The NFL Pregame Shows Suck. Here's How to Save Them.

I think that one of the reasons I have really come to enjoy watching the NHL on NBC is the fact that because hockey is seen as a minor sport, it is thus not deemed worthy of a pregame show. There’s no hour long monstrosity with a blow-dried host and an interchangeable desk full of inarticulate ex-jocks laughing and shouting and making absolutely no sense.

This doesn’t happen with hockey. And as much as I hope hockey regains its status as one of America’s top four sports – it should be three as the NBA has become almost unwatchable – I kind of hope it retains its cult status because that means the games will be safe to watch.

I bring this up in light of last week’s announcement that Dan Patrick would be rejoining his old tag team partner Keith Olbermann on NBC’s Football Night in America pregame and halftime shows – I would’ve commented last week, but I was in New York City, I didn’t have my computer, and all of the New York sports talk shows were consumed by A-Rod and Madonna.

It’s not the teaming of Patrick and Olbermann to which I object. I don’t think that anyone who watched these two in their prime doing ESPN’s SportsCenter would object to the reuniting of this pair. The objection is to the show on which they’ll be working. And that’s an hour-long program being hosted by Bob Costas with ex-jock contributors Cris Collinsworth, Tiki Barber and Jerome Bettis, and very special guest star, Sports Illustrated’s supposed football guru, Peter King. That’s an hour-long show which goes from highlights to so-called jock analysis to previews to reviews. From the mundane to the absurd.

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That’s an hour out of which Patrick and Olbermann will get, at most, about ten minutes to do their magic. An hour of which will be predominantly spent with the ex-jocks. And I ask, in the two years that he’s been on the show, has Jerome Bettis ever contributed anything insightful, or even useful? And Barber is glib, but he acts as if he’d rather be over at the Today Show. They contribute absolutely nothing to helping understand the game of football.

And while this criticism is directed at NBC’s show, the same can be said for those laughing and shouting idiots over at Fox. Some of you youngsters might not remember this, but at one point, Terry Bradshaw actually provided insightful commentary as a color analyst in a CBS game booth – man, that was a long time ago. Can anyone remember the last time he said something significant about football? Same with his cohorts Jimmy Johnson and Howie Long. CBS is no better, and don’t even get me started on the travesty that is ESPN’s two-hour Sunday show.

I can’t be the only out there who remembers when these were a half-hour long, and in that half-hour they crammed in far more useful information about every game being played that day than anything that FOX or CBS or ESPN or NBC now gets out during an entire season of shows. Hell, NBC’s show was just Bryant Gumbel. CBS only had three people.

I know I’m tilting at windmills here, but something’s got to be done. And I think it should start with NBC. Junk Costas and Bettis and Barber and King. Set up an hour long highlight/preview show centered on Patrick and Olbermann. They can do it. They’ve done it before. Let Collinsworth be the ex-jock analysis because he’s damn good and he’s not afraid to criticize.

Make the show simpler. Make it about highlights. Make it about analysis. Cut out the useless shouting and laughing. And people will watch. With people watching, the ratings will go up, and as the ratings go up, the other networks will take note. And before you know it, all of the pregame shows will be about previewing games, not Jillian Barberie or Frank Caliendo.

And once that’s done, then maybe NBC can do something about improving the aging talent in the game booth, and, hopefully, maybe something can be done to convince NBC that if they’re going to use a Joan Jett song to intro the game, then maybe they should actually get Joan Jett to do the song, and not some young rock chick or washed up country star.

-- John Royal

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