Will CBS make it three straight Super Bowls to set the record for the most-watched program in U.S. history? Here’s what to expect, plus an interview with sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson.
The Super Bowl is always an exercise in gigantism, and CBS is doing its part with 550 personnel in the Bay Area covering the game, pregame and CBS Sports Network shows. No other television broadcast matters more for a network on the calendar, and the rewards can be great: The last two Super Bowls have set records for the most-watched program in U.S. history. NBC currently holds the record, with 114.4 million people tuning in for New England’s win over Seattle last year.
For those of you planning to watch the game—which means most everyone reading this—here’s how CBS will cover the Super Bowl on Sunday in a handy Q&A guide.
O.K., let’s start with the basics. Who will I see on my screen?
CBS’s Super Bowl 50 pregame show, The Super Bowl Today, will air from 2 to 6 p.m. ET. The lead host is James Brown (who will host his eighth Super Bowl pregame) along with analysts Boomer Esiason, Bill Cowher, Tony Gonzalez and Bart Scott, as well as hosts Ian Eagle and Greg Gumbel, contributing analysts Brandon Marshall, Trent Green and Amy Trask, NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, reporters Tracy Wolfson, Evan Washburn, Allie LaForce, and contributor Jim Rome.
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will call the game. This will be Nantz’s fourth Super Bowl call and his sixth Super Bowl appearance (two as a studio host). Simms has been an analyst on the game eight times, the second most behind John Madden (11). Wolfson (Broncos) and Washburn (Panthers) are the game sideline reporters. Mike Carey serves as the rules expert. Jay Feely is a contributor focused on the kicking game.
The CBS Sports announcers making their Super Bowl broadcast debut: Gonzalez, Scott, Trask, Carey, Green, Eagle, Washburn, LaForce and Feely.
Who will produce and direct the game?
Lance Barrow is the game producer, and Mike Arnold is the game director. Arnold is also this week’s guest on the SI Media Podcast.
What can you tell me about the theme of the pregame show?
One of the prevailing themes will be looking back at historical footage, great moments, videos, player vignettes and reflections highlighting the history of the Super Bowl.Has CBS announced some of the pregame features?
They have. A sampling:
• A feature on the six living broadcasters who have called a Super Bowl: Joe Buck, Dick Enberg, Greg Gumbel, Al Michaels, Jim Nantz and Jack Whitaker, the only living commentator for Super Bowl I. The producer for this feature is Sarah Rinaldi.
• A feature (produced by Charlie Bloom) on former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
• “A (Revised) History of the Buffalo Bills” from producer Rahul Rohatgi: A look at what might have happened had the Buffalo Bills won Super Bowl XXV.
• A look-in with U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a special report from outer space, teases with members of the country’s premier dance companies interpreting famous Super Bowl moments, and past Super Bowl MVPs discussing the game, its history and their places in it.
• A Super Bowl essay (producer: Jawn Morales) on how the game has changed—and changed the world—in the past 50 years.
• A feature on a Tennessee high school football player, Zaevion Dobson, who was killed as he shielded three girls from gunfire during a shooting in his neighborhood. Pete Radovich is the producer.
• A recreation of one of the NFL’s most memorable plays, “The Catch,” from the 1982 NFC Championship Game.
• Short vignettes on some of the neighborhoods and characters of San Francisco and the Bay Area.
• A “Difference Makers” segment, including the Sabols’ impact on the NFL (narrated by Patriots coach Bill Belichick), Vince Lombardi (narrated by Joe Lombardi), Bill Walsh (narrated by Jerry Rice), John Madden (narrated by Bill Parcells), Reggie White (narrated by Brett Favre) and Doug Williams (narrated by Russell Wilson).
What about interviews with the players?
Cowher will interview Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and Panthers head coach Ron Rivera; Brown will interview Panthers quarterback Cam Newton; Simms will interview Broncos GM John Elway; Gonzalez will interview Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
Will there be the traditional POTUS Interview?
Yes. CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King will conduct a live interview with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
How will King determine whether her interview with Barack Obama and Michelle Obama was a success or failure, and why?
Said King: “Number one, you have never had her [Michelle Obama] before and to have her live is really exciting to me. I am both terrified and exhilarated at the same time because once it starts, there is no turning back. I have a ton of questions, and I know I won’t get to all of them. But I want to keep it in the spirit of the day. We will do a more sit-down with [Barack Obama] after the live portion where you can get into policy questions. So I want to get into: “How do they watch the game?”; “What do they look for?”; “Who is the first person yelling at the TV?”; “Do they pay attention to the commercials?”; “Is there a party and who is coming to the party?” This is the fourth quarter of their presidency, how do they feel about that? My intention is to keep them fully engaged. I want people to not feel this is a waste of their time and the same old yawn, yawn, yawn. All around the country people are having Super Bowl parties. There is a little bit of drinking, there is a little bit of betting and then you go to the interview with the White House. I don’t want it to be wallpaper or white noise. I want people to put down a chicken wing and notice, ‘Oh, Michelle Obama is there too. What are they talking about? We have never seen that before.’ That is my hope.”
The interview, which King said will be seven and a half minutes, will air in the 4 p.m. ET hour.How will CBS determine whether the Super Bowl pregame show was successful, and do they consider the ratings of the pregame show part of the determination?
From Drew Kaliski, the pregame show producer: “Did we inform and entertain the viewer throughout the four hour pregame show? Over the course of 50 Super Bowls there were a number of plays, players, coaches, owners and teams who made a significant impact on the NFL, and we hope to give viewers a different perspective on some of the iconic moments in NFL history. Did we give a unique perspective of the matchup between the Panthers and Broncos? What impact will tight end Greg Olsen have on the game through the eyes of a future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez? How will linebacker Thomas Davis perform with a broken forearm through the analysis of former linebacker Bart Scott? Boomer Esiason, on whether this could be Peyton Manning’s last game as an NFL quarterback. How would Bill Cowher defend the dynamic Panthers offense if he was Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips? If we answer all those questions in the four-hour telecast, I will say we had a successful broadcast. Ratings will not determine whether we had a successful broadcast or not. Our job is to produce the most entertaining and informative show possible.
After CBS signs off, there will be an extended postgame show (probably one hour) on the CBS Sports Network.
What technology will be highlighted during the game?
Look for CBS to use Pylon Cam whenever they can. Also, Eyevision 360 will get a workout. What is Eyevision 360? It’s a replay system giving viewers a 360° perspective and higher resolution than ever seen before. The system consists of 36 cameras strung around the upper deck of Levi’s Stadium, allowing CBS to freeze the moment and revolve around the play, then continue to play out the scene.
CBS will also have eight custom-molded pylons that house 16 cameras to film the goal lines and sidelines on each side of the field, giving NFL viewers the most field-level view of critical plays during Super Bowl 50.
“Pylon Cam has generated for us and ESPN just incredible replays,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “It really has that ‘Wow Factor’ and is also very accurate often in showing whether a receiver came down with both feet in bounds. I think it’s a great innovation and we will use it as often as reviews justify.”
Why has CBS added a kicking analyst?
McManus said he and CBS Sports creative director Pete Radovich were talking about ways to improve the NFL coverage and Radovich suggested the kicking analyst, given how many games come down to the kicking. The network was impressed by Feely’s previous television work and added him after an interview.
Will there be any kind of Megacast option?
No. The NFL (and CBS) wants the Super Bowl broadcast to get as many eyeballs as possible. “We are not doing alternate broadcast like ESPN did,” McManus said. “I thought some of those products were interesting and fun to watch, but we are basically focused on having as many people as we can possibly get watch the CBS Television Network. We believe it’s best for our company and corporation to aggregate the largest audience to watch our network.” CBS will stream the game on CBSSports.com.
CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus: “It’s funny—the vast majority of the calls that Mike has made have been correct. I sit there on Sunday afternoon and there will be sometimes a dozen different cut-ins to our various regional games, and he’s almost always right. Having said that, there are a couple of big situations where Mike has disagreed with the end result that the officials have made. It is not uncommon for an announcer to question a call that an official has made, whether it is a catch or not a catch. Unfortunately when Mike disagrees with an eventual call, he receives an awful lot of criticism. I think a lot of these calls are judgment calls.
Mike has perhaps gone out on a limb more than he should in terms of speculating what a call should be. But all he is giving is his opinion of what he would call if he were on the field, and if it is different than the end result I think people get frustrated. But I hope [viewers] would understand that Mike is only giving his opinion. A lot of times what we see on the screen differs in the end result from what the referees see. I have seen some of the criticism, and some of it is very hurtful, quite frankly. But Mike is learning his craft, and I think more often than not he has been right. But I will also say he has disagreed a number of times in some very high profile situations with what the officials have come back in. It’s a subjective medium.”
How important is it for CBS to set a Super Bowl ratings record? “I’m not going to lie: It’s nice to have the most watched show in history, but you can’t control it,” McManus said. “A lot of it will depend on how close the game is in the final minutes. I think we will do an outstanding rating, and I would love to have the most-watched program ever. But if it’s not, life will go on.
How much of the game will focus on the nostalgia surrounding 50 years of the Super Bowl?
Very little. The pregame show will look back, and there may be a gold theme in a lot of the on-air game graphics, but don’t expect the game to be a tribute to 50 years of the title game.
Is CBS prepared in the event of a loss of stadium power, or a similar occurrence to what happened in New Orleans when the network broadcast the game three years ago?
Network officials say they are ready. “We have made as sure as we possibly can that we in the CBS compound will not have a power failure,” McManus said. “We have three redundant sources of power: land power, battery power and diesel power generators. If one of those sources goes out, the other kicks in automatically. So in terms of the power situation, we have that as well covered as we can. I’ll be honest: We will be more prepared than we were last time. We will have a plan in place and at least one correspondent from CBS News available. The sideline reporters will be given specific instructions and will be aggressive in reporting. We learned a lot of lessons from the blackout, and I think we will be prepared to do a really good job if a news story takes place during the Super Bowl.”
Who will handle the postgame trophy celebration?
Nantz, who has handled the job for CBS for each of the four Super Bowls he has called.
Q&A with Tracy Wolfson
This will be Wolfson’s first Super Bowl sideline reporter assignment. Last week, SI.com traded emails with her for an interview about her debut.
Richard Deitsch: How much bigger does the Super Bowl assignment feel from previous assignments, and why?
Tracy Wolfson: This is by far the biggest because it doesn’t come around often due to the way the NFL rotates the Super Bowl. It’s also an iconic Super Bowl in Super Bowl 50. It’s different than the Final Four because I have covered that event every year in some capacity since 2004. So it has becomes almost routine. The other thing about the Super Bowl—it’s a week-long event. There is so much that goes into the week, whether it’s press conferences, media day, meetings or practice. You just put a lot more time in. Finally, it’s the biggest event and biggest TV audience I’ve ever been a part of. It’s the goal you have in mind when you are aspiring to be a broadcaster.
RD: Have you been assigned a team, and if so, how are you approaching that reporting?
TW: I will be covering the Broncos. It is definitely different being responsible for just one sideline. It allows me to focus and hone in on one team, follow their stories and injuries and in a way watch the game through their eyes on the sideline. There is also less of a chance I will miss something. Having the Broncos also helps because this will be the eighth time I’ve seen them this year. I know them and their staffs; their players and coaches are familiar with me, which certainly helps. But it does not mean I will solely study up on the Broncos. I will be prepared to report on both teams.
TW: I am getting more comfortable and confident with every game. The rules in the NFL of what you can and cannot report from the sidelines and the way injuries are handled is definitely different. I have to be a little more creative with my reports. Also, getting to know the players, coaches and staffs takes time. The other adjustment is the schedule, which is similar to any player going from college to the pros. The season can wear on you. This will be my 31st game this year! I did about 15 per year when I was covering college.
RD: On a recent conference call, CBS Sports head Sean McManus mentioned that there are contingency plans in the event of a New Orleans-like situation. What have you and your producers talked about it regarding your role in such a scenario?
TW: So far, just to be vigilant and ready for anything. Our meetings as we get closer to game day will go into more detail. But I have been in this situation before. I was working the pregame show in 2013 when the power went out in the Superdome and was forced to wire up quickly and get out on the field to find any information possible. It becomes all hands on deck and you have to be ready if the situation presents itself.
RD: Will you speak to anyone who has worked the sideline of a Super Bowl before, if you have not already, and what do you want to know from them?
Wolfson: Lesley Visser always provides me with great little tips no matter how big the game is. I’m sure when I see her she will provide some much needed words of wisdom. But I have to keep reminding myself not to make it bigger than it is. That’s how I’ve always treated every big event I’ve covered and that’s how I will approach this one. I also ran into Andrea Kremer in San Francisco, who I work with on We Need to Talk. She gave me great advice on not only searching out info but about soaking in the moment.