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Media Circus: How CBS Pulled Off the John Malkovich Tease Before the AFC Championship Game

CBS Sports creative director Pete Radovich has a reputation for being one of best in sports television at the “tease” that leads into a big sporting event. On Sunday before the Patriots and Jaguars kicked off, CBS delivered an unforgettable one featuring John Malkovich.

CBS Sports creative director Pete Radovich has a reputation for being one of best in sports television at the “tease” that leads into a big sporting event. In short, the tease is a short feature or vignette that runs right before the start of a live-game broadcast. Radovich is the creative force behind the teases for the Army-Navy game, which have always been received well. He has done the Army-Navy tease for the past 10 years.

On Sunday Radovich and his staff delivered what might have been their best tease yet, a 4-minute and 18-second tour de force featuring actor John Malkovich on the Patriots and Jaguars.

Along with Radovich, the key production people included Director of Photography Joyce Tsang; Editor Anthony Cortese; Associate Producer David Anerella; and Production Manager Laurie Zelnick. It had been viewed more than 1.5 million times upon this writing.

On Sunday, I asked Radovich how he was able to get Malkovich to front the tease.

“The story behind the Malkovich tease is pretty simple: John Malkovich has been my favorite actor forever,” said Radovich. “It's probably not a coincidence that he is a fellow Croatian-American.  So over the years I've wanted to reach out to him for various projects, but it never felt right. I wanted to make sure that when I used that bullet, it was the perfect fit.  This tease concept was something that I had been wanting to do for the past couple of years, so when the Jaguars won last Sunday, the moment was finally here.  The story of David and Goliath as told by John Malkovich. It felt right.

"We simply reached out to his agent and explained the concept, and luckily for us, he turned out to be a big sports fan.  I followed up by sending links to some my previous opens. Within 24 hours, I was emailing script ideas directly with John Malkovich. It was surreal. We shot it on Wednesday morning at the New England Conservatory, which is near his home in Boston. It was the perfect setting and our director of photography, Joyce Tsang, crushed it. Malkovich was in and out within four hours. It was truly a professional dream come true. 

Media Circus: 2018 AFC, NFC Championships Pose as Major Test for NFL Viewership

"I know you didn't ask about this part, but this is a credit to how our place operates: I was originally told to keep the tease to a total of 2:30. When I showed the longer version of the tease at the production meeting on Saturday night (the social media director's cut), our executives, Harold Bryant and Steve Karasik called the NFL Today producers, Tyler Hale and Drew Kaliski, and asked if the game production could take some time away from their studio show so that we could air the longer version before the game. There wasn't any hesitation on their part.  Without that cooperation, I guarantee this piece doesn't get the same reaction.”

Radovich said procuring musicians from the New England Conservatory was not as difficult as you might think. “When you're shooting in Boston the week of the AFC Championship Game, it's amazing how efficiently things can get done when you mention tickets to the game,” he said. “But the musicians were all students at the school and incredibly talented. We had a noon "hard out" on the shoot because the students needed to get to classes.”

Radovich also brought in a professional conductor, Helmut VonLichten, who has worked on Radovich projects for 10 years and is a Sports Emmy winner. VonLichten composed an original piece of music for the shoot.

What did Malkovich tell Radovich upon seeing the final product?

Said Radovich: "He said, 'It looks excellent, Pete. I was delighted to do it. Thanks for inviting me along. Best, John'"

( examines some of the most notable sports media stories of the week)

1. Really liked what The NFL Today did early for its coverage leading up to the AFC Championship Game. Given the news importance of Tom Brady’s stitched-up throwing hand, the CBS pregame show went live to Brady on the field and had game analyst Tony Romo offer his thoughts on his warm-ups. “We have never analyzed warm-up throws so deeply here but we are about to,” said Romo, putting the right note on what was the major story heading into the game. As the camera stayed on Brady throwing to various Patriots personnel, Romo offered the viewers his thoughts. “Velocity looks fine, a hair of sail, which for him is abnormal… But if you are getting 90 percent Tom, you are getting the best quarterback out there.”

Jim Nantz on the Romo Effect, Preparing for the NFL and the Masters and More

As the show shifted back to the regular studio group, the camera stayed on Brady’s throwing—a smart production decision. The producers then went back again to Romo after giving him a decent sample size to look at in warmups. “It looks like business as usual,” Romo declared. “You can tell he is constantly thinking about it, looking at his hand, getting the feel of it.”

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It was an excellent sequence—and important footage for viewers. Well done.

1a. A number of Twitter followers said The NFL Network also showed live footage of Brady throwing in warmups. Props, too.

1b. Here are the viewership numbers for the last six NFL conference championship rounds:

Date: Jan. 22, 2017

Early game: Falcons-Packers (Fox): 46.3 million viewers

Late game: Patriots-Steelers (CBS): 48.0 million viewers

Average viewership: 46.903 million

Date: Jan. 24, 2016

Early game: Broncos-Patriots (CBS): 53.3 million viewers

Late game: Panthers-Cardinals (Fox) 45.7 million viewers

Average viewership: 49.700 million

Date: Jan. 18 2015

Early game: Seahawks-Packers (Fox): 49.84 million viewers

Late game: Patriots-Colts (CBS): 42.14 million viewers

Average viewership: 46.151 million

Date: Jan. 19, 2014

Early game: Broncos-Patriots (CBS): 51.3 million viewers

Late game: Seahawks-Niners (Fox): 55.9 million viewers

Average viewership: 53.697 million

Date: Jan. 20, 2013

Early game: Niners-Falcons (Fox): 42.0 million viewers

Late game: Ravens-Patriots (CBS): 47.1 million viewers

Average viewership: 44.824 million

Date: Jan. 22, 2012

Early game: Patriots-Ravens (CBS): 48.7 million viewers

Late game: Giants-Niners (Fox): 57.6 million

Average viewership: 53.976 million

The viewership numbers above were no doubt impacted by the margin of victory and the teams playing (e.g. the big-market Giants were part of the most-watched conference championship game since 2012). But what seems clear is that a combined average audience of 44 million viewers represents the floor for the conference championship games in this era no matter the teams and margin of victory. That is the number I’ll be watching for with the Pats-Jaguars and Vikings-Eagles.

1c. Sports Business Daily assistant managing editor Austin Karp reported that NFL Divisional weekend averaged 30.4 million viewers for four games across NBC, Fox and CBS, the lowest figure for the playoff round since 2009, when CBS and Fox averaged 28.8 million viewers. Karp said that the four games last weekend were down 16% from Divisional weekend last year.

1d. Terrific feature by ESPN feature producers Tory Roy and Jenna Contreras and NFL reporter Josina Anderson on the Vikings’ miracle finish last week,

1e. Double F-bomb footage for Brady this weekend.

2. Jim Nantz says he found out Tony Romo was replacing Phil Simms as his NFL broadcast partner one hour before calling last April’s national college basketball championship game between North Carolina and Gonzaga.

“I’ll say this for the first time publicly: I found out that this was going to happen about an hour before the national championship game,” Nantz said this week as a guest on the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast. “I was at the table with Grant (Hill) and Raf (Bill Raftery) and Sean [McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports], and [CBS Sports president] David Berson came over and said, “Can we talk to you for a moment?” I said sure and pulled back my seat and then they said let's go backstage a little bit. We went to a makeshift grandstand at the stadium in Glendale. Of course I knew they were talking but I did not know where it stood. They were looking to make an announcement the next day, before the Masters tournament was in full swing, and they broke the news to me. Then I had to do the broadcast.

“I am appreciative of everything they do, they are great to work for, and they knew I would be able to compartmentalize that. But there was a side of me that wanted to pick up the phone and call Phil. But I had to do the game. I went back to the table and ran through rehearsals of starting lineups and peaks at the graphics and things like that. Of course I immediately called Phil the next morning.”

In this 84-minute podcast, Nantz discussed the impact Romo has had on him; why Romo had such a successful first season in the booth; Romo’s nerd-like reverence for golf broadcasting; how Nantz prepares to call postseason NFL games; the challenge of preparing for the Final Four and the Masters given how close they are too each other; his current relationship with Phil Simms and learning about Romo replacing Simms;  the contention that the Masters does not offer enough live coverage of the event; why he has thought about calling golf through 2036; the famed lark about him loving burnt toast; how he navigates personal relationships with calling the events of people he considers friends; traveling on the road as much as he does; why calling the U.S. Open and Wimbledon are bucket list items; the time when famed sports television executive Roone Arledge considered him for Good Morning America; hosting corporate executives in the booth; how one prepares for a trophy presentation, and much more.

To listen to the podcast in full, check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. 

3.Episode 155 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features a sports media roundtable with SB Nation writer Charlotte Wilder; writer Dan Gartland, and Awful Announcing writer Andrew Bucholtz. In this podcast, the group discusses the ratings potential for the Patriots-Jaguars and Vikings-Eagles; the challenges and opportunities for 20-somethings in the sports media; what it’s like to be young and working at a major sports media outlet; sports media people under 30 to watch and why; the long-term potential of sports podcasts; role models in the business; making a mistake as a young person in sports journalism, and much more. To listen to the podcast in full, check it out on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. 

4. Sports pieces of note:

•Brilliant tribute by Michael Farber in the Montreal Gazette for Red Fisher, the legendary hockey writer who died this week at 91

•In 1982, Bill Belichick’s father introduced him to a first-year Navy DBs coach named Nick Saban. The stories of their friendship as the coaches conquered the football world. Great work by Jenny Vrentas 

•From Seattle Times columnist Matt Calkins:  Take it from me, WSU athlete’s death is a reminder that help is available

 •From SI’s Andrew Sharp: An oral history of international players coming to the NBA

•SI’s Lee Jenkins went inside the Rockets-Clippers locker-room melee

•The Undefeated’s senior NBA writer Marc Spears held a terrific NBA coaches roundtable with Gregg Popovich (San Antonio Spurs), Stan Van Gundy (Detroit Pistons), Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors), Doc Rivers (LA Clippers) and Dwane Casey (Toronto Raptors) on the importance of playing games on MLK Jr. Day

•From Yahoo’s Jeff Passan: Here is the real story of the frozen free-agent market and why it is so important 

•The stories we saw last week out of Lansing, Mich. were gutting. More than 100 survivors testified at a four-day sentencing hearing for former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar. The Michigan Attorney General's Office told reporters last Wednesday that it expected 101 women and girls to give victim-impact statements. More than 140 women and girls have said Nassar abused them. In November, Nassar pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Credit the Indianapolis Star, who in 2016 published a lengthy investigation into USA Gymnastics and its handling of sexual abuse complaints over decades. The collected work is here

It has been a long time coming for this story to get the kind of national attention is received last week. Below, a collection of stories on that are worth reading:

• A must-read investigation from ESPN’s John Barr and Dan Murphy: Nassar surrounded by adults who enabled his predatory behavior

• From Katie Strang of The Athletic: A reckoning for Larry Nassar as his victims confront his abuse

• From Kim Kozlowski‏ of the Detroit News: What Michigan State knew about Larry Nassar

•From SI’s S.L. Price: Cuonzo Martin, the Fight for His Life and Why He Took the Job as Head Coach of Missouri

Non-sports pieces of note:

•A must-read piece via Garrett M. Graff in Esquire: Minutes to Live: When the Nuclear Push Alert Is Not a Mistake

•NPR’s David Folkenflik did some remarkable reporting: LA Times publisher and CEO Ross Levinsohn was a defendant in two sexual harassment cases settled by employers and female colleagues repeatedly accused him of misconduct throughout his career

•Ellen Pompeo, on her fight to get big money in Hollywood

•Thanks to reporting from Pro Publica, a Baltimore judge tossed out a plea and rebuked a prosecutor

•From Bloomberg Businessweek: The Fall of Travis Kalanick Was a Lot Weirder and Darker Than You Thought

•From Anne Helen Peterson of BuzzFeed: How Do You Rebuild Your Life After Leaving A Polygamous Sect

5. The guest for the latest Geno Auriemma “Holding Court” podcast is HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler

5a. The Big Ten Network will air First Dance, a documentary on Northwestern men's first NCAA Tournament appearance (in 2016-17) and it'll premiere on Tuesday at 11 p.m. ET/10 p.m. CT. Plenty of ESPN from Northwestern in this one 

5b. Ourand profiled ESPN PR executive Keri Potts, who works as a sexual assault victims’ advocate

5c. ESPN announced it has signed SportsCenter anchor Nicole Briscoe to a new contract. As part of her new deal, she will host ABC’s telecast of the Indianapolis 500.

5d. NBC announced that former Today show host Katie Couric will co-host the Opening Ceremony for the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. She will join host Mike Tirico in the booth at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony, which will air in primetime Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC. It is her fourth Olympic Opening Ceremony assignment. Joshua Cooper Ramo, co-CEO of Kissinger Associates, will also be part of the announcing team.

Notably, NBCUniversal will stream live the Olympics Opening Ceremony for the first time, beginning at 6 a.m. ET on and the NBC Sports app. The streaming coverage will feature Parade of Nations with world feed graphics and the event’s natural sound (without commentators). The fully produced presentation, hosted by Couric and Tirico, will air at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC.

5e. Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger profiled ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla

5f. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his NBC debut as a contributor for the network’s coverage of Super Bowl LII on February 4, and the XXIII Olympic Winter Games, beginning February 8. Both are culture reporting assignments including Earnhardt doing a feature from the speed skating venue at the Gangneung Ice Arena during the PyeongChang Games.