CBS, NFL Network break new ground in prime time

Television history will be made on Thursday, September 11th as CBS debuts Thursday Night Football, the new entrant into the prime time football schedule.

Sean McManus, Chairman of CBS Sports, said at a recent media event promoting this, “It’s always exciting when the NFL season is on the horizon, and it’s especially exciting for us this year having two packages (Sunday afternoon and Thursday night. I think you can tell from that video (the ads that CBS has run for Thursday Night Football with their stars) that the entire CBS corporation is behind the Thursday night package. The NFL has successfully established Sunday afternoon, they’ve successfully established Monday night and Sunday night, now we’re working hand in hand with the NFL to establish Thursday night.

“I don’t think the CBS corporation has ever mounted a larger or more expansive promotional campaign than we have had for this. The minute we got the rights to the Thursday night package back in February, the week after the Super Bowl, we started our promotional campaign two weeks after that and have continued it ever since. We are determined to work with the NFL to ensure this is a success and we are determined to put all of our resources in front of the camera, and behind, to guarantee that success,” said McManus.

Thursday Night Football will start at 6:00 pm on the NFL Network with “NFL Total Access Kickoff” from outside the stadium. It will be hosted by Rich Eisen with analysts Michael Irvin, Marshall Faulk, and Steve Mariucci.

CBS will come on the air at 7:30 pm with “NFL Thursday Night Kickoff” and that will be live from inside the stadium. It will be hosted by James Brown, with analysts Deion Sanders and Bill Cowher. This is in keeping with the tradition set by NFL Network when they ran this game exclusively, as Eisen and the crew would be in the stadium.

Throughout the 2014 season, NFL Network and CBS analysts such as Tony Gonzalez, Kurt Warner, LaDainian Tomlinson, Willie McGinest, and Terrell Davis will appear on location on both NFL Total Access Kickoff and NFL Thursday Night Kickoff.

Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will be the announcers, replacing Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock, who did a fine job with the games on NFL Network last season.

After each game, the Mazda Postgame show will be live from the stadium, with Eisen, Irvin, Faulk, Mariucci, and Sanders doing the same, lively show they always have. The postgame show is highlighted by interviewing players from the winning side and giving them a gift bag, which varies each week and it’s always fun to see what is in it. The players now will leave their handprints on the Winning Hands wall.

Rich Eisen has worked with the NFL Network since it’s inception in 2003 and when it started Thursday Night Football in 2006. He said of witnessing the progress of Thursday night games, “We’ve been doing this since 2006. I’ve been at virtually every Thursday night game in person for the past eight years and we’re really proud of it. The league decided to put it on a network platform and keep us involved, so we’re excited about every season, this one in particular.”

On if the league can take another primetime night like Friday, Eisen said, “No, no, no, I know Mark Cuban called the NFL like hogs or whatever, it’s not gonna happen on Friday night, it’s never gonna happen on Friday night. I mean, all you have to do is look at the fine print of the history of the NFL and television is that Friday night is for high schools, that’s the way it has to be, and the NFL will never infringe on that.

“So, Thursday night is good, Saturday night college football goes crazy every single week, but there’s always that two week period after the conference championship games and before the bowl season where there is no college football and that’s when the NFL can come in with doubleheaders, it’s not gonna be every week, Saturday you got that, Sunday is what it is, and there’s always been that Monday night history, now for over 40 years. I think this is a great model, I think obviously people watch it, you can’t get enough of it.”

Eisen said of what keeps the NFL popular, “Fantasy football helps keep this sport a national sport as opposed to a regional sport. There’s always gonna be a fan sitting up in Seattle who’s wondering what’s going on with the Tennessee Titans because they’ve got one of their players on their team, and it’s always crucial in that regard. So, I think this is just another exciting piece to the puzzle that’s forming and probably going to be settled very soon.”

The games that will be simulcast on CBS and the NFL Network are:

Week 2: September 11th: Steelers at Ravens — Week 3: Buccaneers at Falcons –Week 4: September 25th: Giants at Redskins — Week 5: October 2nd: Vikings at Packers — Week 6: October 9th: Colts at Texans — Week 7: October 16th: Jets at Patriots — Week 8: October 23rd: Chargers at Broncos — Week 9: October 30th: Saints at Panthers

The games that will be exclusively on NFL Network are: Week 10: November 6th: Browns at Bengals — Week 11: November 13th: Bills at Dolphins — Week 12: November 20th: Chiefs at Raiders — Week 14: December 4th: Cowboys at Bears — Week 15: December 11th: Cardinals at Rams — Week 16: December 18th: Titans at Jaguars

There is one Saturday doubleheader on the networks’ schedule, in Week 16, on December 20th, with the Eagles at Redskins and Chargers at 49ers, one of which will appear exclusively on NFL Network, and the other one, which would be assumed to be at night, on both CBS and NFL Network.

McManus said of partnering with the NFL Network, “I also want to say how satisfying it has been to work with the NFL Network as our true partner on this. Every decision and every part of the planning has been done hand in hand with the NFL Network. New graphics, new animations, complete production scheme, combining the best talent from the NFL Network and CBS for the pregame show. It really has been a collaborative effort and the results of that will be very evident on the screen.”

McManus likened it to another major sports event that CBS jointly produces with another network, and said, “The way we have worked together with them, to be honest with you, is not dissimilar to the relationship we had with Turner on the NCAA Basketball Championship. As all of you know, we combined forces with Turner to make the production of that event bigger and better than it’s ever been, and I’m proud to say we’re doing the same thing as equal partners with the NFL Network. When you see us come on the air at 6:00 on the NFL Network on that first Thursday, September 11th, you’re going to be impressed by the job we do.”

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