The first two weeks of the NFL season has seen a turnaround in the TV ratings. Now, it’s been said if it happens two times, it’s a coincidence. If it happens three times, it’s a trend. The NFL Today has beaten Fox NFL Sunday for the first two weeks of the season for the first time since CBS came back into the NFL in 1998. And it’s been thought that because the network with the NFC has the bigger markets than the AFC, the NFC network has the built-in advantage. It was true when CBS had the NFC and NBC had the AFC. And it has been true since Fox bought into the NFL in 1994 when it regularly defeated NBC and now CBS.
But since James Brown left Fox in 2005 for CBS to be closer to his Washington, DC home, the NFL Today has begun to creep closer to Fox NFL Sunday. Last year, the NFL Today beat Fox NFL Sunday four separate times. Now, the JB-led NFL Today has won the ratings for the first two weeks of this season.
Thanks to DirecTV’s Supercast, I can watch both the NFL Today and Fox NFL Sunday at the same time. Comparing the two this week, both had to promote upcoming events in their opens, Fox with Bones (Emily Deschanel is hot, but you knew that) premiering this week and CBS with Halo 3 being released on Tuesday. Is that necessary?
Fox has the venerable Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson along with host Curt Menafee. The chemistry between TB, Howie and Jimmy is unmatched. They can laugh, they can be serious, but best of all, they can make fun of themselves. Seeing Jillian Barbarie-Reynolds or Jillian Reynolds as she wants to be called is a joy. She still has a little bump on her stomach stemming from her recent pregnancy, but she’s great to see. The Grumpy Old Coaches segment between Johnson and Barry Switzer is still a work in progress, but you can tell the two men get along. Frank Caliendo’s segment is still funny. Him doing Jack Nicholson was perfect and getting Danny DeVito was great. But of course, this was a cross promotion for FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Pam Oliver’s segment on the Detroit Lions was solid. Jay Glazer’s insider segment is ok. And the Rapid Fire segment has been imitated by other shows. But there’s something missing with the show. And that something is JB.
Taking a close look at the JB-led NFL Today this week, the team of Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason has been woven together quite well. Marino and Esiason have worked together for several years and have become good friends. Sharpe is actually funny and bringing in Cowher this year has not upset the apple cart. Their opening segment where they discuss the games is very good. Also, having former Redskins and Texans General Manager Charley Casserly discuss breaking news is a welcome addition. Casserly was shaky last year, but his report on the rule banning cheerleaders from warming up near the opposing team’s sidelines or in the tunnel before games was actually funny as it was supposed to be. Marino talked to Green Bay QB Brett Favre and that was produced very well, but it didn’t break any ground. But the most newsworthy segment was a commentary by James Brown about the Donovan McNabb interview on Real Sports. JB was the one who did the interview and he attacked the criticism of McNabb on his statements that black quarterbacks have to do more and are scrutinized more than white quarterbacks. JB says people cannot tell how or what McNabb should feel and unless they walk in McNabb’s shoes, they should not attack Donovan. I give CBS credit for not labeling this as “COMMENTARY”, they just allowed JB to speak and let the viewer agree or disagree. The First on the Field segment was delayed a bit due to some problems in Green Bay, but Jim Nantz finally got to the mike.
The shows are done to generate revenue, but they’re also to give the games a lead-in. I still like Fox NFL Sunday, but I will say the NFL Today is much improved with JB as the anchor.
My grades: Fox NFL Sunday, B+; the NFL Today, B.