Going all the way back to a time before the world of television exploded into a universe with hundreds upon hundreds of channels, Thursday-night television watching has practically been its own living, breathing organism.
Ever since NBC usurped the decade of the '80s with The Cosby Show and Family Ties and Cheers spawning "Must See TV," viewers have been conditioned to make Thursday a prime couch potato night, and in turn, networks have made a point to park their marquee shows on that night.
Comedies, drama, reality television shows, they've all been a staple of Thursday night network (i.e., non-cable) television at one point or another. But live sports as a recurring prime-time Thursday network staple has not really been a thing.
The NFL announced Wednesday afternoon that they have awarded CBS a package of eight early season Thursday night games, choosing the network over competing bids from ABC, FOX, NBC and Turner. The exact amount paid by CBS for the package has not been disclosed, but sources maintained that initial bids were in the high $200 million range for this particular set of games. The agreement is for the 2014 season, with an additional year at the option of the league.
Other than the Thursday night season opener (carried by NBC), and the FOX Thanksgiving Day game, Thursday NFL football will be owned by CBS and the NFL Network. The two will simulcast the eight games carried on CBS, and CBS will handle production of the remaining Thursday games on the NFL Network, up to and including the use of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on broadcasting duties for the entire Thursday season. CBS and the NFL Network both will provide talent for the pregame, halftime and postgame shows. (NOTE: Two of the games in this package will actually be a Saturday doubleheader in Week 16, so 14 Thursday games and two Saturday games.)
While it is reported Nantz and Simms won't call Sunday games on CBS every week this season, my guess is they will still be on duty for the No. 1 Sunday matchup most weeks, which means that for a majority of the season, CBS's No. 1 announce team will be spread ultra-thin. It will be interesting to see if the quality of their broadcasts, particularly the ones on Sunday, suffers at all.
The overriding theme of this announcement? CBS just dropped a nuclear bomb on Thursday night television. In the age of the DVR, live sports are already the sweet nectar of the television plant. They're the last bastion of "better off watching it live" programming, and the NFL is easily the most valuable live sports property.
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The NFL on Thursday nights was already pulling a fairly competitive number on the NFL Network and its limited clearance (70 million homes, roughly), but now on network television, look the hell out.
The NFL just got hundreds upon millions of dollars to outsource production and carriage of their games, games they're still allowed to simulcast on their own network. The NFL is taking over the television world, and there's no end in sight.
Maybe now the league can afford to provide a little health care to banged, overly concussed retired players. Or at least a big bottle of Advil. Something.