Terry Bradshaw's Vegas musical; newest Hard Knocks
Terry Bradshaw describes himself as a long-term planner and an eternal goal-setter. He told SI.com this week that he has set an ambitious objective: to work as an NFL studio analyst for Fox into his 80s.
"It's only football, only five months out of the year -- 21 days on television," said Bradshaw, who turns 65 on Sept. 2. "I can handle that. It is a young man-driven business but I look at myself as being totally different. I don't see myself as someone who has to be relevant merely with X's and Os. I've always understood the entertainment side to it, and at 64, I see many years of still doing this."
Of course, Bradshaw is realistic. He is signed for four more years with Fox but how long he lasts on television won't be up to him. "Now it doesn't mean that Fox is going to want me," Bradshaw said, laughing. "I'm sure when Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees come out, they are going to say, we gotta replace the old guys. I'm aware of that. And if that happens, I'm fine with that.
"But I don't want to work anywhere else. If I was ever not re-signed by Fox, I would never go to another network. This is the perfect place for me. I was at CBS and that would not work for me now. Never been with NBC but they only have one game and nor are they interested in me. This is where I need to be. I like where I am. When this plays out, I play out."
This weekend, Bradshaw will be playing himself in Terry Bradshaw: America's Favorite Dumb Blond -- A Life in Four Quarters. The show debuts Friday and Saturday at the Terry Fator Theatre at The Mirage Hotel & Casino, and is a 70-minute ride through Bradshaw's life told in comedic tones and song. Three years ago, Bradshaw connected with a handful of theater producers and writers to put his life to music. The culmination of that work drops this weekend. (Here's some behind the scenes footage of Bradshaw practicing.)
"Whether it works or not, the fact that we got it to Vegas is a success," Bradshaw said. "The most flattering thing is someone did not look at me and go, "But he's old to do this."
The show navigates through Bradshaw's early life, his influences, his love of football and success and failures in Pittsburgh, his marriage failures, his early post-NFL career choices, his forays into entertainment, and his Fox career. (Bradshaw said there will be a large Fox Sports contingent watching him this weekend, including Fox NFL Sunday buddies Jimmy Johnson and Howie Long.) Among the singers performing is Bradshaw's daughter, Rachel, a singer-songwriter in Nashville. Bradshaw said performing in front of a live crowd (the theater seats 1200) won't bother him but he does work daily on keeping his anxiety levels down. (Bradshaw has been one of the most open people in sports about his bouts with depression and anxiety attacks, and his honesty has no doubt helped save some lives.)
Bradshaw said he owns the show and if it's received well, he plans to take it on the road to small towns around America (and of course back to Vegas) during the NFL's offseason. Performing has always been one of his side interests; Bradshaw also raises cattle, breeds horses, and does a lot of corporate speaking.
"The fact that you put your balls up on the table and say shoot at me, I think it's an appealing thing," Bradshaw said. "When I had burglars in my home, I was a guy who went to them. It's a natural thing for me to attack this."
(SI.com examines some of the more notable sports media stories of the past week.)
1. Rob Gehring is directing his fourth installment of the popular HBO series "Hard Knocks" this summer and the longtime NFL Films producer has two main objectives: Minimal distraction for the Bengals and finding the best stories for viewers.
The first part is tricky given the presence of a 30-person NFL Films crew and tons of production equipment. The NFL Films cameras will be everywhere at training camp -- from inside dorm rooms to the cafeteria. But LaDainian Tomlinson, who was part of the 2010 edition of Hard Knocks as a member of the Jets, said players eventually get used to it. "The hardest thing about it is getting through the first few days," said Tomlinson, now an NFL Network analyst. "After that, you kind of forget the cameras are around. But you always had to watch what you were saying and what you were doing because you don't know whether the camera is around or what it will capture. There is a bit of hesitation at times to say things or do certain things. I felt at that point in training camp you are trying to build camaraderie and the chemistry of your team so it was weird to have cameras around to capture such moments."
Those moments, of course, are why NFL fans flock to the show. HBO announced last week that the Bengals had agreed to be the featured team for the series, the second time the franchise will be subject of Hard Knocks cameras after the team was profiled in 2009. This year's series debuts on August 6 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT) and episodes will debut subsequent Tuesdays at the same time. The finale is set for Sept. 3.
Gehring said a small group of NFL Films staffers will arrive a week before the start of training camp (July 24) to scout the facility and determine where to install robotic cameras and set up office space. A half-dozen staffers including Gehring will stay the entire seven weeks with the team. The crew will typically shoot 300 hours of film weekly for a one-hour show. Gehring said he was not concerned with a repeat of the Bengals given the roster turnover (about 80 percent) since 2009.
"If anything, it helps you because the nuts and bolts people in the organization like those in travel and catering already know the drill," said Gehring, who previously directed the Hard Knocks series involving the Chiefs, Cowboys and Dolphins.
The good news for Hard Knocks is that the show has gotten big enough where those who cover the team regularly produce stories prior to the show's arrival about who could make for an interesting character. Gehring's staff reads everything it can about the team and talks to coaches (and beat writers) about positional battles and those who are on the edge of making the team. As for storylines, Gehring said nothing is predetermined though he cited Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton as a potential storyline along with who plays opposite star receiver A.J. Green and the competition at tailback.
"You have guys like [defensive tackle] Geno Atkins," Gehring said. "I don't know if he will be a story or not but I do know that he is a guy well respected as a player but not a whole lot of people know who he is."
Interestingly, Tomlinson said he found the coaches ramped it up far more in front of the cameras than the players. "They talked a little louder and enthusiastic, getting on guys a little more," Tomlinson said, laughing.
Hard Knocks launched with the Ravens in 2001 and took a hiatus between 2003 and 2006. The series resumed in 2007 with the Chiefs followed by the Cowboys (2008), Bengals (2009), Jets (2010), and Dolphins (2012). The show has won multiple Sports Emmys for production, and last summer marked the first time the series premiered on Tuesday nights. HBO said the 2012 edition averaged 4.1 million viewers per episode, making it the second most-watched Hard Knocks in a decade.
2. The NBA is in a great negotiation position with its television partners given the final ratings of this year's NBA Finals (see below) and having its transcendent player (LeBron James) under the age of 30. The Sports Business Journal reported last month that negotiations on future television packages were expected to begin at the conclusion of the NBA playoffs. That's two years in advance of the current television deals expiring with ESPN and Turner Sports. Both networks want to extend their relationship with the league, and Fox Sports also has plans to make a run at acquiring NBA television rights. (Soon-to-be NBA commissioner Adam Silver was publicly introduced to the crowd at the Fox Sports 1 upfronts last March.)
Both publicly and privately, ESPN executives have emphasized how important the NBA is to their programming. Asked on Saturday about the state of negotiations, an ESPN spokesperson told SI.com, "We are in constant communication with the NBA and value our partnership. They are well aware of our desire to continue it for many years to come." It would be stunning to see ESPN get outbid for the NBA. The battle will be between Turner and Fox, though the NBA should be happy with how Turner has promoted its product.
"The NBA is core and key product for us," said ESPN president John Skipper in an interview last month. "The league is ascendant and the interest in the NBA at least during our tenure is at an all-time high. Ratings are kind of back to [Michael] Jordan levels. You have great teams. Players, big cities, I don't think I can state it more bluntly: The NBA is core and key product for ESPN."
2a. Skipper and his posse were no doubt dancing in the streets of Bristol, Ct. when the viewership numbers for Game 7 of the NBA Finals came in. The game averaged 26.3 million viewers, the second biggest audience ever for an NBA game on ABC. Viewership peaked between 11:30-11:45 p.m. ET with an average of 34,247,000 million viewers.
2b. The NBA Finals averaged 17,667,000 viewers over its seven games, the most-watched series since 2004 and a five percent increase from the Heat's five-game series win over the Thunder in 2012 (16,855,000 viewers). Had the series ended in six games, Heat-Spurs would have been down about five percent from the last six-game NBA Finals (Mavericks-Heat, in 2011).
2c. The top ten rated markets for Game 7: San Antonio (46.4 household rating), Miami (44.2); West Palm Beach (31.4), Austin (23.4), Memphis (21.3), New Orleans (21.2), Norfolk (21.1), Oklahoma City (20.8), Orlando (20.6) and Cleveland (20.5).
2d. ESPN reported that ESPN Deportes drew an audience of 268,700 viewers for Game 7 of the NBA Finals. The network said it was the most-watched and highest-rated NBA game ever on Spanish language television. The Finals averaged 142,000 Hispanic viewers on ESPN Deportes for the entire seven-game series.
2e. The 20.6 million viewers who watched Game 6 set an ABC record for the most-watched non-clinching game telecast ever. The audience peaked from midnight to 12:15 a.m. ET with an average of 28.7 million viewers.
3. One of John Strong's earliest broadcasting influences came from an unexpected place: The soundtrack of a FIFA video game. As a seventh-grader, Strong said that he was transfixed by the commentary of the well-known English soccer broadcaster John Motson, whose voice provided the soundtrack for "FIFA: Road To The World Cup 98."
Young American soccer fans will now be hearing Strong's voice. With Arlo White moving to Premier League duties this summer, NBC Sports has named Strong its lead MLS announcer. The Portland-based Strong had served for years as the TV voice of the Portland franchise (even before its MLS days) as well as calling selected UEFA Europa League and CONCACAF games for Fox Soccer.
Starting in July, Strong will call NBC's national MLS game through the rest of the season. His first game as NBC's official lead MLS broadcaster comes on July 6 at 11 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network with Vancouver-Seattle. (Credit Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald for predicting back in April this would happen.)
How did the assignment come about? NBC Sports management asked White two years ago for backup broadcaster suggestions and Strong ranked high on his list. Strong called six MLS games for NBC Sports last year, mostly when White was at the London Olympics, and when White was given the plum Premier League assignment, Strong was asked by NBC Sports soccer producer Pierre Moosa if he wanted White's old job. "It was a very emphatic yes," said Strong.
Away from the pitch, Strong's day-to-day life is soccer heavy: His wife, the former Nicole Wilcox, led the Women's Premier Soccer League in scoring in 2011, and has various soccer coaching certificates. "If I say something intelligent about tactics, it is probably something I have stolen from her," Strong said. He cited the veteran soccer broadcaster JP DellaCamera for giving him career advice and sharing wisdom.
"From a day in and day out broadcast job, this is my dream job," Strong said. "To be in this position is mind-blowing."
3a. NBC is also expanding the roles of Premier League studio analysts Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe. They will both contribute to MLS coverage as game analysts beginning in July.
3b. MLS analyst Kyle Martino has been assigned to the Premier League studio coverage working alongside studio host Rebecca Lowe.
4. During his playing days in San Diego, Tomlinson was tagged by some Chargers beat reporters as "the last honest man." NFL Network executives have been impressed by his work and he'll have an expanded presence this fall on the network's "Total Access" show as well as a to-be-determined role on its Sunday morning programming block.
"Doing TV was certainly challenging, especially my first year working with very experienced people like Sterling Sharpe and Michael Lombardi," said Tomlinson, who was hired by the NFL Network in 2012. "It was intimidating at times because they had so much information and they knew how to deliver that information to keep people engaged. I learned a lot my first year. Going into my second year, I feel better prepared for television."
Tomlinson travels during the season from his home Dallas (he and his wife have two young children) and he has a vocal coach to help him with the mechanics of broadcasting. Said Tomlinson: "I know the game. I could talk about running backs, quarterbacks, the defensive side of the ball and I know coverages. This isn't a factor for me. For me, it is making people interested in what I am saying, my delivery, and my enthusiasm to keep people engaged. There is a certain art to learning to communicate."
Tomlinson said he approaches his broadcasting career on only on a yearly basis. "I certainly believe I am capable of doing it for a long time but whether I want to do is going to be determined by family," he said. "Everything for me is determined by family."
4a. Tomlinson twice led the NFL in rushing (2006, 2007) and was named the league's Most Valuable Player in 2006. He's a sure bet for the Hall of Fame at some point. Asked how often he thinks about Canton, he said he doesn't. "Of course people always talk about it to me -- friends, associates, people in media," Tomlinson said. "Honestly, I don't think about it. Everything has a time. If I'm fortunate enough to go in, it would be a dream come true. But I'm not going to sit here and dwell on it and make it more than what it was. I don't think I should be broadcasting having a chance to get to the Hall of Fame or that I should be in the Hall of Fame. That's for other people to judge and we will see what happens."
5. The skit making fun of former Saints player Steve Gleason by Atlanta sports-talk radio show "Mayhem in the A.M" on 790 The Zone was as low rent as I've heard on sports-talk radio. The one silver lining produced by the callous and cruel bit was that it prompted a significant increase in donations to Gleason's charity.
6. Fox's baseball ratings have tanked so far this season. Sports Business Journal's Austin Karp reported that the network's 10 baseball telecasts (not including Saturday's) had averaged 2.4 million viewers, down 11 percent from the same period last year. Karp also reported that Fox had experienced double-digit percentage declines among all key male demos. Fox Sports Senior vice president Mike Mulvihill told Karp that the network had "backloaded our schedule" so we'll see if the numbers can rebound.
6a. NBC's Game 5 coverage of the Stanley Cup Final drew a 4.0 overnight rating, down from a 4.6 overnight for Game 4.
6b. NBC averaged 6.459 million viewers for its Game 4 Stanley Cup final coverage, and the game peaked 8.192 million viewers in overtime. The network said it was the most-watched Stanley Cup Final Game 4 in history.
7. Among the memorable pieces this week:
•Stephen Rodrick's Rolling Stone profile of Serena Williams continues to make news.
•Deadspin's Tommy Craggs delivered a killer piece on what Howie Schwab -- who was dropped by ESPN without warning after 26 years of service -- meant to the network's soul.
•Gary Smith profiled an Ohio high school football coach who saved lives of students during a school shooting in 2012. Here's a podcast with Smith on the story.
•Smoke Monster? Just as ESPN NBA Countdown analyst Bill Simmons attempted to talk about The Decision following Game 7, ESPN's feed mysteriously went black.
Three non-sports piece of note:
•This piece by Alan Sepinwall on the genius of the late James Gandolfini is sensational.
•So was this Gandolfini reflection from New York Magazine's Matt Zoller Seitz.
8. ESPN management clearly believes there is serious interest in tennis in the U.S. given the tonnage of its Wimbledon coverage. The network will air 140 hours (and 800 hours on ESPN3) from the start of the tournament through the final ball. Among the highlights: ESPN and ESPN2 will both be live for three days (July 1-3) to start the second week of play. ESPN will focus on Centre Court while ESPN2 airs matches from Court One and around the grounds.
8a. The usual ESPN crew will be in London (sans Chris McKendry), including studio hosts Chris Fowler, Hannah Storm and Mike Tirico. Fowler, Darren Cahill, Cliff Drysdale, Chris Evert, Mary Joe Fernandez, Brad Gilbert, John McEnroe, Patrick McEnroe, Tom Rinaldi and Pam Shriver will call matches. LZ Granderson and Rinaldi will serve as feature reporters.
8b. Ratings: ESPN/ESPN2 coverage averaged 981,000 viewers for its Wimbledon coverage in 2012, up from 596,000 the previous year when the coverage was solely on ESPN2. Last year's Gentlemen's Championship -- featuring Roger Federer defeating Andy Murray -- drew a 2.9 rating, an ESPN record for tennis.
8c. Sirius XM Radio will have live play-by-play of Wimbledon on Sirius channel 158 and XM channel 202. The network will air up to13 hours of live Wimbledon coverage daily — from 4:00 am ET through the end of each day's play — via the excellent Live @ Wimbledon coverage.
8d. Check out this fantastic answer from ESPN tennis analyst John McEnroe when asked on a recent conference call what it meant to him that Nelson Mandela listened to his famous 1980 Wimbledon finals match with Bjorn Borg from his cell on Robben Island: "I felt like a complete jerk that he listened to the match at the Robben Island prison when I was whining about [line] calls," McEnroe said. "It certainly gave me some perspective about the situation I was in. I shouldn't have had a whole lot to complain about. At the same time I feel immensely proud that in some way I was able to connect with people beyond your wildest dreams... I felt ludicrous him saying he was honored meeting me. It was amazing he didn't seem to have an ounce of bitterness or resentment towards anyone when I was lucky enough to meet him. It was certainly a moment I will never forget. I gave him my racquet that I played with at [Wimbledon]. I saw him pick it up and hold it. I felt lucky that I was able to be part of that."
9. The Association for Women in Sports Media honored Lisa Olson this weekend with its Mary Garber Pioneer Award, an award that has significance here given that one of my mentors, ESPN news editor Sandy Rosenbush, was honored with the award last year. Olson is a gifted storyteller, a stand-up journalist, and this terrific column by Arizona Republic columnist Paola Boivin pays tribute to Olson's career.
9a. Awful Announcing examined the future of ESPNNews.
9b. Sports Media Watch gets under the hood on the NBA Finals ratings.
10. NBA TV's always fun "Open Court roundtable show will have an NBA Draft-focused show this Tuesday. The program features commentators Charles Barkley, Brent Barry, Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Shaquille O'Neal, Steve Smith and Chris Webber. NBA TV will also air its first-ever NBA TV Mock Draft 2013 special on Wednesday night, with host Vince Cellini and analysts David Aldridge, Greg Anthony, Seth Davis and Scott Howard-Cooper.
10a. Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel and ESPN PR staffer David Scott are co-screenwriters on the feature film "Life of A King," which stars Cuba Gooding Jr. as a Washington D.C. chess coach. The two wrote the piece 10 years ago and it premiered Saturday at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
10b. The Las Vegas Sun had a strong Q&A with Bradshaw that went in-depth on his show for those interested.
10c. NBC Sports Network will extend its Stanley Cup Final pregame show tonight to 90 minutes. It begins at 6:30 p.m. ET, with Russ Thaler, Anson Carter and Jeremy Roenick on-site outside of Boston's TD Garden.
10d. For those with access to Canada's TSN, I highly recommend the upcoming documentary "Neutral Zone," a profile of the Canada-Israel Hockey School featuring students from Metula, Israel (predominantly Jewish) and the Golan Heights (predominantly Arab). SI's Michael Farber reported and narrates the documentary, along with TSN's Dave Hodge. The doc debuts Tuesday on TSN at 9:00 p.m. ET.
10e. The Dan Patrick Show has traditionally been the radio home for departed ESPN employees to hold an exit interview of sorts after leaving Bristol, and Patrick (who works as a Sports Illustrated columnist) has never been shy about airing his many grievances with his former employer. For years, ESPN has generally kept its talent from guesting on non-ESPN Radio affiliates but over the past couple of months we've see ESPN warhorses Chris Berman, Bill Simmons and Dick Vitale appear on Patrick's radio program. How would ESPN classify its current policy regarding ESPN staffers appearing on the Dan Patrick Show? Said ESPN PR comandante Chris LaPlaca: "There is no "policy." It's simply the way it has worked out the last few weeks."