Hanging with Jimmy Johnson: New NFL Network film examines all of his twists and turns

There are worse assignments than doing a film on Jimmy Johnson. For NFL Films producer Bennett Viseltear and his staff, it meant spending quite a bit of time at Johnson’s home in the Florida Keys.

“We did have one day when the seas were pretty rough,” said Viseltear of going on Johnson’s fishing boat. “It almost was a little too much for our cameraman.”

Thankfully, the crew survived and likely joined Johnson in some post-voyage beers.

The laid-back Keys made for an interesting setting for latest edition of A Football Life, the terrific documentary series on NFL Network. Wednesday’s show (8 p.m. ET) focuses on the complex career and life of Johnson.

Here’s a link with the preview.

You see the various sides of the driven, if not possessed coach in the college and pros, who eventually retreated to the relaxed lifestyle of fishing and hanging out with the guys on Fox NFL Sunday.

The film includes scenes of Johnson taking Bill Belichick out on his boat and interviews with Dallas owner Jerry Jones, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Terry Bradshaw, Barry Switzer, and many others.

The film leaves you with the sense that Johnson might have left a few titles on the table by fracturing his relationship with Jones and by retiring for good from coaching in 2000. Yet it also reveals that Johnson believes he made the right decision to get out when he did.

It all makes for a compelling film in what has become one of the best sports series on TV. Make sure to set your DVR so you don’t miss another A Football Life.

Here’s Viseltear on the film:

His view of Johnson: He’s a very complex guy. At the same time, he is no non-sense. He won’t spend a moment on something he doesn’t want to do. As a coach, whether he was using his psychology major or not, he knew people. He was a classic button pusher. He knew what it would take to get the best out of you. I could feel him sizing me up in the first couple days we were with him.

On the scenes with Belichick: We heard he invites some current coaches to come meet with him, and we asked if we could shoot the next one. Belichick usually goes down there once during the off-season. They go way back, and their relationship is quite genuine. I don’t know if they talked more football than usual for our benefit, but it was fascinating to listen to from my point of view.

On Jones’ participation: He was up for it. It was a situation where clearly early on they were great for each other. Jimmy couldn’t have done what he did in Dallas without Jerry’s money and backing. But things didn’t work out. In the end, they just couldn’t interact.

On whether Johnson should have won more: Pretty much wherever Jimmy went, he stayed about five years. He only lasted four years (with the Dolphins), and he probably was done after three. Listen, he went 52-9 (with the Miami Hurricanes), won two rings with Dallas, and got Miami to the playoffs three out of four years. It’s hard to win a Super Bowl. They aren’t too many guys out there with two rings.





Q/A with Alex Flanagan: On Notre Dame’s big season and Brian Kelly; toughest NFL coaches for halftime interview

Alex Flanagan has been NBC’s sideline reporter for Notre Dame games since 2007. It hasn’t exactly been a joy ride. The Irish went 3-9 during her first year, and the following seasons, which saw Charlie Weis lose his job in 2009, haven’t come close to meeting the absurdly high expectations in South Bend.

So with Notre Dame 8-0 going into Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, Flanagan is experiencing her first real dose of Irish fever.

“It’s great,” Flanagan said. “In other years, it could be tough doing that seventh or eighth home game in November. There’s a whole new feel and energy now. There’s definitely a different vibe in the building.”

I had a chance to talk with Flanagan about Notre Dame and Brian Kelly; her duties as a sideline reporter for NBC and NFL Network; her crazy schedule; and the most challenging coaches for a halftime interview.

What has been your experience dealing with Brian Kelly?

He’s been consistent. He’s been the same person from Day 1. He understands the job of being a head coach at Notre Dame, and the politics that come with it. I wonder if (his staff) is surprised in their third year that they are having the kind of success they’re having.

I’ve worked with him long enough where we have a joking relationship. Over the past few weeks, with the quarterback changes, I’m interested to know who’s starting. I was hanging around him before a game, and he looked over at me. I said, ‘I’m waiting to talk to you.’ He said, ‘I know you are.’

How different is it doing the games for one school such as Notre Dame compared to doing a different game each week for NFL Network?

You get to know everybody at Notre Dame. I’m old enough to where I get to know the parents (of the Notre Dame players). I feel like a mother to the kids on the team. A couple of weeks ago I caught up with (Jimmy Clausen’s mother) in North Carolina. I remember her as a mother sitting up in the stands when Jimmy was a freshman, worrying every time he got sacked.

It’s a different experience. Having said that, there are a lot of players in the NFL I knew from when they played in college. You end up pulling for them because you know their stories and background.

You know what the critics say about the value of sideline reporters. CBS doesn’t even use them. What’s your response?

I’m often asked to defend the job of the sideline reporter. I think of myself as an accessory. I don’t know if you can appreciate this, but I tell my female friends, ‘When you get dressed up in that great outfit, the one thing that can top it off is a great accessory. Like a necklace or ear rings.’

Are we a necessity for a telecast? No. But I can see a lot of things that happen on the field that (the announcers) can’t see from up high.

Such as?

The injury stuff is the big thing. Last year, Ben Roethlisberger looked like he broke an ankle in one of our games. I was able to talk to Mike Tomlin at halftime, and he said it wasn’t as severe as it looked. He wound up playing in the second half.

If a coach is mad, I can hear what he’s mad about. I can say he said this or that. A sideline reporter can help avoid a lot of the speculation.

What about the value of halftime interview with the coach?

It provides a view of what the tone and mood is of the coach. It doesn’t matter what he says as much as you can see how he reacts to a question. You can see his demeanor. I try to provide an insight and view for the person watching at home.

In the NFL, who are the toughest coaches for the halftime interview? The best?

You probably could guess the toughest. The coaches who run a tight ship. Jim Harbaugh can be intimidating. His brother, John, gets intense too. Bill Belichick.

You have to be in the moment with the coaches. At the top of their list at halftime isn’t talking to me about what went wrong in the first half.

With a certain coach, you have to carefully construct what you’re going to ask. Somebody like Jim Harbaugh listens to every word you say. You have to be specific.

Coaches like Jeff Fisher, Norv Turner are great to deal with. Mike Tomlin and Mike Smith. To be honest, every coach in the NFL understands it is part of the job and they are very professional about it.

You have a crazy schedule. You work the Thursday night game for NFL Network; Saturday for Notre Dame home games; and Sunday you cover an NFL game for NBC’s Football Night in America. You live in San Diego and have three kids under the age of 10. How do you manage it?

Yes, it is a challenge. Usually, I leave on Tuesday for the NFL Network game on Thursday. Then we get to South Bend on Friday. On Sunday, I usually fly out of Chicago in the morning to get to my NFL game.

But there are working women who work year around who leave the house every day at 7 and don’t get home until 6-7. I work every day for four months, starting in September. The rest of the year, I try to stay at home.

I like to say that I get the best of both worlds. I get to be a stay-at-home Mom for part of the year and a working Mom for other parts of the year.








The rise and fall of Eddie DeBartolo: New NFL Network documentary looks at former 49ers owner

Check out the latest edition for A Football Life on Eddie DeBartolo (NFL Network, 8 p.m. ET). A fascinating look at an owner who had an incredible run. And then it all ended.

Here’s the link to the preview.

NFL Films senior producer Peter Frank talked about the documentary in an interview with Street & Smith’s Sports Business Daily:

Q: Was DeBartolo receptive to the idea of profiling him, or was he hesitant?
Frank: It was hard at first. He and his people were reluctant. I just gather that they’ve been approached by other people about doing his story, too. I think they knew us from his time as an owner and that certainly helped that there are actually people in this building here who know him and who know some of the other 49ers front office folks. We did tell them, “Listen, this is not a whitewash. We have to ask you about all aspects of your life, one of which is why you are no longer the owner of the 49ers.” They said that they were fine with that. There were no stipulations as to what we could or couldn’t ask and Mr. DeBartolo answered every question that we asked to him. He didn’t decline to answer anything.

Q: Was there any pushback from the NFL about profiling DeBartolo, who left as 49ers owner after a highly publicized corruption case involving former L.A. Gov. Edwin Edwards?
Frank: No. All the ideas that get submitted, somebody sees them somewhere and there was actually (no pushback). I did wonder about that at first too, given the way that Eddie D left the league. I didn’t know if there was any problem and apparently it turned out that there’s not. We haven’t had a single problem. [Frank said the league had no editorial input and did not require final approval before the broadcast aired].




Q/A with producer: NFL Network documentary examines complicated life of Steve McNair

You’re missing out if you’re not watching the A Football Life series on NFL Network. These documentaries, which air every Wednesday night this fall, are among the best ever produced by NFL Films, and you know that’s saying something.

The next A Football Life focuses on the complicated life of Steve McNair (Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET). The former Tennessee Titans quarterback was a valiant warrior on the field, and was considered a role model off the field.

Yet the tragic end of his life–murdered by his mistress–muddied the portrait of a man who died too young.

Here’s a link to the trailer.

NFL Films producer Chip Swain does a nice job of showing the strong ties McNair had with his family and friends and their emotions about his shocking death. You see it all through the eyes of his mother, brothers, and former teammates. At the end, there’s even a passage with his children, who requested to be included after the initial production was nearly complete.

The film left me with a feeling of “Yeah, but…” As in, yeah, McNair had many wonderful attributes, but….

I had a chance to talk with Swain yesterday. Here’s my Q/A.

What was your approach to this documentary?

When you’re given an assignment for A Football Life, they say you’re doing a story on Steve McNair, go. You have to figure out his story, how were going to handle his death, who can we get to talk about him. We decided early on this show wasn’t going to be on the details of his death. Ultimately, we found the impact of his life and death and how it affected people was more interesting.

Why did you go in that direction?

Dateline did an hour about the murder and the relationship McNair had with the woman. To try to get where he was psychologically (at the time of his death) would be pure speculation. Nobody knew the truth. That wasn’t what this show was going to be about.

We were going to try to define his impact as a football player. After all, we are NFL Films. We knew (the murder) would have to be put out there, but it wasn’t going to be the basis for the show.

Part of it was we wanted the cooperation of his family, the blessing of his wife, and the people who were closest to him, to help tell the story. If we were going to go at it from a scandalous way, I don’t know if those people would have come on board with that.

How do you expect people will react to the film?

When you look at Steve, he had a model NFL career, and yet the way he died was not consistent with who everyone thought he was.

In the back half of the story, you see people reacting to the news (his death) almost in real time. The way it unfolds in the show, they’re almost processing the thoughts the same way the viewer is processing them. ‘This is not right; this isn’t consistent with the guy we knew.’

One of his friends said, ‘The substance of a man is so important.’ But Steve’s substance didn’t mesh with how he passed away. Exploring that as best we could was an interesting challenge for us.

We’re not trying to pass any judgement, one way or another. We want viewers to take out of it what they want.

McNair’s mother and brothers appeared on the show. However, his wife, Mechelle didn’t.

We contacted her early on, but didn’t hear from her. Eventually, I sat down with her for an hour in mid-August. I told her what we were doing and how it came from a place of respect. She listened, but let me know she wouldn’t do an interview.

How did it come about that McNair’s children appeared in the film?

Just before the film was completed, I sent (Mechelle) a copy. I wanted her to know what was in it. She watched it with her kids. She called us and said, ‘They want to be in the film.’ I said, ‘We can make that happen.’

Mechelle was there when we did the interviews. I asked her, ‘Are you OK with them being interviewed?’ She said she was very appreciative. It meant a lot to me to get her blessing.





Q/A with Andrea Kremer: Why NFL Network hired her to cover league’s most controversial issue: player safety

The biggest threat to the future of the NFL is the repercussions of increasingly bigger players banging into each other at increasingly higher speeds.

Not to be a doom and gloomer, but if something truly catastrophic happens during a game, it will cause the country to re-examine this thing called football.

So it’s big news that the league-owned NFL Network just hired Andrea Kremer to cover the one issue that threatens the entire sport.

Sunday, Kremer made her debut on the network as the new “health and safety” correspondent. She did a story (here’s the link) on Oakland receiver Darrius Heywood-Bey, who recently had to be carted off the field after a concussion. Heywood-Bay talked openly about what happened, and Kremer’s interview with a doctor at Cleveland Clinic showed with graphics what happened to Bey’s brain. Sobering stuff, to be sure.

Kremer is an important hire for the league and the network. It begs many questions about the motives and how much she will be allowed to do.

A long-time reporter for HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Kremer is one of the best in the business as an investigative journalist. Given the subject, her reports on “health and safety” could make things uncomfortable for the NFL and football, in general. She said her domain will span the entire spectrum, including youth programs.

Kremer also is anxious to learn some of the answers. Several times she used the phrase, “cautiously optimistic” about her work with NFL Network during an interview with her last week.

How did it come about?

The NFL Network decided they wanted to launch this unit covering health and safety issues. When I first heard about it, my skepticism oozes out from every fiber of my being. What? Why?

I talked to Mark Quenzel, (senior VP of programming and production). He says to me, ‘Look, we feel we need to do more substantive stories. And the key issue is health and safety.’

They are hiring my credibility, my reputation. I didn’t build that–put it in parentheses over 30 years–to have it reduced to propaganda. That’s not the way it is going to be.

My role isn’t to take anyone down. My role is to present the issues out there. We are not bereft of ideas.

What were behind your initial reservations?

You don’t want to be a mouthpiece for the NFL. There are a lot of issues that exist. I view this as trying to enlighten the audience about these issues in a deeper way. It’s that simple. There is a lot of stuff out there about concussions. What can we show differently about it? There is a lot of concern and misinformation about concussions.

This is like a managing editor position. My job is to generate content. We walked into a brain-storming meeting with 12 very smart people in the room. I have this huge file in my hand. I go, ‘You guys have been thinking about this for about 10 days. I’ve been thinking about this for about 20 years.’

When you talked to Quenzel, what did you say to him? What kind of assurances did you get?

There are never assurances for anything. There’s always good faith, but it’s not as if I had anything written in my contract. I know what I’m comfortable with and not comfortable with. It’s a fluid situation. We’re working on a case-by-case basis. I go back to what I said: ‘I didn’t spend my entire career building up my credentials to have it tossed out here.’

The best way to put it is that I’m cautiously optimistic. I have no reason to not think I won’t be able to bring a different level of programming and ideas to the network.

What kind of statement is NFL Network making by hiring you?

I give them a lot of credit. I know there are people there who said, ‘Do you understand what you’re doing by hiring her? Do you understand what you’re getting yourself into?’ That was respectfully, not negatively. They said, ‘Yes, we do. If we’re going to be credible, taken seriously, this is what we need to do.’

I sense the network is fully aware that this is a huge issue. They have not fully dealt with it. They need to deal with it from a journalism perspective, and they will. But it’s definitely a learning curve for them.

Former players have filed lawsuits against the NFL. Will you be able to report on stories on an NFL-owned network when the league is a defendant?

I haven’t been told (she can’t). Dealing with the lawsuit would be no different than how the NFL Network–or quote-unquote–TV partners with the league dealt with the CBA, handled the refs, or other issues. You had plenty of people at the NFL Network pining about how poorly the refs were. The commentators have been very honest with their assessment.

That’s part of what’s going on. If there’s a former player we wanted to profile who had a number of significant issues, in my mind, as long as we go to somebody at the league or with the players association, if we can find that person to tell their side of the story, then we’ve presented both sides. Our job is to provide the audience with enough information to reach their own conclusion.

Are you concerned that people will view your reports through the prism of the NFL Network? As a result, people might not feel you are totally objective.

I learned through the Twitter universe there’s nothing I can do to mold people’s opinion if they have some agenda.

I can say this: Not only have I been given any indication of censorship, I’m sure not being given any special treatment. I’m not going to get people just because I work for the NFL Network. I’ve been trying to work on a story, and I’ve put in requests and I’ve been rebuffed.

I know how I’m going to approach my job. I know my comfort level; I know what my obligations are, and that’s what I’m going to adhere to.

You’re a top reporter. If you found a story that blew the doors off this issue, are you confident you would be able to run it on NFL Network?

It’s so hypothetical. Here’s all I can say: I’m going to try.  I am cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to do something that’s impactful.


Fearsome Foursome: George Allen’s daughter narrates new NFL Network documentary

The NFL Network looks at arguably the greatest defensive line in NFL history tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

The nickname, Fearsome Foursome, really says it all. Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Roosevelt Grier, and Lamar Lundy.

Here’s a link to the preview. Just to show how times have changed, not one of those guys weighed more than 285 pounds. At 260 pounds, Jones might be a quarterback in today’s game.

George Allen’s daughter, Jennifer, wrote and narrated the documentary. In an interview with Tom Hoffarth of the Los Angeles Daily News, she said:

“This project was the most fulfilling endeavor. I grew up respecting these men as both players and as men.  Deacon Jones is like a great uncle to me.  It was a pleasure to be able to talk with Susan Olsen and Phil Olsen, Merlin’s brother who played alongside him at the Rams.  And to meet Lamar’s son, Lamar III, brought me even closer to the heart of Lamar and his complete resilience to press on in the face of all physical adversity.

“I knew Merlin as a child and then again as adult, sitting beside him at dinner parties,” Allen said of Olsen, who died in 2010. “To meet Susan — his high school sweetheart — and his brother who bears such a deep resemblance to Merlin – as they walked me through his last visit home to Utah when he knew he was dying, was terribly moving, and poignant.”

NFL Network hires Andrea Kremer to cover health and safety issues

This is an interesting development. Is the league really going to turn the spotlight on itself with its own network? Or is this just a token effort to show that the NFL is “serious” about its biggest problem.

Hope to have some answers soon. Meanwhile, here’s the release from the NFL Network:

NFL Network has added veteran sports journalist Andrea Kremer to its ranks, it was announced today. Kremer will be the chief correspondent in a newly-formed unit dedicated to covering NFL player health and safety issues. She will also contribute other reports and features on major topics across NFL Network programming.

“Andrea’s journalistic credentials, particularly in regards to reporting on the NFL, speak for themselves and we’re thrilled to add her talents to NFL Network,” said NFL Network Executive Producer Eric Weinberger. “Reporting on player health and safety across the league is a key initiative for NFL Network and Andrea will do an outstanding job covering this issue.”

Kremer, who has been called “the best TV interviewer in the business of covering the NFL” by the Los Angeles Times, served in the sideline and feature reporter role for the Emmy Award-winning “Sunday Night Football” onNBC, for whom she has also covered the last three Olympic Games. Prior to her work forNBC, Kremer was a correspondent for ESPN, providing in-depth reports for “SportsCenter,” “Sunday NFL Countdown” and “Monday Night Countdown,” among other studio shows.

Producer Arash Ghadishah has joined NFL Network to work with Kremer and other reporters on player health and safety coverage. Ghadishah previously worked as a producer on ABC’s “Nightline” and as a White House producer for ABC News.


A little perspective: Videos show regular NFL refs also blew plenty of calls

Heck, NFL Network even dedicated one of their Top 10 shows to “The Most Controversial Calls” of all time.

Remember the Tom Brady and the “Tuck Rule”? Jamie Dukes called “one of the most heinous crimes ever committed against a team.”

And how about the official who screwed up the coin toss? Imagine if that happened to a replacement ref.

This video below also includes the controversy over the “Music City Miracle.”

And No. 1 on the list was Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception.” Back in those days, a pass couldn’t be tipped from one player to the next. Imagine if replacement refs were on the call for that one.

Since I was a Steeler fan, I’m glad they made that call.

Sunday, Phil Mushnick of the New York Post wrote:

If you scroll back to roughly this time four years ago, you would find that many of the same print and electronic media, letter-writers and callers to radio shows, who now are demanding a return of the tried-and-true NFL game officials, were calling for a total overhaul of NFL officiating, a demand to replace the old with the new.

Many fans and media, without suggesting or considering how officials spend the rest of the week and year, demanded that the NFL hire full-time officials.

Now, this isn’t too excuse what happened last night in Seattle. It was terrible and inevitable. The NFL deserved to get burned for playing with fire with the replacement refs.

The blown call should hasten the return of the regular refs. When the stripped-shirt brigade does return, they should give thanks to all the network analysts, who despite their networks having big-money deals with the NFL, have been grilling the league for their ridiculous hard-line stance against the referees.

I listened to the end of the game on radio and Kevin Harlan and Dan Fouts tore into the NFL in the aftermath.

Still a little perspective. Things will get better when the regular referees come back. But as the videos show, they won’t be perfect.


Q/A with Rich Eisen: His on-camera emotions about Sabol; progress of NFL Network; the Real Deion

First of two parts:

Rich Eisen tried stand up comedy in a former life. Humor is a big part of his repertoire as the signature host of NFL Network.

Viewers, though, saw another side of Eisen last Tuesday. Eisen was visibly emotional in announcing the death of NFL Network President Steve Sabol. Here’s the link.

Eisen knows how much Sabol meant to his life. Without Sabol, he said, there would be no NFL Network.

Eisen has been there from Day 1 in 2003. He brought the channel on the air, saying “Your dreams have come true.”

Nine years later, it has become a dream job for Eisen, who took a considerable risk by leaving a fairly great gig at ESPN. In addition to his hosting duties on NFL Network, he also has a popular podcast that allows him to hang with stars like Larry David, Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, among many others in Los Angeles. And he ventures even further out of football by hosting a reality show, The Great Escape, on TNT.

In my part 1 of my interview, Eisen discusses Sabol, his on-air reaction, the progress of NFL Network and working with Deion Sanders.

What was is it like going on the air to announce the news of Sabol’s death?

I’m like everyone else my age. I grew up on NFL Films. My love of the game was stoked by NFL Films. I had the fortune to actually meet the man, and call him my colleague and know how he affected my career. Without him, the NFL Network never gets on the air. It wouldn’t be an embryo without him and his dad (Ed Sabol).

So to be the person on NFL Network given the assignment to break the news, it was moving to say the least.

How did you feel about becoming so emotional?

I got a call earlier in the day that this could happen. On the drive in, I’m thinking, ‘Is this really happening? He’s larger than life.’ It just caught me.

My philosophy in broadcasting is if there’s an emotion to the story and you’re feeling it, there’s no shame in showing it. I didn’t even give it a second thought.

Were you thinking about how he impacted your life?

It wasn’t just me. I always have Twitter open. I love to see the reaction from everybody on Sundays. Sabol was trending on Twitter within 15 minutes of the announcement. There was a collective mourning, and people were tuning into our network as if they were laying a wreath on a public memorial.

When I wrote my book about joining NFL Network, I asked Steve to write the foreword. Within 90 hours, it was in my hands. And it was a take on a topic of the book that I never would have thought of.

He’s one of those types of people who are inspirational. I’m not talking about professionally. I’m talking about personally. When we first went on the air, I never met the guy. Within six weeks, there’s an envelope. And it’s a hand-written note from Steve Sabol, saying, ‘Great job.’ Wow, to think this guy would take the time to do it. It was inspirational.

You took a big step leaving ESPN in 2003.

In the grand scheme of things, you could say that. But at the time, if you were going to bet on a start up, a channel about the NFL, run by the NFL, specifically Steve Bornstein, you’d make that bet.

How far have you and NFL Network come in nine years?

I’m thrilled with the way everything has turned out. I love being at the center of the NFL. The idea of the NFL as a year-round venture has become more of a mainstream idea. At one of my last SportsCenter idea meetings in April, ’03, somebody brought up an NFL story and was laughed out of the room. Now ESPN has two live NFL studio shows. This network was created to raise all boats for the NFL.

It’s been great and getting to plant a flag on the podcast. I love the free-form format.

How important is it for the network to go from 8 to 13 Thursday night games?

We all understand it is a valuable commodity. The fact we’re entrusted with more games means a lot. Means more travel. It means a lot of work. But we all understand the value of live NFL programming.

To me, what we do on our postgame show is very special. Watching the players run off the field and come to our set. Some of them just want to hear from Deion, Marshall and Irvin. ‘Tell me how we did.’ That’s great.

We’re in a good place now with 13 games and our Sunday morning show. I’d put that show up against anybody’s. And our game coverage. We’re all very proud of it.

What is it like to work with Deion Sanders. Is he the same off camera?

He’s the same. The most successful people I’ve met are the same on and off the air. Chris Berman. That’s not an act. When I got there in ’96, I observed Berman do a SportsCenter. He only did a couple a year at that point. And the guy who walked into the room for an idea meeting was the same guy I had seen on TV for a decade.

Deion is the same thing. He’s a great broadcaster and teammate. He’s always aware of what other people want to say and how to set it up. Some of my favorite converations with him are about baseball. Listening to him about riding the bus in the minors. I just love everything about him. I’d go through the wall for him.

Tomorrow: Eisen on his podcast: interviewing Larry David; sitting across from Olivia Munn.



What’s new for NFL 2012: NFL Network gets more quantity, quality; Finally continuity with Nessler-Mayock

Last in a series:

The NFL didn’t just give the NFL Network more games. The league also gave the network an improved schedule.

NFL Network kicks off its expanded 13-game schedule Thursday with Chicago-Green Bay at Lambeau Field. I’m sure ESPN would have preferred that hated rivalry game over Baltimore whipping Cincinnati for its Monday night debut.

Then again, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the NFL took care of its own with a marquee opener. The league wants to build this enterprise, which is a big reason why the Thursday night package landed on NFL Network as opposed to another network.

More Thursday night games will help drive more eyeballs to the network. And it will put more pressure on Time Warner Cable, the lone holdout with Cablevision now in the fold, to finally come to a resolution with the NFL Network.

During a conference call, I addressed those issues with Mark Quenzel, senior vice president of production and programming for NFL Network.

What is the impact on the network of having games in September as opposed to starting in November? 

Quenzel: I think we have a lot of great quality programming, some great people and great shows on our network, and great analysis that we do.  But the bottom line is there’s nothing that even comes close to games.  And to be able to have five additional games to start the season, to be able to deliver that kind of value, and to have the kind of promotional platform that games bring, allows you to talk about everything else you’re doing. Our network is a lot more than just games obviously, and it allows us to tell our fans, to tell NFL fans, what else is out there that they can watch and be a part of.  So that’s a huge thing.

What does it mean for the distribution of the NFL Network?

Quenzel: Obviously we are thrilled Cablevision came on two weeks ago, and that’s a big, big score for us, particularly in the New York market. It’s a big deal.  Obviously a lot has been written about Time Warner, and they’re the only major carrier that doesn’t have NFL Network.  I’m hoping, I think we’re all hoping, that we can figure it out because there are a lot of NFL fans in those Time Warner markets, and they deserve to see the 13 games, and they deserve to see all the other programming and have that choice.

I’m hopeful that we can work something out with them, and I think that would be obviously to everybody’s advantage, but clearly to the NFL fan, that’s the best thing that could possibly happen.

Regarding the schedule, it seems like this is the best NFL Network ever has had. The league obviously owns the channel; they make the schedule. Is there any connection there? What goes into determining who gets what games?

Quenzel: As in most things with the National Football League, and I’m telling you from my heart, it’s an incredibly level playing field.  I go in there, there’s a gentleman named Howard Katz, who is the master of all things with the schedule, and I go in probably right behind the ESPN guys and right behind the NBC guys and I beg Howard for the best games I can possibly get, and he looks at me and smiles and says, I’ll see what I can do.

But the point is I think that ‑‑ look, I know it’s the NFL Network, but speaking frankly, we have some great, great partners that pay us a fair amount ‑‑ pay the NFL a fair amount of money, and they deserve great games.  So while I’m thrilled about our schedule, I think if you look at it, I think if you asked Fox how they felt about Green Bay‑San Francisco yesterday or NBC with Peyton Manning against the Steelers last night, I think they feel pretty good about their games, too.

I’m thrilled with the schedule.  I think that we got some great games to start off, and I think we’ve got some real potential, particularly in the back end of the schedule, New Orleans‑Atlanta, obviously Denver‑Oakland, those games, divisional games, so I am thrilled with it.  But I do think if you look across the entire spectrum of our broadcast partners that everyone has got some things to be excited about, particularly after yesterday and some of the initial ratings I’ve seen from (week 1) look like they’re pretty darned good.


Continuity in the booth

For once, one thing that won’t change for the NFL Network is the announce team. Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock return for their second year in the booth with Alex Flanagan on the sidelines.

That’s no small item for a network that has struggled with its announcing team. Remember Bryant Gumbel on play-by-play?

Continuity is a good thing. Nessler, Mayock and Flanagan appear to be in for the long haul.

Quenzel: It’s not a secret that we’ve had a little bit of a revolving door in terms of our on‑air talent for Thursday Night Football. The three of them I thought were spectacular last year, jumping in, by the way, for the first time really together and trying to do it midway through the season.  To have them back for a second year, to start at the beginning of the season, I can’t tell you how excited I am about being able to do 13 games with them and really being able to get a rhythm because I think they’re fantastic.

Nessler:  Mark talked about Mike and Alex and I, and our production team.  We kind of feel like we were just getting revved up when the season ended for us last year because of the half‑season schedule, and so this year we’re ready to go full bore.