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Fluff beats facts in pregame world

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


Sammy Hagar rocks and rolls on CBS' NFL Today, Jillian Barberie provides weather information like a cheerleader on Fox NFL Sunday and Jay Mohr hones his stand-up act on Fox Sports Net's NFL This Morning.

When John Madden said the difference between pregame broadcasts and games is that one is a "show" and the other is not, producers must have been listening intently. Nothing appears to be off limits in the world of NFL studio shows.

But when does it get to be too much? Back in the days of Brent Musburger, Irv Cross, Phyllis George and Jimmy the Greek, studio shows were a half hour with emphasis on information.

Now studio shows, in large part, are one step from being cabarets. Here's a rundown:

ESPN's NFL Sunday Countdown, 11 a.m.

The Good: For the serious-minded fan, ESPN's NFL Sunday Countdown is the best. There's laughter between analysts, but only during brief exchanges. The humor seems natural and is understated.

The information and insight on strategies and matchups is unparalleled, and the features show an incredible degree of thought. One of the best things is the analysts seem to be truly plugged in. You can tell these guys are making calls instead of talking off the cuff.

The Bad: A two-hour pregame is a lot to digest if you plan to watch football for 71/2 hours.

The Ugly: No major qualms about the fine effort delivered by Chris Berman and company.

NFL Fox Sunday, noon.

The Good: This show also delivers quality, but it becomes increasingly more difficult to mine through the superfluous bells and whistles to get to the good stuff.

Terry Bradshaw remains one of the preeminent voices, and I think he's one of the big reasons Fox is dominating the ratings (17 percent advantage over CBS).

The Bad: Do we really need to see Barberie slapping her thigh? Somewhere in her weather forecasts is valuable information. Cheesecake used to be just a dessert.

The Ugly: Jimmy Kimmel's comedy is okay, but when he starts tossing (and receiving) personal insults, it's a little too much. If the focus can stay on football, which has some ready-made humor if you know the game, we would be better off.

CBS' NFL Today, noon.

The Good: I love Mike Ditka's tell-it-like-it-is approach, and Craig James always makes a point of being prepared. But the set seems to have too many voices.

The Bad: Like the Bucs offense, the show still is searching for its identity. The goal is to provide more energy to a set that seems staid, and having an audience as a backdrop in New York works to an extent. But CBS still needs to do more tinkering with the lineup.

The Ugly: Hagar's music or a San Antonio Zoo elephant picking games is a little too far afield. The network did interviews in the crowd one week, and Buzz Aldrin just happened to be in the audience. Too contrived. Sometimes, it seems they're trying too hard.

CNN/SI's NFL Preview, 10 a.m.

The Good: Trev Alberts' outspokenness is making him a rising star and Ron Meyer is a nice complement. The show puts the onus on features and reports, something from which the networks would benefit.

The Bad: One week, the hourlong show was trimmed to 30 minutes so we could see a debate between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio. Yecch!!

The Ugly: High marks for CNN/SI gives it an N/A here.

Fox Sports Net's NFL This Morning, 10 a.m.

The Good: The only time good will be in a sentence about this show, it will be coupled with riddance.

The Bad: This show is like an omelet with too many ingredients. When you try to fold it over, it just turns into a mess. Host Chris Mohr swings back and forth between three analysts (Marv Levy, Jackie Slater and Chris Spielman) in the front, and four analysts (Bob Golic, Billy Ray Smith, Sean Jones and comedian Jay Mohr) in the "back room."

Some of these people, like Slater, Levy and Spielman, may have something worthwhile to add, but there doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason. A prevailing problem among all shows is analysts talking over each other, but on this show they have raised it to a horrid art form.

The Ugly: Fox Television Sports chairman David Hill said of the show, "It may be the biggest disaster of all time."

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