The Ray Rice story has had a major impact on tonight’s Thursday Night Football coverage.
CBS Sports officials told SI.com that on Wednesday they changed the format of their Thursday Night Football pregame show (which airs at 7:30 p.m. ET tonight) as a result of all the news over the last 72 hours. The network will now open its pregame with a report from CBS This Morning anchor Norah O’Donnell, who interviewed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday. O’Donnell will be on the set in Baltimore with Thursday Night pregame host James Brown.
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CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said the network has also pulled an opener featuring actor Don Cheadle doing narration over Jay Z's “Run This Town," which is sung by Rihanna. A comedic segment was also jettisoned.
“It’s important to realize we are not overreacting to this story but it is as big a story as has faced the NFL,” McManus told SI.com from Baltimore Thursday afternoon. “We thought journalistically and from a tone standpoint, we needed to have the appropriate tone and coverage. A lot of the production elements we wanted in the show are being eliminated because of time or tone.”
The pregame was initially going to open with a football-centric conversation on the Ravens and Steelers with TNF pregame staffers Brown, Bill Cowher, Deion Sanders and members of NFL Network, and what still will make air is an extended interview Brown conducted with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. Both CBS and NFL Network officials have previously stressed that they consider NFL Total Access Kickoff, which will air on the NFL Network beginning at 6 p.m. ET, as the start of one pregame show over two networks. (You’ll see talent on both networks floating between the two shows.) The NFL Network is expected to lead its pregame show at 6 p.m. and 7 p.m with the Rice story.
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Asked how much pressure he felt from the league on the handling of the NFL Commissioner, McManus said, “Zero."
McManus said the CBS pregame show will include a report from NFL headquarters featuring NFL Network reporter Judy Battista on the latest news. He added his on-air staff would not be giving an opinion on whether Goodell should or should not resign, “but we will certainly present all the different points of view.”
When asked if anyone from the NFL had called CBS Sports executives to dictate what should be on the pregame show, McManus said, “Absolutely 100 percent no and if you listened to the questions asked by Norah O’Donnell, that is indicative of our position with respect to asking the hard questions and reporting the story.”