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Posted: Monday February 2, 2009 1:45AM; Updated: Monday February 2, 2009 9:52AM
Bill Griffith Bill Griffith >

Grading the Super Bowl broadcast

Story Highlights

NBC executives' extensive planning was rewarded with a great broadcast

There's no better front man for a big event than Bob Costas

Matt Lauer's Obama interview was a bit informal, but revealing

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Jerome Bettis did a decent job, but there's something fishy about that hair and beard.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Nothing beats covering the Super Bowl. For me, that didn't mean watching from a seat in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium. I took it all in from my personal ottoman empire -- 10.5 hours spent on a comfortable couch with an oversized hassock at the ready. NBC game producer Fred Gaudelli said his worst nightmare in planning the telecast of Super Bowl XLIII would be to have a blowout -- of course, that didn't happen. The see-saw fourth quarter was the cap on a wonderful day of viewing, one that should give NBC both ratings and critical success.

With that, on to the grades.

The Big Guy

Let's start at the top. Dick Ebersol is chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. Make no mistake, it all starts with him. The boss sees the big picture, makes great hires, and has both great anticipation and great feel when it comes to the big decisions. All he needed after the preparation was complete was a close game for big ratings. You have to think that will be the case.

Grade: C. That's the Roman numeral for 100. Perfection.

"Road to the Super Bowl''

Just as coaches like to script the first plays of a game to make sure their team gets off to a good start, TV executives want a major production to get off on the right foot. Pregame producer Sam Flood did just that by scheduling a sure thing at the top: NFL Films' Road to the Super Bowl.

Patriots' fans had to groan when the first clip was of quarterback Tom Brady's season-ending knee injury, but NFL Films used that to set up the season of the unexpected. It may not have been a perfect show but that was the point: It wasn't a perfect season except for the perfectly imperfect 0-16 Lions.

Grade: C (That's the Roman numeral again, thank you)

The Pregame Show

The theme of this one was simple "Put your people in position to succeed.'' That's TV production 101, but the NBC production folks took it to the Ph.D. level under the guidance of Flood. Ebersol had brought in an all-star cast both from within and without the NBC family. Thus segues were vital, including a celebrity Segway bit with Mall Cop Paul Blart.

Grade: A

Captain Costas

He's the primary on-air personality at NBC Sports for a reason, and he's at the top of his game. Ebersol couldn't have a better front man. Bob Costas never lacked for the ability to ad lib, interview and get in and out of bits effortlessly. Sunday, he had good people around him and he helped make them better. His Bruce Springsteen interview was interesting and filled with back-and-forth quips. Pressed by Costas to reveal the halftime play list, Springsteen said, "There's an omerta clause in the contract." The Boss was also reflective: "Rock carries a hint of immortality which is sort of its lovely poison ... the distorting but lovely power that makes time stop for three minutes." Springsteen did a promo for The Danny Fund in memory of band member and "lifelong friend'' Danny Federici, who died of melanoma last year.

Costas later grilled NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about officiating, technology, concussions and overtime. He was at the ready when NBC briefly lost the feed during Matt Lauer's live interview with President Barack Obama. His taped interview with Kurt Warner was vintage Costas-draws out-his subject's-feelings-on-football, life and even retirement ("It's 50-50 that I'll be back, win or lose.") Later, after a Ben Roethlisberger interview, he quoted a bullfighter poem to the effect that critics line the stands but only the man who fights the bull really knows what's happening.

Grade: Another of those Roman numeral C's

The Little Big Show Redux

Keith Olbermann (MSNBC) and Dan Patrick (Sports Illustrated), two of the cornerstones upon which ESPN built SportsCenter, were reunited on the set, but each was out and about, too. One of the afternoon's first stops was the ready-but-still-empty locker rooms -- the first time the covering network was in a pregame Super Bowl locker room. Olbermann teamed with Tiki Barber to work the Cardinals' room while Olbermann and Jerome Bettis were reporting from the Steelers' room. Later, they did separate week-by-week highlight packages on the Steelers and Cardinals. Well done. They get extra credit for working well with Barber and Bettis, and Olbermann gets a nod for tossing out "peripatetic" to describe the nomadic Cardinals franchise.

Grade: A-

Tiki & The Bus

Does anyone else get the impression that Jerome Bettis' hair and beard are painted on? Even in HD it had that look. Bettis was able to schmooze with Steelers on the field before the game and sum up their feelings (Hines Ward is OK; Ben is going to be nervous but he should be unaffected. He gave me a wink.) Bettis also did a fair Mean Joe Greene imitation in a pregame piece with a young award winner for the NFL-sponsored youth exercise initiative. Tiki was extremely smooth. He had a newsworthy taped feature with Anquan Boldin with medical details. Among his nuggets: "Arizona's coaches will know their players are OK if they're loose."

Grade: B

CNBC Business Brief with Maria Bartiromo

This was a head-scratcher. I was looking for which conference did better in tough market times. Instead, she told us the stock market fell for the fourth:straight week.

Grade: D for Dow

BRAVO cook-off with Tom Colicchio

The bit was saved only because Bettis and Barber, obviously hungry, pounced on some of the food.

Grade: C for Colicchio

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