CBS delivers a strong Ravens game telecast, but studio shows are a different story

CBS opened its NFL season in the Baltimore market Sunday with strong game coverage of the Ravens’ 47-3 shredding of the Buffalo Bills.

From Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon in the booth, to Steve Tasker and a rain-sopped camera crew on the field, it felt like everyone on the CBS team showed up focused and ready to go at M&T Bank Stadium even though it was a telecast featuring two small TV-market teams.


But when you factor in the pregame and halftime shows, it was a decidedly different story. The pregame show has backslid into more jock-talk joking and self-congratulatory laughter than I can remember. And I long thought it contained too much of both.

I clocked a total of 42 seconds in the pregame hour given to Jason La Canfora to discuss the culture-wars issues of players kneeling during the national anthem and Colin Kaepernick’s deal with Nike and inability to find a roster spot in the NFL. La Canfora’s full segment, “Jason’s News & Notes,” ran beyond that with reports on specific player-management issues like Le’Veon Bell’s impasse with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But there was only 42 seconds of him actually talking about the two NFL-related stories that the president of the United States was tweeting about and papers like The Baltimore Sun were covering on the front page Sunday.

Meanwhile, 22 seconds were given to showing the host and four regulars — James Brown, Phil Simms, Boomer Esiason, Bill Cowher and Nate Burleson — showing off their dance moves following a feature on end zone celebrations.

Give that goofy 22 seconds to La Canfora and he would have had a full minute for one of the bigger stories not just in sports, but American cultural and political life. Gee, a whole minute. But he didn’t even get that.

Understand this is not a criticism of La Canfora. He did his job just fine with the tiny amount of time he was given. This is on the producers and CBS Sports keeping their heads in the sand when it comes to controversy, politics and culture connected to the games they purport to cover.

As for the halftime show, it was just plain sloppy, especially for opening day. Nathan Peterman, the beleaguered Bills quarterback, was referred to as Peterson at one point. And Simms came back after being asked a question by one of the other panelists, by saying, “I don’t know what I was talking about before. What was it?”

For the record, it was the quarterback situation of the Bills.

In fairness, Simms had been interrupted by an “Instant Update” from the Cleveland-Steelers game, but this is just too free-wheeling and loosey-goosey for me.

I have done live TV in CNN studio shows the last 14 years. I know what’s acceptable and how a focused team in the control room and on the set can avoid or salvage moments like that with a little effort. It just takes concentration by everyone involved in the production.

Gannon, the analyst on the Ravens game, had no problems with focus. I don’t think I have ever heard him being as sharp or steady as he was Sunday. He filled virtually every moment with relevant information and analysis even when the game was out of reach — which was most of the second half. That’s when the lazy analysts’ concentration heads south. But his never did.

Typical of how in sync he and the producers were all afternoon, with 7:01 left in the first half, Joe Flacco completed a pass, and Gannon talked about the importance of footwork for Flacco to be on his “A” game. As Gannon spoke, the producers gave us a replay of Flacco’s footwork showing the fluid motion as the Ravens quarterback landed on his front foot as he released the ball.

The production work was my favorite aspect of the telecast.

Early in the first half, a Sun reader emailed me saying: “Can nothing be done on CBS about a telecast which often shows plays though a rain-spotted camera? Is this consistent with professionalism?”

I loved the rain drops on the camera lens. I loved it even when the lens got a little fogged. It never got to the point where I could not see what was going on. And even if it did, I would willingly sacrifice a bit of sharp focus for the atmospherics. I loved every shot of the rain coming down in sheets and the waterlogged fans in the stands with their makeshift plastic-bag ponchos.


One of my favorite things about a good NFL telecast is the feeling the best directors and camera people can give of almost being inside the stadium itself. The CBS crew in Baltimore delivered that Sunday, and I thank them for it.

Now, if the folks who were all coiffed-up and dry and so pleased with themselves back in the studio would make the same effort.

And they can start by including some time for fuller coverage of the larger political and cultural story about the games they telecast and make so much money off of.

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