NBC, which used to be more interested in yuks and studio audiences than in hardnosed journalism on its NFL pregame show, beat CBS up and down the line of scrimmage in coverage of the strike. On Sunday both networks expanded their shows from half an hour to an hour and jettisoned their traditional formats of profiles and game predictions. The NFL Today on CBS was unmasked as little more than the Brent Musburger Show, while NFL Live proved capable of addressing the important questions.
NBC anchorman Bob Costas zeroed in on his guests in Koppelesque style. One of the striking players, Jim Kelly of the Bills, told him that whole teams may start crossing picket lines before long. Bob Trumpy and Jimmy Cefalo, NFL Live's point-counterpoint duo—Trumpy sides with management, Cefalo with the players—raised salient issues. For example, Trumpy argued that the owners are holding the line on free agency in fear of Al Davis's buying an entire team with the proceeds from his planned move to Irwindale.
Although Musburger delivered a strong commentary on the strike two weeks ago, on Sunday CBS danced around the real issues, such as whether the players would cross the picket lines and the reasons the scab games are being played. The story certainly wasn't the history of trade unionism as told by reporter Anne Butler or a meet-me-in-Las Vegas routine with Jimmy the Greek. Aside from Musburger and the underutilized Will McDonough, no one on The NFL Today would know a hard-news story if it hit him in the forehead.
On a scale of 1 to 10, ABC's strike coverage rated a 2½. During half-time of the final game before the strike, the Jets-Patriots on Monday night, Sept. 21, Frank Gifford tossed out cream-puff questions to players union chief Gene Upshaw and the owners' man, Jack Donlan. When Upshaw dropped a small bombshell, revealing that he had talked that day to a "mystery man" who might be able to settle the strike, Gifford cut to a commercial and then to an interview with Mike Singletary of the Bears without asking Upshaw to identify his secret contact. (It turned out to be Pete Rozelle, of course.) Producer Mike Pearl must share some blame for not ordering Gifford to at least say, Who, Gene?
NBC also merited applause for showing a Tigers-Blue Jays game on Sunday afternoon. A boo to CBS for dusting off a videotape of last season's Super Bowl. CBS's lack of imagination—it could have bid for the Mets-Pirates game, for instance—demonstrates how cost accountants have taken over at the networks. CBS knew that it could get a midsized rating for its Super Bowl rehash without spending a farthing on rights fees or production. Such reasoning makes this viewer want to go on strike.