Thursday, January 21, 2016

History of NBA prime time national telecasts on OTA networks

ABC is launching a Saturday night NBA series when it televises Bulls @ Cavaliers at 8:30 pm ET on 1/23. How rare of an occurrence is such a prime time OTA network telecast? I decided to research that question.

For the purposes of this post, I will define a prime time telecast as one with a listed start time between 7 and 9:30 pm ET (putting most of the game inside the standard prime time window of 8-11pm ET). This study focuses on games televised by national OTA TV networks.

Historically, the overwhelming majority of NBA games on national broadcast TV have been on weekend afternoons. While prime time telecasts have been common for the Finals, they have been anything but during the regular season. In researching NBA national TV listings on the forums at 506sports, I found only 20 NBA regular season OTA prime time telecasts and 9 of those were on Christmas night (including one doubleheader).

The first regular season NBA game televised nationally in prime time was a Lakers-Bucks matchup on ABC in 1970 featuring Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. That telecast took place one week after the conclusion of the inaugural season of Monday Night Football. The most recent regular season prime time NBA telecast was on Christmas night in 2003 on ABC. The last such non-Christmas telecast came in December 2000 on NBC.

<UPDATE 1/22/2016 - Added a few missing telecasts from 1999 and 2000.>

Here is the complete list of regular season prime time national telecasts (all times ET):

Mon 12/21/70 - Lakers @ Bucks, 9 pm, ABC
Sat 11/26/88 - Lakers @ Pistons, 8:30 pm, CBS
Wed 12/25/91 - Celtics @ Bulls, 9 pm, NBC
Fri 12/25/92 - Knicks @ Bulls, 9 pm, NBC
Sat 12/25/93 - Magic @ Bulls, 8:30 pm, NBC
Wed 12/25/96 - Pistons @ Bulls, 8:30 pm, NBC
Sat 4/19/97 - Knicks @ Bulls, 8:30 pm, NBC
Sat 4/18/98 - Knicks @ Bulls, 8:30 pm, NBC
Sat 4/17/99 - Lakers @ Jazz, 8:30 pm, NBC
Sat 4/24/99 - Lakers @ Spurs, 8:30 pm, NBC
Sat 12/25/99 - Knicks @ Pacers, 7 pm, NBC
Sat 12/25/99 - Spurs @ Lakers, 9:30 pm, NBC
Sat 1/22/00 - two regional games, 8:30pm, NBC
Sat 4/8/00 - Spurs @ Lakers, 8:30pm, NBC
Sat 4/15/00 - two regional games, 8:30 pm, NBC
Tue 12/25/01 - 76ers @ Lakers, 8:30 pm, NBC
Sat 12/30/00 - four regional games, 7:30 pm, NBC
Tue 12/25/01 - 76ers @ Lakers, 8:30 pm, NBC
Wed 12/25/02 - Kings @ Lakers, 8:30 pm, ABC
Thu 12/25/03 - Rockets @ Lakers, 8:30 pm, ABC

Some other facts about NBA prime time TV games on national OTA networks:

  • The first prime time network telecast was the 1968 NBA All-Star Game on ABC. 
  • The first network TV prime time NBA playoff game was a 1969 Knicks-Celtics matchup in the Eastern Conference finals.
  • Game 7 of the 1970 Finals marks the first championship series prime time telecast. Prior to that, ABC had aired a few Finals games at 10 pm.
  • From the 1971 playoffs on ABC through the 1976 playoffs on CBS, multiple games prior to the Finals aired in prime time each season.
  • From 1976-77 through 1985-86, the only prime time telecasts on CBS took place in the Finals. During these seasons, CBS used the late night 11:30 pm ET slot with some frequency. For the entire 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons, CBS did not air a single game in prime time. This was the era of tape delayed and late night Finals games
  • In 1987, CBS aired a pre-Finals playoff game in prime time for the first time since 1976. At least one pre-Finals playoff game has been in prime time on an OTA network every season since then.
  • The All-Star Game received prime time OTA treatment in 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1973-1976. For the other two years in this range, the game started at 10 pm ET.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Some thoughts on the NFLN "re-broadcast" of Super Bowl 1

I found the NFL Network special on Super Bowl 1 to be an enormous letdown. A few quick observations:

NFLN hyped this show as a "re-broadcast" which was a grossly misleading characterization. The term "re-broadcast" means to repeat the broadcast of a program. But this was nothing of the sort. The presentation had only a few clips from the original telecast and was primarily footage from NFL Films. While the show did contain original radio clips, a large percentage of that audio was drowned out by the cast on the NFLN set.

<UPDATE 1/18/2016 - NFL Network now plans to re-air the Super Bowl 1 assembled footage, but this time with the original uninterrupted radio audio on Friday 1/22 at 8pm ET.>

The most positive aspect of the show was the inclusion of the original CBS footage of Ray Scott doing some pregame player introductions and Pat Summerall conducting a postgame interview. But the NFLN program didn't mention that these were original CBS TV clips, never identified Scott, and had the studio crew talking over parts of the Scott footage.

The seemingly constant banter from the studio panel ran concurrent with a dampened version of the radio audio in the background. This setup was extremely distracting and seemed disrespectful to radio play-by-play announcer Jim Simpson. With a 3-hour show, NFLN could have easily utilized its commentators between segments of game footage.

I cannot imagine that either Ed Sabol or Steve Sabol would have been pleased with this NFLN presentation.

During the show, host Chris Rose discussed the fact that neither CBS nor NBC saved a copy of its original telecast. But that segment completely ignored the fact that a tape containing most of the CBS telecast was discovered in 2005 and restored by the Paley Center. That tape even contains original commercials (which one of the panelists expressed an interest in seeing).

Not surprisingly, the reaction from viewers was overwhelmingly negative. I don't recall seeing a single positive tweet about this show either during or after it aired. I honestly don't know what NFLN was thinking with this production or how anyone in charge at the network could have expected praise for it.

Prior to the airing, an NFLN producer amazingly uttered the following quote in a New York Times preview story:
We’ll make sure we don’t ruin anything with the chatter,” Larone said. “If we have the right people together, it will be like a viewing party.”
The first half of that quote is a complete insult to everyone who viewed this disappointing special. NFL Network spoiled the party.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

NFLN to "re-broadcast" Super Bowl 1 on Jan 15

<UPDATED 1/10/2016 - A story in the NY Times confirms that this "re-broadcast" will consist of NFL Films footage and the original radio call rather than the discovered tape of the original CBS telecast.>

According to online listings, NFL Network plans to "re-broadcast" the original Super Bowl on Friday 1/15 at 8pm ET. While I have seen no press release providing any details, here is the entry on the NFLN online schedule for this 2-hour program:

"Super Bowl I Re-Broadcast Event" - NFL Films presents the first ever re-broadcast of Super Bowl I on the 50th Anniversary of the game. Featuring special guests and never before seen footage, see the game that started it all when the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL squared off against the Green Bay Packers of the NFL.

while the DirecTV program guide describes it as follows:

Super Bowl I - The Lost Game

The re-broadcast of the game that started it all on the 50th Anniversary of the game featuring Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL against the Green Bay Packers of the NFL.

Both listings incorrectly call this the "50th anniversary". 2016 actually marks the 49th anniversary of the January 15, 1967 game.

The use of the terms "re-broadcast" and "Lost Game" along with the claim of "never before seen footage" suggest that this airing might include (at least in part) the discovered tape of the original CBS telecast which was restored by the Paley Center, but which has never been available to the public. If that is indeed the case, this should be an awesome presentation, but I have seen nothing to confirm this. On the other hand, the reference to NFL Films might mean that this production will be similar to what ESPN did for the 1958 NFL Championship game back in 2008 where they intermixed film footage with modern interviews and essentially created a simulated re-broadcast.

Either way, I am surprised to see this program show up on the various guides without any press release from NFL Network. Another oddity is that as of last night, these schedules were listing this program as lasting 3 hours instead of 2.