NFL Pregame Shows are Unwatchable

It’s possible, as stated in the previous entry on this general topic, that the actual NFL game may never reach un-watchable status, but the various NFL pregame shows have already reached that point. They’re a joke, a constant joke after joke, that no one, other than the giggling hosts, find humorous. Overnight ratings for the three primary pregame shows were down an average of 11% in week one of the NFL (2014), and this trend will continue as they continue to move away from the strict commentary and specific analysis of the game to the jibber jabber that I assume is designed to  entertain.

The Giggling
The Giggling

Core, NFL fans of a certain age remember a day when Brent Musburger’s NFL Today show on CBS, ruled the roost in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. We deemed this broadcast the gold standard by which all competitors, past and present, would be judged. It was a tight, seamless, and informative production that was deemed by most core, NFL fans to be indispensable Sunday viewing. We all missed a few of their broadcasts of course, but the fact that we remember those instances should cement the value this show once had on our love of the game. The NFL Today show did not just add value to the game, for many of us it was the game. Some of the actual NFL games were boring compared to the production that the NFL Today staff, Irv Cross, the Miss America contestants, and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder put together, and there was a segment of the American youth that couldn’t get enough of it. As covered in the previous entry on this topic, it is obvious that NFL fan is no longer the primary demographic for the NFL pregame shows.

As the decades passed, some NFL pregame broadcasts decided to capitalize on the fact that we couldn’t get enough of football talk, by giving us more. Another hour of nothing but football –and in one cable channel’s case three more hours*– was the premise of the promise of more. Two hours of football talk before the fellas could even take the field? What red-blooded American, born and raised on football, would be against that? More is more, and more is always better, right? Plus, when the alternative programming, on Sunday, consists of political talk shows, bowling, fishing shows, and mass for the shut-ins, we should be watching right? The NFL pregame shows have led most of us to spend more time with our family.{1}

The eventual, and perhaps inevitable, conclusion that more is not always more, or better, was soon realized as these productions began adding more to make their show more for the specific intention of attracting more, beyond the core. The core, NFL fan is now showered with the dreaded human interest stories, stories that were once deemed the exclusive right of Oprah Winfrey and Ellen Degeneres. We are now inundated with stories that inform us that players are people too, and they have all the hopes, fears, and dreams that we do. We are informed that some of them laugh a lot, and some of them cry. Some of them have sick children, and some of them engage in charitable activities that help out their local communities, and some of them have wives that can teach us twenty-three ways to reuse a banana peel for those NFL families that need to learn how to budget on an annual 1.9 million dollar salary.

Once the dreaded human interest stories conclude, the NFL fan returns from the World Fishing Network to hear some football talk, and we hear playful, radio-lite banter that occurs between the bosom buddy hosts. We learn that these ex-jocks that aren’t afraid to provide us with some self-deprecating, zany anecdotes that will lead to further antics and hi-jinx. Some productions then provide segments that force their hosts to have Abbot and Costello-like adversarial relationships with recurring guests and more hi-jinx, with incessant giggling to follow. And if that isn’t enough, we get to see hot chicks tell us about the weather reports for each stadium, and the sideline reports that inevitably lead to hi-jinx, antics, and banter.

When all these non-football, NFL-themed human interest segments finally conclude, and the NFL fan does receive some actual analysis of the game, they hear these ex-jocks deliver the least controversial, safest opinions they can find. Long gone are the Jimmy “The Greek” no holds barred opinions on a player’s actual ability to perform on a NFL level, and they are replaced by non-critical, safe, and positive opinions by ex-jocks not wanting to hurt a current NFL players’ feelings.

These ex-jocks, and one professional broadcaster, are then required to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on those teams with a higher fan base. If the Dallas Cowboys fail to make the playoffs this year, it will be the fifth straight year they’ve failed to do so; if the Jets fail to make the playoffs this year, it will be the fourth straight year they’ve failed to do so; but if the Falcons do make the playoffs this year, it will be the fourth time in five years that they’ve made the playoffs. Yet, the ongoing focus of these shows concerns what the Cowboys and the Jets have to do to be competitive again. Dallas is America’s team, and the Jets have the broader market, but they have both sucked for some time now. They suck so bad that talk of them reveals the attempts these NFL pregame shows are making for what they are … unwatchable.

Howard Cosell often spoke of the degradation of his craft with the admission of ex-jocks in the broadcasting booth. That warning surprised me at the time, because I thought ex-jocks could deliver a unique perspective on the game. As the years passed, and I watched these ex-jocks deliver passionate, and well-rehearsed, analyses on the game, I realized that Cosell probably feared what we would all soon realize: just about anyone can do this.

The central character of these NFL pregame shows is often the professional broadcaster on staff, and he or she, often tosses the analysis portion of the segment to the ex-jock who delivers a passionate testimonial that centers around the idea that a quarterback’s job is to throw the ball to receivers, and that those receivers need to catch that ball. The offense will then need to run the ball to keep the defense off balance, and the defense’s job is to stop the offense. In the end, the analyst informs us, one team needs to score more points than the other. Anyone can deliver this message, in other words, and the average fans doesn’t care that they do it well, as long as their heroes –the former titans of the gridiron– do it.

Most core, NFL fans thought that extending a pregame broadcast to two-to-three hours would be an incredible plus, and it was … at first. It was, perhaps, inevitable that these broadcasts, and all of the people that knew their demographics, would try to find a way to land more audience, and keep that audience longer, beyond a “just the facts ma’am” approach of a Bill Belichick to that which we have today. The extra hour(s) led to a need to cover the game in a different way, until it became about the giggling, and the infotainment, and the One Life to Live type segments with a little Oprah-lite commentary to follow. The core, NFL football watching audience that wanted mano y mano analysis proved not enough to fill a two-to-three-hour broadcast. It became redundant, and it led them to try and find ways to expand their show to attract more, beyond the core.

One has to have some sympathy for those that try to put these shows together in the age of the internet, and the thousands of sports talk radio shows that now populate the airwaves, based on the fact that by the time these shows are set to air, on Sunday, every game has been analyzed from every possible angle anyone can think of, but the human interest/comedy/infotainment segments these pregame shows have developed to fill the time we once couldn’t get enough of, are now un-watchable.

*CBS Sports Network’s Other Pregame Show

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