Examining TV coverage of NFL opening weekend, ESPN’s Schefter 9/11 story
- In this week’s Media Circus, we examine how various networks covered the opening weekend of the NFL, look at ESPN’s story about Adam Schefter and information about changes in ESPN NBA coverage.
For the opening week of ESPN’s NFL Sunday Morning Countdown, ESPN associate producer Dominique Goodridge was presented with one of the most challenging pieces of her career:
Telling the story of ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter’s family.
Schefter’s wife, Sharri, was previously married to Joseph Maio, a broker with investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald who was working on the 101st floor of one of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. You can find his name along with the other victims of the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center site. Sharri Schefter had a son, Devon, under the age of two at the time. Adam married Sharri in 2007 and now the family includes a daughter, Dylan. As Schefter has said before in print stories and to this column, the date of Sept 11, 2001 stays with his family 24/7.
One of the toughest things to do as a television producer when the subject of your piece is a colleague is to produce something that does not come off as self-promotion for the subject or your outlet. On Sunday, Goodridge told the story of the Schefters and Maios and produced a truly exceptional piece (also, great work by Katelin Stevens, who edited the feature). I highly recommend viewing it.
Goodridge said she was assigned to the story on August 15 and filmed with the Schefter and Maio families over several days during the last four weeks. It’s a story that has been years in the making. Greg Jewell, a coordinating producer in the features unit ESPN and the manager of all the NFL features for Sunday NFL Countdown and SportsCenter, said Schefter approached him four years ago about doing a story on Joe Maio.
“While I knew it would be impactful I thought it would be better on a year when the 11th was on a Sunday,” Jewell said. “I also knew it was going to be a challenge in how we told it. This year in June we caught up on this again and knew this was the right time to tell it with Sunday being 15 years to the day of 9/11.”
Goodridge said she appreciated the Schefter and Maio families for trusting her to share their story and also praised Jewell for his guidance throughout.
“Producing this story was challenging for a variety of reasons,” Goodridge said. “I felt an obligation to the Maio family to share their loved one’s story with honor and respect. Since the story involved our own talent, it was also important that the piece did not come off as too self-promotional. Because not many people were aware of Adam’s family’s connection to 9/11, I decided to hold off on the reveal until later on in the piece partially for that reason. Adam did a phenomenal job as well in writing the piece in order to stay true to Joe’s memory.”
This piece was the highlight of my Sunday NFL viewing.
On Tuesday I have a long NFL broadcast preview for the MMQB coming out so I’ll keep today’s lead to some top line observations on the opening weekend of coverage:
• Chris Berman was muted to start Sunday NFL Countdown (and for much of the show) and that was welcome and appropriate for viewers, especially given Sunday was the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. There will be a lot of attention on this pregame show given the massive staff changes (Cris Carter, Tom Jackson, Keyshawn Johnson are out; Trent Dilfer, Matthew Hasselbeck, Randy Moss and Charles Woodsen are in) and judging anything off a debut show is a fool’s exercise. The chemistry obviously needs work (they talked over each other a lot) and the show started (sadly and predictable these days for this fare) with some takes hotter than the Arabian Peninsula. There was also the annoying boys-will-be-boys laughter that permeates all of these NFL pregame shows. But the discussion on Colin Kaepernick was authentic, honest and tension-filled television given how different Moss and Woodson viewed Kaepernick’s actions compared to Dilfer.
• I watched the NFL Network’s Red Zone channel for most of the first half of the 1:00 p.m. ET games and host Scott Hanson was already in mid-season form. The perfect match of talent and format.
• The NFL Network’s Andrea Kremer fronted a piece that examined the impact of September 11, 2001 through the eyes of Giants players, coaches and front office people. Well worth your time.
• Fox’s Chris Myers was on top of his game on Oakland’s game-winning two-point conversion including noting before the officials called a penalty that the Raiders’ were in danger of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for excessive celebration.
• This might have been Berman’s best Countdown show in years. He mostly stayed out of the way during serious discussion. Well done.
• Fox NFL Sunday provided Jerry Jones with a sweet infomercial on his stadium.
• Not surprisingly, there were Dak Prescott opinions:
From NFL Network’s Michael Irvin: “Dak Prescott is not taking Tony Romo’s job this year.”
From ESPN’s Trent Dilfer: “We may never see Tony Romo with the Dallas Cowboys again.”
From Steve Mariucci: “This is Tony Romo’s team…When he’s healthy, he plays and I don’t think it matters what the record is.”
• The CBS NFL Today group discussed Colin Kaepernick and athletes and social justice. Much of the focus was on how it impacts an NFL team, which I didn’t find personally compelling but you might.
• This is an opinion on Dilfer many Bay Area sports writers share and one tweeted out with force by San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Ann Killion on Sunday: “Trent (Dilfer) is Trent (Baalke's) mouthpiece. And @Kaepernick7 knows that. Happy times!” Will be interesting to see if the ESPN brass ever address this perception.
• Solid reporting by NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport on Seattle’s plans for the national anthem: “This actually was not the original plan for the Seahawks. What they were going to do was all kneel together with their hands over their hearts. That was the original plan for the demonstration. The problem is there were a couple of players who are particularly close with the military; guys like Jimmy Graham have taken tours with the military. Just did not feel comfortable doing that on September 11 and as Doug Baldwin has told people, if all 46 men on the active roster are not doing the same thing we are not doing it. That is why they decided to all stand up and interlock arms as their show of unity today.”
• Though he's given a lot of interviews on it, NBC would be wise to note in its SNF broadcasts somewhere that Cris Collinsworth is the majority owner for Pro Football Focus.
• ESPN did an excellent job incorporating Fantasy expert Matthew Berry into its Sunday programming, especially NFL Insiders. I’ll never understand how much money pregame shows spend on ex-players or coaches when viewers can get often get more value out of fantasy insight from someone who actually lives the content.
• When ESPN’s NFL Insiders does not junk up its programming with Stephen A. Smith-style segments, the show is at the top of all NFL studio shows. Smith won’t appear on this year’s Sunday version, which is an immediate credibility boost.
• I happen to hear a couple of minutes Sunday night of the new ESPN Radio show, NFL Nation, featuring Domonique Foxworth and Jonathan Hood. I liked what I heard. Intelligent commentary on the Sunday games and the league as a whole. A show to keep an eye on.
• The new opener for Countdown was super-slick, felt modern, and a great promo for the show. Credit to Lucas Nickerson (Creative Director); Jeremy Anderson (Producer); Warren Wolcott (Coordinating Post Editor); Normando Delgado (Lead Post Editor); Kevin Wilson (Music Director); Joanne Strange (Sr. Music Coordinator). Here it is, if you missed it.
• Randy Moss looking at Dilfer like he was crazy throughout Countdown could become an enjoyable feature on the show.
• Joel Santos is one of Fox Sports’s best producers and this feature on Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz reading letters sent to Giants’ players 15 years ago is worth viewing for the elegant editing. For the noon ET pregame show, Fox seems wedded to having features under 2:30 and it proves to be a disservice to their producers. Imagine if they were given the length ESPN’s feature producers get.
• Check out this exchange between Football Night In America colleagues Dan Patrick and Tony Dungy:
Patrick: “As a former coach, what did you think when you saw what was happening in Seattle and other places around the NFL today?”
Dungy: “I really appreciated it. When I coached, the National Anthem was very special to me. We practiced the National Anthem in training camp with our players. We videotaped it. I showed the rookies how it should be done. We wanted it done professionally, with pride. But I would support even those Dolphins players who kneeled. If they came to me and said, ‘Coach, we want to do this because we really think it’s important.’ I would support that.”
Patrick: “When were your beliefs about the flag and National Anthem formed?”
Dungy: “In 1968, I was a 12-year-old kid. Martin Luther King had just gotten shot. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were at the ’68 Olympics with the bowed heads. And there were African-Americans all over the country at that time trying to decide whether we should stand up for the National Anthem.
I talked to my dad about it. My dad was a teacher. He had enlisted in the service to fight in World War II. And he did that even though he knew when he came back he wouldn’t be able to ride in the front of some buses. He wouldn’t be able to teach in white schools. But he fought for our country. And when I asked him what I should do, he said, ‘Do what you think is going to help make the situation better.’”
Patrick: “I know that you have stressed that with players. If you do this, tell me what you’re doing that is going to make this a positive. Don’t just do it because Colin Kaepernick’s doing it.”
Dungy: “Exactly. And there was a time when I didn’t stand up for the National Anthem. But as I grew as a Christian man, I felt like that wasn’t the right thing to do for me. There was something that I could do to make it better. So when I saw racial injustice that I perceived, I stood for the National Anthem but I bowed my head and I prayed that God would make us a country that really was the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ I thought that’s the way I personally could protest and make the situation better.”
Patrick: “Your dad’s no longer with us. How do you think he’d feel if he saw these protests right now for a man who fought in World War II?”
Dungy: “As a veteran, he would not be offended. He would tell them the same thing he told me. He would say if you really believe what you’re doing is going to make things better, do it because that’s why we fought to make America the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’ So people who look differently or even think differently can still have their views expressed.”
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the week’s most notable sports media stories)
1. Denver’s win over Carolina in the NFL Kickoff Opener drew 25.2 million viewers for NBC, down from 27.2 million for last year’s game (New England-Pittsburgh) and 27.1 million the 2014 game between Seattle and Green Bay. The game was up a tick from the 2013 Kickoff (Denver-Baltimore). Sports TV Ratings has a chart of the season-opening games through 2002.
1a. Fox NFL analyst Troy Aikman addressed the hiring of Skip Bayless with Sports Illustrated. Said Aikman: “To say I’m disappointed in the hiring of Skip Bayless would be an enormous understatement,” Aikman said. “Clearly, (Fox Sports president of national networks) Jamie Horowitz and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to building a successful organization. I believe success is achieved by acquiring and developing talented, respected and credible individuals, none of which applies.”
1b. Jason Clinkscales, for Awful Announcing, examined female viewership of NFL games. Clinckscales says it’s dropping.
1c. ESPN ended up with two of the most-watched college football kickoff opening weekend games. Last Sunday night’s Notre Dame-Texas drew 10,945,000 viewers on ABC, the most-watched opening weekend game ever. The following night, FSU and Ole Miss drew 8,354,000 viewers, making it the ninth most-watched kickoff game.
2. Three weeks ago as part of a story on whether and when women will break the glass ceiling of calling NFL play-by-play, ESPN’s Stephanie Druley, a senior vice president of event and studio production and of the highest-ranking women in sports broadcasting, said something interesting about the possibility of viewer backlash. She referenced that despite how great Doris Burke is on the NBA, Burke still gets criticism on social media for every men’s sporting assignment she does. “It is my job to not listen to that,” Druley told SI.com. “I think we tend to push it here because we want to see progress but sometimes I’m not sure Joe Six-Pack is ready.”
It’s interesting to look back on that quote given last week ESPN announced that Burke will become a regular ESPN NBA game analyst this season (as well as increasing her men’s and women’s college basketball analyst assignments). ESPN would be wise to have Kara Lawson follow the same path—also a terrific NBA analyst. Women in the business for years have lamented that their gender is pushed into certain roles (sideline reporting, studio hosting) so this is a welcome step for the business. (So is Druley acquiring the power at ESPN to make something like this happen.) And this isn’t about ESPN making some statement on gender: Burke and Lawson’s work are NBA analyst quality. They should get games.
ESPN further announced that Michelle Beadle will become the host of ESPN’s NBA Countdown on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the season, beginning with NBA preseason coverage this October. (The news was first reported by The Big Lead.) She’s guest-hosted Countdown previously and her resume includes working as a reporter on Spurs’ broadcasts. She’ll do well. Countdown has long been a revolving door of hosts and analysts so this is new incarnation. (Beadle and Countdown analyst Jalen Rose are favorites of Connor Schell, who like Druley, has gained much more decision-making at ESPN.)
Sage Steele will continue to serve as the host of the weekend editions of NBA Countdown, preceding NBA Saturday Primetime on ABC—as well as any Sunday games.
2a. With Steele off full-time Countdown duty, she’s taking on a new role as the lead host for SportsCenter on the Road, where she’ll host on-site coverage at significant sports events such as the World Series, the Super Bowl, the College Football Playoffs and National Championship, the Men's Final Four and the Masters. SportsCenter, which has hemorrhaged ratings over the last five years, continues to search for ways to gain or maintain audience. I don’t believe SC being on the road will bring them any more viewers but it does offer news currency and real-time authority and that’s very valuable for a brand (you can also sell against it). As always, here’s hoping SC’s producers resist the urge of putting on ESPN bloviators as opposed to newsmakers (such as a live press conference). We shall see.
3. Episode 75 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Andy Roddick, the former professional tennis player who worked for Fox Sports 1 as a sports broadcaster and is now hosting a series of broadcasts on Periscope for this year’s U.S. Open tournament in New York
In this episode, Roddick discusses why he opted not to immediately enter tennis broadcasting and make an attempt to become a sports broadcasting generalist; what he learned about sports television while working for Fox Sports; what he watches when he watches tennis on television; why he thinks Periscope is an effective medium; how Serena Williams has been covered by both the tennis and general media and what perceptions of her are incorrect (Roddick has known her since they were both teenagers); his view of the media when he was a player and how he approached press conferences; whether he considered himself a challenging interview’ what it’s like working for the BBC as a broadcaster; what it’s like to have a spouse who has been on more Sports Illustrated covers than he has; and much more.
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI’s podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at Deitsch.
Upcoming podcast guests include ESPN’s Doris Burke, The Undefeated’s Clinton Yates, freelance writer Jessica Luther, and SI Hall of Fame writers Michael Farber and Jack McCallum.
4. Non sports pieces of note:
• This oral history of Air Force 1 on 9/11 by Garrett Graff is brilliant, spellbinding reporting. Read this now.
• From The New Yorker: When the Twin Towers Quietly Commanded the New York Skyline.
• From Jessica Contrera of The Washington Post: The seventh-grader’s sext was meant to impress him. Then he shared it. It nearly destroyed her.
• The Economist obit on Mexican singer Juan Gabriel.
• Really interesting NYT Magazine piece on refugee teens in Boise, Idaho.
• Via Eli Saslow of The Washington Post: For Diamond Reynolds, trying to move past 10 tragic minutes of video.
• From Jane Mayer of The New Yorker: A whistle-blower accuses the Kochs of “poisoning” an Arkansas town.
• From Chrstina Wallace of Elle Magazine: My father was a sociopath and I was the only one left.
• Via Patrick Radden Keefe of The New Yorker: The teen killers of the drug war.
• From Theresa Tedesco of The National Post: How Snowden Escaped.
• From Kathleen Hale of MaryReview.com: In the bizarro world of Miss America, losers smile and winners sob.
• Via NYT: The Secret History of Colombia’s Paramilitaries and the U.S. War on Drugs.
4b. Sports pieces of note:
• The Ringer’s Jordan Ritter Conn on the disappearance of Justin Blackmon.
• Via SI.com: Defending USA in war, on the field. A powerful story of a Paralympian pair.
• Sixteen Thoughts on Colin Kaepernick, from Jason Gay of Wall Street Journal.
• ESPN’s Seth Wickersham on the drive of John Elway.
• Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Chip Scoggins on a University of Minnesota football coach fighting the odds.
5. Great moment between Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve and ESPN reporter Holly Rowe.
5a. Yahoo Sports hired the former Fox NFL sideline analyst Tony Siragusa to serve as an NFL analyst this season. He’ll host a recurring weekly series, “In the Trenches.”
5b. Thank you to The -30- newsletter for the Q&A invite.
5c. Jimmy Traina, my old SI colleague and a former Fox Sports staffer, has joined the writing staff of Awful Announcing and The Comeback.
5d. Best of luck to the terrific New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton, whose last assignment for the newspaper was the Novak Djokovic-Stan Wawrinka U.S. Open final.
5e. ESPN is outsourcing some of its X Games production to an outside company. On-air talent likely to change.
5f. This is a remarkable tribute to the Pumphrey Family from Elliott Friedman of Hockey Night In Canada. Make sure you click on this.