Fox goes light on Favre fawning
Fox tried to avoid overproducing its coverage of Brett Favre's return to Green Bay
TBS acknowledged Chip Caray's struggles during the baseball postseason
Play-by-play man Kenny Albert had a wild 11-day stretch of travel
Each week SI.com's Richard Deitsch will report on newsmakers from the world of TV, radio and the Web.
As he relaxed at Green Bay's Radisson Hotel & Conference Center about 22 hours before the kickoff of the Packers and Vikings game at Lambeau Field, Fox Sports producer Richie Zyontz ran through his checklist of what would make a successful broadcast: Don't overproduce. Don't overtalk. Be balanced. Remember, the Packers are playing too.
"I've seen these kind of things get f----- up a lot because people overproduce it," said Zyontz, who has worked at Fox since 1994. "That's in the back of my mind and believe me as a group we have discussed it. I can't remember doing a regular-season game that was more exciting and felt bigger than this one, but we would be naive to think that this will be one of the most-watched regular-season telecasts because the Vikings are playing an NFC North game against the Packers."
I don't have to tell you the reason it was big. Brett Favre's return to Lambeau Field aired to 91 percent of the country, topping last week's Vikings-Steelers game (also on Fox) that went to 85 percent. The network drew a 17.4 average household rating, the highest rated NFL Sunday telecast for any network since Dec. 2007. The game was seen by 29.8 million viewers, the second-most watched Fox Sunday NFL telecast ever. (Fox's most-watched Sunday telecast came on Nov. 12, 1995, when 32.1 million watched the Niners defeat the Cowboys 38-20.) The Fox doubleheader averaged a 15.0 rating -- the network's highest doubleheader in 13 years -- and its Fox NFL Sunday pregame show drew a season-high 4.1 rating, the show's best performance in six years.
Zyontz's crew thankfully kept the Favre fawning to a minimum. Much of that was based on how the game played out. The Vikings led 24-3 early in the third quarter before Green Bay mounted a comeback. Unlike ESPN's Jon Gruden, an admitted Favreophile who could hardly contain himself during the network's coverage of Minnesota's 30-23 win against Green Bay on Oct. 5, Fox play-by-play announcer Thom Brennaman and analyst Troy Aikman followed Zyontz's directive and remained understated.
If there was one quibble with the broadcast -- and this is a slight quibble -- it came near the end of the fourth quarter when Brennaman sounded a little too preachy in hoping Packers fans would move on. "Hopefully, a night like tonight is a night where everybody can just move on, because the full circle has now been completed," Brennaman said. "You see him in a Vikings uniform. He plays the Packers in Minnesota. He comes here and plays the Packers at Lambeau Field. Life will move on."
Aikman thankfully brought things back to reality. "Well, I think that sounds real good," Aikman said, "but I'm not so sure life just moves on for the Green Bay Packer fans."
In fact, the most over-the-top Favre element turned out to be a valuable one for viewers. Fox had a camera stationed on the 50-yard line that was promoted as "Favre-Cam," allowing the most diehard Favre fans to follow the Vikings' quarterback every move beginning with warm-ups. The constant video stream was available on FoxSports.com and NFL.com, and offered viewers crazy enough to watch (such as yours truly) a fascinating view of the game through the eyes of an NFL quarterback. The Favre-Cam actually lasted longer than the game coverage, so those watching online saw Favre greet his former teammates and coaches after the game (which was far more interesting than the end of Cardinals-Panthers game). Other networks should think about offering a similar camera for marquee players in other sports.
Give Turner president David Levy credit for not ducking the Chip Caray question. During a TNT luncheon last week to hype the beginning of the NBA season, Levy did not duck questions from SI.com about the future of TBS' lead play-by-play baseball announcer. "Certainly, Chip made some on-the-air errors that we are well aware of, and like we do with all our sports, we will sit down in the next two to three weeks and evaluate everything. including our production and our talent," Levy said. "We always want to make our telecasts better. We add people. We subtract people. We add cameras. We take cameras off. I can't make any decisions or comments today, but we will look at it the next few weeks.
"But I do think it almost snowballed to the point where some of the sportswriters and columnists were actually missing an incredible postseason. Instead of writing about the game and the storyline and what was happening, it became about Chip. And I think they missed a lot. I'm not saying he didn't make errors. Don't get me wrong. But was it that big? Was it that big of a story? That was always my question. I'll never know the answer to that, but obviously the writers and columnists do."
With New York (the nation's No. 1 television market) and Philadelphia (No. 4) competing in the World Series, Fox had a chance for a significant rating if the championship lasted beyond five games. So far, the network is having a huge run. The first three games averaged a 10.9 with an average audience of 17.9 million. That's a 42 percent ratings gain and a 46 percent increase in viewers from last year. According to Fox, it's the best three-game average for the World Series since a 15.0 (24.3 million) in 2004. And Fox announced on Monday that Game 4 drew a 15.6 overnight rating, the highest overnight rating for any World Series game since 2004. "If we get six or seven, it'll be in the neighborhood of a Red Sox World Series," Fox Sports president Ed Goren said.
Last week Alan Sanders, who represents Fox and MSG broadcaster Kenny Albert, passed along an interesting travel note regarding his client. (Yes, agents are occasionally a force for good). During an 11-day stretch from Oct. 18 and Oct. 28, Albert embarked on a journey that would make Gulliver blush. In order, Albert called Detroit at Green Bay (for Fox TV); Rangers vs. San Jose (MSG radio); Knicks vs. Celtics (MSG TV); Knicks at Nets (MSG TV); Rangers vs. Devils (MSG radio); Vikings at Steelers (Fox); postgame coverage of Game 5 of the American League Championship Series (Fox); Rangers vs. Phoenix (MSG radio); and the Knicks vs. Heat (MSG TV). He also made a 14-hour round trip from Pittsburgh to New York to host a potential Yankees clubhouse ceremony after Game 6 of the ALCS (that game was postponed).
"It was my personal version of a 'Dream Week,' " Albert said. "I have had some crazy weeks before, including multiple two-sport doubleheaders, but this was about as bizarre and enjoyable as any stretch I can ever remember." After calling the Giants-Eagles yesterday, Albert left for Vancouver on Monday to call Tuesday night's Rangers-Canucks game.
Props to the NFL Network's Marshall Faulk for a prescient call on Titans quarterback Vince Young. "He might inject some energy into this team," Faulk said before Young led the Titans to a win over the Jaguars. "They may go out and play with a different sense of urgency."
When asked about the reception Favre would receive in Green Bay, ESPN's The Sports Reporters panelist Bob Ryan predicted something along the lines of Charles Lindbergh following his Spirit of St. Louis flight. "There is no possibility in my mind that he won't be greeted as a hero," Ryan said. "He will be treated as the hero as he was in Green Bay -- and should be." As Minneapolis Star Tribune NFL writer Judd Zulgad noted on his Twitter feed, "Favre comes onto the field for first series and gets booed big time again. You can not hear one cheer here."
In one of the more amusing Favre commentaries of the weekend, ESPN NFL analyst Keyshawn Johnson chastised "the hype machine" for "drumming things up to try to make this [Favre's return] bigger than what it really is." Johnson might be reminded that his own network hyped (correctly so, by the way) its broadcast of the Vikings-Packers last month. Sunday's game, arguably the most-anticipated regular-season game of the year, deserved the buzz and then some.
Fox smartly moved that pesky TV camera overhanging the fence at Citizens Bank Park -- the one Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez banged with his home run in Game 3 --- to a spot where it could not interfere with play. "As a precaution, we've moved the right-field foul pole camera back slightly so that the edge of the lens is completely in line with the top of the wall," Fox spokesman Lou D'Ermilio told The Associated Press before Game 4.
Sports Media Tweets of the Week
"Mike Lupica has a new novel out MILLION DOLLAR THROW! Trust me anything he writes is solid gold. Just like Mitch ALBOM and JOHN FEINSTEIN!"
"Unquestionably worst job I ever had in journalism: AP poll voter. Lots of work, no pay and your voice is entirely muted. Why do it?"
"Skip To My Lou vs. White Chocolate. Would have loved to see that matchup 10 yrs ago on a playground. Not so much now."
They Said It, Part I
"When I was in Philadelphia earlier this postseason with Cal Ripken Jr., Dennis Eckersley and Ernie Johnson for TBS, we got booed. We were just doing our show out in center field and people were walking by saying, 'You fat piece of [bleep]. ... Tell Cal he's gay. ... Ernie Johnson sucks.' I'm like, "Who the hell are these people?' We've got no part of baseball. We're doing the game and TBS stuff and these Phillies fans are just f-bombing us to death."
They Said It, Part II
"You've got to cut him. Eric Mangini needs to make a statement. His quarterback's playing terrible. I don't think I can remember a time when a quarterback only completed ... six passes and had two interceptions. Cut him. Make a statement. He looks lost out there. He has no confidence. ... I don't care how much you paid him. You've got to get rid of him."