Interviewing Obama on Super Bowl Sunday; Billick, Dierdorf woes
Scott Pelley has interviewed politicians and pop stars, royalty and rogues, and his reporting has taken him from Afghanistan to the former Yugoslavia. But his assignment on Feb. 3 will be unique for the career newsman: He will interview the President of the United States on Super Bowl Sunday.
It is an assignment that will be analyzed in real time, and those critics will come in large numbers given the passion of sports fans and their growing numbers on social media. Bill O'Reilly's pre-Super Bowl interview in 2011 with Obama drew more than 17 million viewers on Fox and last year Today show host Matt Lauer drew a touch less for his interview with the President. "I've done many interviews with Presidents over the years, but I have never done one associated with the Super Bowl," said Pelley, the anchor of the "CBS Evening News." "We will be talking to the President about whatever the current issues of the moment are on that day."
Pelley says the goal is simple: Make news. That is always the objective when interviewing a U.S. President and Pelley will likely have 10 to 15 minutes to do it. Last year Obama used the forum to tell Americans he deserved to be re-elected as well as addressing escalating concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons program. The White House has not formally accepted CBS's invitation but Obama has done a live interview on the network hosting the Super Bowl every year of his tenure.
Pelley said he plans to ask Obama at least one question about football, "and you have to ask a question about the Super Bowl -- it's appropriate in the context." But Pelley, whose news show will air live from New Orleans nightly during the week leading up Super Bowl, said Super Bowl pregame show viewers should not expect sports to dominate the interview. "Every American is interested in what the President has to say on a number of issues and we will use this opportunity," Pelley said.
Given the interview with Obama is still three weeks away, Pelley said the questions will reflect the news cycle of the moment. But he does have a strategy in mind for his first question with the President. "I always try to ask them a question they are not expecting right off the top because it gives the interview a certain action, it gives the interview a certain intensity, and helps the person that I am interviewing get up on their game," Pelley said. "I don't know what the question is going to be but I'll think of something."
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the weekend.)
1. Baltimore's double-overtime victory over Denver on Saturday was seen by an average of 35.3 million viewers, the largest audience for a Saturday AFC divisional playoff game in 26 years (CBS says its records only go back as far as the 1987-88 season). The game's rating (20.1) was up nine percent from last year's (Denver-New England) divisional game, and CBS said the average viewership peaked with 40.8 million viewers between 8:00-8:30 p.m ET.
1a. With ESPN announcer Brent Musburger's comments over Katherine Webb creating news -- as I wrote, I thought ESPN apologizing on behalf of Brent was an overreaction by the company -- I asked Fox Sports president Eric Shanks where he believed the line should be drawn regarding commenting on the appearance of someone in the crowd. "It's not something that is part of a sporting event," Shanks said. "I don't think we would ever direct our guys to specifically talk about how good or how bad-looking somebody is in the stands. It's never come up so I don't think there is a line."
1b. Through an ESPN spokesperson, Musburger turned down Sports Illustrated's request for an interview about his Webb comments.
1c. Baltimore Sun television writer David Zurawik has long been a critic of CBS NFL analyst Dan Dierdorf -- and a strong one at that. While I'm not as down on the analyst as Zurawik, I found myself annoyed at how Dierdorf bludgeoned Saturday's epic game between the Ravens and Broncos. (Dierdorf was quite the subject on Twitter during the game). Throughout the airing, especially after touchdowns, Dierdorf never let the broadcast breathe, injecting observation after observation after observation after observation after observation after observation. The analyst has been around long enough to know when less can be more and viewers suffered at the hands of his epic windbaggery. Shame, too, because the direction and production provided by Bob Fishman and Mark Wolff was sensational, especially the close-up of Broncos kicker Matt Prater slipping on a 52-yard field goal right before halftime.
1d. The Fox Sports announcing team of Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick called Sunday's Seattle-Atlanta divisional playoff game, a notable shift after Fox's traditional No. 2 team of Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa had been given that assignment in years past. During a conference call with reporters, Shanks, channeling his inner UN Secretary-General, said that Brennaman and Billick had reached nearly the same amount of viewers as Albert, Johnson and Siragusa this year and that the network did not necessarily view either team as a No. 2. "We viewed both of those crews for the last couple of years as both tremendous crews to follow Joe [Buck] and Troy [Aikman]," Shanks said. "I guess it was a bit of a shock to me that people are talking about it. The way we run this place is everybody is going to be rewarded for a job well done and we thought that Thom and Brian and the whole crew did a great job this year. Their body of work all season said they deserved to do a playoff game."
1e. Billick is the brother-in-law of Falcons coach Mike Smith and I asked Fox Sports how it viewed this relationship regarding disclosure to the viewer. "We don't see that there's an obligation, no more than if you think that every announcer must declare before every telecast they work whether they rooted for one of the participating teams as a kid, played on one in the past, calls or called their games locally, or is friendly with a player, coach or executive on one team or another," said Fox spokesperson Dan Bell.
"In addition, there have been numerous examples of announcers calling events in which relatives were participating: Ned Jarrett's call of Dale Jarrett's Daytona 500 win; Bob Griese's call of Brian Griese in Rose Bowl; Darrell Waltrip analyzing races his brother was racing in; Mike Golic talking Notre Dame football with two kids there playing. Brian has become one of the elite game analysts in the NFL. If we thought for a second that this relationship would impact his analysis of this game in any way, he would not been given this assignment."
1f. Speaking of Billick, he'll no doubt want the fourth quarter back from the Falcons-Seahawks game, a mistake-laden final couple of minutes that drew the attention of NFL players (Tweeted Vikings punter Chris Kluwe: "I don't know why people are saying Seattle didn't have a timeout, the TV clearly showed them having two. Oh that's right, Billick is stupid") and sports media writers ("Brian Billick said a lot of really weird stuff during last few minutes of Seahawks-Falcons game," said Newsday's Neil Best).
2. NBC will air 70 NHL regular-season games across NBC and NBC Sports Network this season including 15 games on NBC, the most regular-season games ever for that network. The coverage begins on Jan. 19 and 20 with three games on NBC and one on NBC Sports Network. NBC will open its coverage at 3 p.m. ET on Jan.19 with the L.A. Kings' banner raising followed by regional coverage of the Kings-Blackhawks (3:25 p.m. ET) or Flyers-Penguins (3:35 p.m. ET). The next day, NBC will air Flyers-Sabres at 12:35 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network will begin its season that night with Coyotes-Blackhawks (10 p.m. ET.)
In an interview with SI.com on Sunday night, NBC play-by-play announcer Mike Emrick predicted that the opening games would be played at a very high tempo. "I think there will be incredible energy -- kids are on realistic sugar highs," Emrick said.
As for whether the television audience will come back, Emrick is convinced they will. "There are passionate fans that call into [sports-talk] shows and complain about the sport and say they won't come back," Emrick said. "But at the end of the day, it's a great sport and I think they will come. So you can say I am one of the radicals who believes they will come back right away. I hope I will be proven right."
Among other NBC/NBCSN highlights:
• NBC is pitching Wednesday night as rivalry night on the NBC Sports Network and the schedule will feature traditional rivalries such as Bruins-Canadiens and Flyers-Penguins.
• On Feb. 17 NBC and the NBC Sports Network will air nine hours of coverage, including three games and six teams. The first two broadcasts on NBC feature the Penguins at Sabres (12:30 p.m. ET) and Kings at Blackhawks (3:30 p.m. ET). The Capitals at Rangers will air at 6 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
• NBC will debut a state-of-the-art International Broadcast Center from Stamford, Conn where its hockey pre and post game shows will be filmed.
• The NHL and NBC will once again utilize flex scheduling, which allows the two entities to select from up to four games on Sunday afternoons. At least 13 days prior to the scheduled games, the NHL and NBC will announce which game will air.
3. The NHL Network abdicated journalistic responsibility during the labor dispute -- it opted not to cover it -- so the good news for the network is that it can return to covering the games. They'll air 78 live games during the regular season, with a focus on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night games. The schedule features eight double-headers, seven triple-headers and one quadruple-header. The regular-season coverage begins January 19 at 7:00 p.m. ET. with Rangers at Bruins.
4. Imagine an ESPN show centered around Rob Parker and other guests chatting inside a barbershop? Well, as spectacularly bad an idea as that sounds, multiple sources told SI.com that Parker was pitching the concept to First Take producers a couple of months ago and told some staffers that ESPN management was going to let him shoot a pilot. Prior to Parker being let go for his comments about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, there was no debate about ESPN wanting to expand the First Take franchise. The network announced in November that First Take was being expanded to Saturdays with a show hosted by Parker and Parker said on his Facebook page that if show did well, it had the opportunity to become a regular option on the network. Asked by SI.com on Friday about the viability of a Parker-led Barbershop show, an ESPN spokesperson said, "We review many ideas but had no plans to pursue this particular show concept."
5. There has been speculation in the Chicago market and among Notre Dame alumni about the makeup of next year's Notre Dame football broadcast team on NBC. The discussion has centered on whether longtime play-by-play announcer Tom Hammond will return, or be replaced by someone such as Dan Hicks, who has occasionally filled in on the broadcast. I asked NBC Sports if there would be a booth switch for Notre Dame next season. Responded an NBC spokesperson: "It's premature to speculate about our 2013 college football production as we are nine months from the beginning of the season. We will be evaluating all production elements this offseason, as we do annually." Read into that what you will.
6. The analysts at the NFL Network love to make predictions and these came prior to the divisional round:
The good: "First On The Field" analyst LaDainian Tomlinson: "The combination of [Colin] Kaepernick's running ability and Frank Gore is going to give the Packers problems. Green Bay won't stop the running game."
The not-so-good: Tomlinson again: "Joe Flacco won't play well; he hasn't played well on the road all year."
7. Among the memorable sports pieces this week:
• The Lance Armstrong scandal ended in vindication for David Walsh, the journalist who first accused him of doping to win the Tour de France. Read an amazing piece here from Walsh:
• The New York Times reporter A.G. Sulzberger wrote a beautiful piece about two adventurers competing to set a hang gliding distance record.
• Grantland's Brian Phillips brilliantly described the Top 10 Sports Apologies (That Never Happened).
• The New York Times columnist Nick Kristof examined the link between the rape and murder of a young women in Delhi, India and the accusations of a rape in Steubenville, Ohio.
• The sports front page of Sunday's Denver Post captured the pain felt by Broncos fans everywhere.
• SI's Tom Verducci on why he'll never vote for a known steroid user for the Hall of Fame.
Here are two brilliant non-sports pieces I can't recommend enough:
• New York Times Magazine writer Stephen Rodrick wrote a brilliant fly-on-the-wall examination of what happens when you cast Lindsay Lohan for a movie.
• What happens when a celebrity musician reads your blog post in which you crushed him? Well, this happens, if the musician is Richard Marx.
8. ESPN reporter George Smith, who covered a multitude of sports and issues including the NFL, the Olympics and the Penn State story, has left the network for WOIO-TV in Cleveland. "George is a true pro, and a great guy to hang out with as well," said ESPN colleague Stan Verrett. "We will miss him."
9. NBC Sports and Showtime NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth gave an interesting answer recently about how the NFL should employ team doctors. "I think there should be two doctors," said Collinsworth on Showtime's Inside The NFL. "I think there should be a team doctor and there should be a players' doctor that is voted on every team. And if either one of those doctors are uncomfortable with the player playing in the game for any reason they can go to the head coach and say X, Y, Z should be out of the game and that automatically disqualifies him from the game. Because as we speak right now -- I've never liked the whole concept of team doctor anyway -- doctors are in a relationship with these teams that sometimes is a bit financial and sometimes is a bit professional."
10. Miscellaneous File: ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale will be inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Awards (NSSA) Hall of Fame on June 8-10. The organization also named NBC Sports host Dan Patrick as its National Sportscaster of the Year.
10a. Charlie Brotman, the Washington D.C. public relations institution who was the original PR director for the Washington Senators, will once again (for the 15th consecutive time) serve as the official announcer for the Presidential inaugural parade. A native Washingtonian, Brotman turned 85 on Dec. 30.
10b. TNT's Charles Barkley does not believe Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins will change his ways soon. "Talent is not his problem," Barkley said. "You can't continually do stupid stuff. At some point you have to grow up. He's got it all [talent-wise] but he isn't ever going to get it. I've been around the NBA for 30 years and I've seen guys who have this type of talent and we spend their whole career saying, 'when will he get it?'"