NBC's had two marvelous games to showcase its return to broadcasting the NFL and to trumpet its debut in prime time. Steelers-Dolphins on Thursday: Super Bowl champs come from behind in the fourth quarter to win, playing at home, lots to watch with the Fish, too, the flavor of the month for an AFC Super Bowl team. Then Sunday, the match of the Mannings, Eli v. Peyton was all it could be (except for the final score in one observer's opinion) and ended with the Giants having a chance to win.
Each game was what makes the NFL season sweet: drama, excitement, color, stories. A perfect beginning for NBC? Not so much. Oh, the games were great, it was the coverage that left us wanting.
It would be wrong to judge NBC's return after one effort; so now that there have been two, we'll say it loud: YOU HAVE TO DO BETTER.
On Thursday, the studio crew was unintelligible at halftime because of crowd noise. Sound checks, guys? Then when Nick Saban did his 'should I drop the flag or shouldn't I' act the rules seemed unclear to the broadcasters, the revered Al Michaels and John Madden. Cris Collinsworth did make the save by actually going to find out what was what. And, of course, Thursday was filled with promos for Sunday. Was that an ad with Madden waxing philosophical about how difficult the game is for the mothers followed by an on-field report from Andrea Kremer talking about the same thing? Didn't seem too staged, did it?
And, then it was Sunday night, with a game as good as could be hoped for. The brothers were enough on target to keep it close, the officials had their whistles at the ready to halt Giants momentum (give a guy a break) and for the most part the offensive stars did their thing--Eli, Peyton, Tiki Barber, Marvin Harrison, Jeremy Shockey, Adam Vinatieri, Plaxico Burress.
But the broadcast had a distant feel to it, like the producers had taken the old ABC Monday Night Football format, reduced the intensity, tried polishing it, put a bunch of guys in a halftime booth and stuck it out there. Michaels and Madden were pretty good but hearing them made me think: why would you want to start something totally new and constantly remind everyone that it isn't new at all? Why wouldn't you try a different team to call the game?
And the halftime outfit should be ashamed of themselves. Bob Costas did the highlights with such feeling that you could fall asleep; his partners seemed to. Not one of them had anything to say while Costas labored to get through it. (Did you ever hear Cosell do the highlights?) At the end Costas did toss a well-timed jab at his colleagues for their silence. And to the producers: you can't just put a personality like Jerome Bettis in the booth and expect him to get going. Coach him, please.
With the halftime studio moved back to NBC headquarters for this game, the sound problem was cleared up. But I'm not sure if that's the good news or the bad news.