louisiana to be with his family. Richards then received a text later that night from his staffer: William "Bill" Marvin Bradshaw had passed away.
Bradshaw spent the weekend in Shreveport with his mother and brothers -- the funeral is Monday afternoon -- and his absence forced Fox to improvise. Michael Strahan, who was originally assigned to work the Super Bowl red carpet coverage, assumed Bradshaw's place on the pregame show with pregame regulars Curt Menefee, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson and Jay Glazer. Strahan handled the postgame trophy presentation coverage (Bradshaw was missed here) and Chris Myers replaced Strahan for the red carpet segment with Fox Sports 1's Charissa Thompson.
"Improvising" was the word of the day for Fox, as Seattle jumped out to a 22-0 halftime lead that included a safety just 12 seconds into the game. The final tick mercifully came for viewers at 9:55 p.m. ET; a 43-8 Seattle win that was the third largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history. Rarely does a historic blowout make for a memorable broadcast, nor does it set viewership records. Buck and Aikman were bantering about Seattle's candidates for the MVP at the start of the fourth quarter. It was that kind of game.
Blowouts are not an easy game to dissect but I thought the game broadcast was generally solid. Buck was on Seattle's safety immediately and also quickly identified the flag on the play. His call was followed by an excellent production sequence from producer Richie Zyontz and director Rich Russo: a slow-motion replay of the snap flying past Peyton Manning from a view behind the quarterback, a shot of the play from Manning looking into the camera, a replay of Seattle's sidelines, another replay from the side of Manning, a live shot of Manning on the sideline, another replay from behind Manning, a replay of Manning and center Manny Ramirez discussing the play as they walked off the field, a live shot of Manning and Ramirez on the sideline, a shot of Ramirez shaking his head as he walked on the sidelines, and, finally, a shot of Manning sitting and shaking his head, tossing aside a drink. Aikman suggested that the play might not have been caused by the noise of the crowd, as Buck suggested, but nerves and a poor decision by the Denver center. That back and forth was good for viewers. Buck then told viewers it was the fastest score in Super Bowl history during the preceding kickoff. Nice work.
Fox's game production was generally strong all night, with a great moment coming on the close-up of Seattle's Byron Maxwell punching the ball out of the hands of Denver wide receiver Demaryius Thomas with 5:55 left in the third quarter. I also liked the production truck's decision to show the opening safety again with four minutes left in the game and the on-field audio from Seattle coach Pete Carroll and safety Kam Chancellor that viewers heard immediately after the game. If you want to nitpick, Buck was a tad late on Marshawn Lynch's second quarter touchdown run and viewers got just one replay (which was wasn't the best from an above angle) of that score. Plenty of my Twitter followers thought the field mics were too low during the game, with examples here and here. Aikman also had some funky math in the third quarter on how the Broncos could catch up but he correctly chastised Denver's defense at the beginning of the final quarter for playing loose, and thankfully told viewers that the game was over at 43-8 rather than pretend otherwise.
As for the pregame, Fox's goal was to pull off a two-state show and they were successful as Menefee, Long, Strahan and Glazer left Fox's Times Square studios at 3:15 p.m., passed the broadcast over Buck, and were back on the air from MetLife Stadium at 4:01 p.m. What worked in the pregame? The features on Pat Summerall, Vince Lombardi, Joe Namath (in a taped interview on Broadway with Bradshaw) and the reading of the Declaration of Independence (produced by Jennifer Pransky) were very good. Randy Moss's interview with Wes Welker was fun, even if it was the journalistic equivalent of a segment on E!. Speaking of which, the red-carpet segments during the pregame were celebrity sucking-up at its finest, with Myers and Thompson in an impossible spot as the conduits for Fox's self-love. (I thought Myers did a great job immediately before the game, concisely reporting how the weather became a non-issue. "It's warmer here than the home cities of Denver and Seattle," Myers said.) The pregame features on Pete Carroll, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson were boilerplate, but Richards and Co. did a great job at the top and bottom of the broadcast addressing Bradshaw's absence. "We miss you, we love you and know that our hearts are with you," said Menefee, near the end of the pregame. Very touching.
Richards said he was looking forward to watching the pregame show on his flight home to Los Angeles. "That's when I get a feel for the flow and themes," he said. "One of the things we can control before we ever get on the air is the taped elements. I was very happy with almost all of them, some were pieces we are very proud of. The riskiest move we made, transferring the guys from New York to New Jersey, went better than the best-case scenario. I wasted a lot of the last year worrying so much about that."
Overall grade: B+
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. Would Fox Sports ever consider doing a Megacast for a Super Bowl or other events as ESPN did with the BCS Championship? "I like the creative aspect in the sense that people should always be trying new things," said Fox Sports president Eric Shanks. "I think there were aspects of the Megacast that I personally enjoyed and a lot of others did. I think you have to figure out what features are lasting features versus one-off for a big game. It is definitely something we would be interested in doing for certain event and I would not rule it out for a Super Bowl."
1a. The NFL said 6,329 media members were accredited for coverage of Super Bowl XLVIII and related events. (Note: This is not the number of media who covered the game; just accredited during Super Bowl Week.)
1b. The NFL said Super Bowl XLVIII was televised live in 198 countries and territories in more than 25 languages. Media from 24 countries were on-site coverage during the week.
1c. Fox Sports broadcaster Joe Buck mocked the hatred for Joe Buck in this fantastic Funny or Die video.
1d. The New York Daily News examined the future of Fox Sports NFL reporter Pam Oliver as she approaches contract negotiations with the network. Year after year, Oliver has been Fox's best NFL sideline reporter, one of the handful of people in the position who don't act as enablers of the sport or auxiliary public relations. I have no idea what Fox will do but if they don't re-sign her, I will enjoy hammering them for the message it will send.
1e. This WSJ's Lee Hawkins interview with Oliver was well done, especially the section on Oliver dealing with B.S., looks-based criticism.
1f. The NFL announced last week it was creating NFL Now, a personalized video service providing fans with the NFL news, analysis and highlights across their Internet-connected devices. The digital offering will launch this summer.
1h. NFL Network Health and Safety Unit editor Andrea Kremer (and producer Lauren Gaffney) reported on Sunday on the workplace culture of the NFL locker room.
2. ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter re-signed a multi-year deal with ESPN last week after he was courted by CBS to be a part of Showtime's Inside The NFL show and possibly The NFL Today. (Carter's agent, Maury Gostfrand of Vision Sports Management, did not return emails to SI.com). If you connect the dots and the chatter among industry sources -- as Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead did in this Jan. 15 post -- CBS Sports management is clearly interested in making changes with The NFL Today staffing. Tony Gonzalez, who retired this year after 17 seasons in the NFL, is a television free agent making the rounds among the networks, including serious interest from CBS. (On Sunday, a CBS Sports spokesperson declined to comment on Carter or any potential changes to The NFL Today.)
CBS Sports management knows Fox NFL Sunday continues to increase its ratings lead over The NFL Today. As I noted for the MMQB last month, FOX NFL Sunday averaged 4.8 million viewers, up four percent in audience over last year and 39 percent higher than CBS's The NFL Today. Certainly, the pregame show with the NFC package (bigger cities) is going to win the noon pregame battle no matter what but CBS needs to gain more audience for The NFL Today. The network brought in a new lead producer (Drew Kaliski, a bright guy) for the show last May and new producers often want to shape the show in their own image. Stay tuned on this.
3. I interviewed Fox NFL Sunday colleagues Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long for the magazine last week, and both opened up about their friendship, marriages and the pain they deal with on a daily basis. I think you'll enjoy it.
3a. While there are no changes to announce at the moment for shows at Fox Sports 1, network executives considered Super Bowl Week somewhat of a second re-launch. Shows are clearly being evaluated so don't be surprised if you see changes in the not-so-distant future. "We've always felt like after Super Bowl Week and the Daytona 500, we would step back and think about what is working and what is not," said executive producer John Entz.
3b. Fox said Regis Philbin is taking the month of February off from Fox Sports 1's Crowd Goes Wild. Philbin will then return in March and will work a limited schedule each week well into spring. His final day at Crowd Goes Wild hasn't yet been determined.
3c. The Fox Sports 1-ESPN public battles continued last week with Crowd Goes Wild staffer Katie Nolan going off on ESPN's Rick Reilly after Reilly took a shot at Philbin. If you want some inside baseball on this note, there's not a week that goes by where an ESPN staffer doesn't remind me privately of the different rules for different staffers. If you are Bill Simmons, Keith Olbermann or Reilly, you can battle publicly. If you are an ESPN.com writer without the same profile, good luck. At least for now, it seems all Fox Sports 1 employees have the green light to go off when a colleague is attacked.
4. Gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn will serve as an Olympic correspondent for the Today show during the Sochi Olympics. (She'll report from Stateside.) Fellow Olympic gold medalists Evan Lysacek and Kristi Yamaguchi will serve as special correspondents for Today from Sochi.
4a. How the AP plans to cover the Olympics.
4b. The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism has published a new student-driven e-project: No Cheering In The Press Box.
4c. How the Pro Bowl viewership compared to other sports.
4d. The Sports on Earth website produced its first documentary, on the subject of the NFL Draft's Mr. Irrelevant.
4e. Sports-talk radio can break your heart with its endless attraction to the lowest common denominator. This is yet another example, via Awful Announcing.
4f. ESPN's "SC Featured" brand will air the story of American soccer player Nick Pugliese playing in a professional soccer league in Afghanistan. (He was profiled by SI.com's Grant Wahl last June) An ESPN crew, led by producer Danny Arruda, spent 10 days with Pugliese in Kabul last fall. The feature will debut next Sunday at 10 a.m. ET on SportsCenter.
5. Sports stories of note this week:
•New York Times reporter Sam Borden on the suffering family of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a luge crash on the eve of the Vancouver Olympics.
•NBA.com's David Aldridge reported an oral history of David Stern's tenure.
•Slate's Joshua Keating on how the U.S. Media would cover the Super Bowl if it were held in another country.
•D Magazine's Zac Crain on Tony Dorsett.
•Mashable's Sam Laird on Big-Wave Surfing's Gnarliest Contest.
• NYT's Joe Drape on those who set the Vegas odds for sporting events.
• The MMQB's Robert Klemko on whether the NFL's Hall of Fame voting should be changed.
• This Grantland documentary short on Richard Jewell was really well done.
Non-sports pieces of note:
•How long should someone stay at a McDonald's?
•Via Politico: Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.
•The New York Times Magazine examined the Super Bowl of sports gambling.
•The Seattle Times reported on a local Washington State pot grower that has up with a strain called "Beast Mode," in tribute to Marshawn Lynch.
•Paul Brownfield of the New York Times examined the Saturday Night Live after-party.