Network TV never knows when to stop shilling, selling, hyping and hustling its audience.
It's like a law of physics that whenever a network creates something of quality, it must always find a way to cheapen the product in trying to squeeze every last penny plus one out of it.
That was the big story with NBC’s pregame coverage of the Ravens 49-27 debacle in Denver Thursday night.
The network's "Sunday Night Football" franchise is one of the epic success stories of prime-time TV, a winning hybrid of sports and pop culture programming that draws a larger audience than any sports program in history. As the highest-rated show on TV, it defines cash cow. And thanks to the skill of the crew assembled by executive producer Fred Gaudelli, it is also a show the network could be proud of.
But Thursday night, on the big opening night of the season, the suits at NBC and corporate owner Comcast had to turn the “Football Night in America” pre-game show, as well as the opening of the game itself, into a pimp machine for Ryan Seacrest and his new NBC show, “The Million Second Quiz.”
Seacrest embodies the worst aspects of commercial television – the phoniness, the lack of creativity and talent, the vapid emptiness at its heart. You don’t take someone like that and shove him down the throats of serious sports fans on opening night as NBC did Thursday. Nor, do you take someone as singularly talented as Bob Costas and make him party to the con game by having him interview Seacrest.
By the time NBC had Seacrest on the field to lead a faux countdown to what was supposed to be the start of the game, any hope for treating the game of football with respect was gone. The game was now just a backdrop, a prop, a stage to sell Seacrest’s new show as he strutted like a drum major at the head of a line of prancing cheerleaders.
Way to go, 30 Rock. I hope whatever bump in opening night viewership that you get for Seacrest’s program is worth making me hate a show I have come to admire and enjoy.
Beyond the Seacrest scenario, it was a mixed performance by the usually stellar “NBC Sunday Night Football” crew.
Costas, who raises the I.Q. of all of sports broadcasting at those times when he brings both his intellect and passion to bear on an issue, was a little ragged. He told viewers that Joe Flacco is known in Baltimore as “Cool Joe.” Actually, it’s Joe Cool.
And during a three-way among Dan Patrick, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, viewers were told Terrell Suggs was out part of last year with a torn ACL. Actually, it was an Achilles tendon.
Dungy did, though, do an informed and revealing interview with Flacco. I was glad to see Flacco joking in the interview about $120 million the Ravens could wind up paying him. Maybe he should have left a few dollars on the table so the team could afford a couple of receivers who could actually catch the ball.
The mistakes on Suggs' injury and Flacco’s nickname are not major mistakes, to be sure. But they are less than we have come to expect from “NBC Sunday Football” – more like what you might get with a second string CBS NFL broadcast team.
On the plus side, NBC and the NFL did a superb job of staging and telecasting the Keith Urban concert from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The visuals, the sound, the framing of the waterfront setting made Baltimore look as good as any city can ever hope to look on TV.
Most of the game coverage itself was solid.
Michele Tafoya was all over the weather front that blew up the best laid plans for a carefully choreographed opening and delayed the start of the game by 33 minutes. She reported every injury as well. And she did a strong post-game interview with Peyton Manning.
I wish CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus would watch her for a full game and tell me again how sideline reporters are not necessary.
Play-by-play announcer Al Michaels and analyst Cris Collinsworth were in regular-season form, which is to say even if they were not yet at the top of their games, they were still better than anyone else you will see on Fox, CBS, ESPN or the NFL Network during their opening weeks.
In the end, though, I can’t get past what the telecast did with Seacrest.
I hope the folks at NBC Sports will take a look at what’s being said on Twitter about the Seacrest segments and think about the extent to which you can diminish a great franchise in just a few minutes when you insult your audience with your promotional greed.