TV has abandoned the notion of grabbing all the viewers at once … except on Super Bowl Sunday.
Nowadays, a show is a hit if it gets five million people to watch it live. The Super Bowl? At a typical moment during the game, more than 100 million people are watching.
That means the sprawling pre-game show faces a challenge: It must range “from people who like football to people who aren’t that much football fans,” said Drew Kaliski, who produces the show.
Yes, there will be talk about the game itself (Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Bucs), which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS. We’ll have more about that at the end of this story. But the pre-game shows, starting at 11:30 a.m. ET, will also have Joe Biden, James Corden, Jay Pharoah, The Weeknd, Roy Wood and Desus & Mero (shown here , with lots of packaged features. “They’re informative, they’re emotional, they’re entertaining,” Kaliski said.
Alongside the light features will be serious ones looking at the history of blacks and women in the National Football League.
The former history is a fairly long one: Kenny Washington integrated pro football (with the Rams) in 1946, a year before Jackie Robinson did the same for major-league baseball.
But the latter? Last year, the San Francisco 49ers were the first Super Bowl team with a female assistant coach. This year, the Tampa Bay Bucs have two – and line judge Sarah Thomas will be the first female referee to work the Super Bowl.
Is it a big deal? “What will really be exciting will be when it’s no longer newsworthy,”Amy Trask said.
Back in 1997, Trask began a 16-year stretch as chief executive of the Raiders. That didn’t start a trend, she said. “It wasn’t ‘women’ in the NFL owners’ meeting, it was me.”
Now she’s one of the commentators on “That Other Pregame Show,” which gets CBS’ opening half-hour, at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday. It’s expected to include a feature on Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a 300-pound lineman who also has a medical degree; after being with the Super Bowl champion Chiefs last year, he took this season off to work with COVID patients in his native Canada.
“That Other Pregame Show” will be followed by “Road to the Super Bowl” at noon ET and “Tony Goes to the Super Bowl” at 1 p.m. Then the four-hour preview starts at 2 p.m.; it will include the pieces on Blacks and women, plus several done by people from other CBS shows or its sister channels:
Norah O’Donnell (the news anchor) interviews Biden, sometime in the 4 p.m. hour … Corden (the late-late show host) interviews The Weeknd, who will do the half-time show … Pharoah will conduct a version of Nickelodeon’s game, “Unfiltered” … Wood (Comedy Central) will do a piece on Black quarterbacks … Desus & Mero (Showtime) will interview the Chiefs’ Travis Kelse, via a sort of super-Zoom, with his image on a Jumbotron.
And yes, there will also be lots of football talk. You’ll have to forgive people for continually bringing it back to two guys – the Bucs’ Tom Brady, 43, and the Chiefs Patrick Mahomes, 25. “It’s a much more quarterback-centric game,” said Boomer Esisason, an ex-quarterback who’s a CBS analyst.
Sometimes overlooked is a precarious combination: The Bucs have great defensive linemen; trying to fend them off is a Chiefs line that has been wracked by injuries. Only one starter (the center) hasn’t had to switch positions, CBS’ Charles Davis said.
Those injuries persist. “The Kansas City line situation is even (in worse shape) than expected,” said Kyle Long, who is a “That Other Pregame Show” analyst (and the son of Fox analyst Howie Long).
Then again, the Chiefs have the right quarterback for this situation. Unlike Brady, who likes to stay in the pocket and fire, Mahomes keeps passing on the run. That’s caught on with fans.
“I’ve got a grandson who thinks he’s Patrick Mahomes,” said CBS’ Phil Simms, another former quarterback. “He’s always running around. I’m saying, ‘Just once, how about throwing it normal?’”