Jessell at Large

'Live' Brings Out The Best In Broadcast TV

Whether it's storm coverage, major sporting events like the Super Bowl or March Madness, or high-profile entertainment like The Sound of Music, television is at its finest — and most audience-grabbing — when it's live. In fact, broadcasting's future may be tied to live TV. Let's hope for more of it.

Looking back on our stories this week, I see that the common denominator for many was live TV — real, honest-to-goodness live TV as in "Live! From New York! It's Saturday Night!"

The week started with Fox's live broadcast of the Super Bowl, which pulled in more viewers — 112 million — than any other TV show in U.S. history, despite the fact that the first play of the second half ended all the football drama.

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Not much more to say about this phenomenon, which seems to have become thoroughly ingrained into American popular culture — at least a big portion of it. When I see that 112 million, I also think that two thirds of the population ignored all the fuss. It reminds me of what a wonderfully diverse country this is.

Three days later came news that CBS was loading up on more live football of the NFL kind. It struck a deal that will give it eight Thursday night games in the first half of next season and the job of producing eight more (two on a Saturday) in the latter half for the NFL Network.

CBS is paying the NFL at least $250 million for the rights, according to the New York Times. Not so bad as NFL rights go these days, but the CBS games are going to be simulcast by the NFL Network and the deal is only for one year with a league option for a second.

Those terms suggest that CBS is paying to be a branding or marketing tool for the NFL Network, which is still trying to establish itself in the cable backwaters and command big programming fees for cable operators.

Brand Connections

That notion was reinforced by NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp when he explained to USA Today why the NFL choose CBS to be its broadcast partner: “CBS made a compelling case on the strength of their viewership and the strength of their ratings. Plus, the amount of promotion they were willing to give Thursday Night Football, as well as promoting the NFL Network, really distinguished themselves."

Sounds to me like the NFL should be paying CBS.

In any event, let's hope that CBS can extend the deal with the NFL to the mutual benefit of both networks. Live pro football is the hottest TV commodity out there.

Yesterday, NBC began its two-week, multiple-platform, multi-network coverage of the Sochi Olympics with the promise to carry live everything on skates, skis and rails — more than 1,000 hours — on There, all those hours can be accessed by desktop, smartphone or tablet.

I presume that NBC would have liked to air some events live, but the time difference between New York and Sochi is just too great — nine hours. Perhaps, we'll see some live action on the broadcast network in 2016 during the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, which is just three hours in front of New York.

NBC in making one notable exception to its promise of blanket live coverage online. The opening ceremonies will be taped, delayed and seen only on NBC in primetime tonight.

Over the past couple of weeks, TV stations have been pumping out more live local news than usual as they try to keep up with the snow storms that have battered the eastern half of the country.

On Wednesday morning, the stations here in New York preempted the network morning shows so that they could report live on the latest storm to hit the area.

And when I say live, I don't just mean from the studio. I mean from the street, too. With their fleets of microwave and satellite trucks and ever-more capable bonded cellular links, the stations seemed to be everywhere in the sprawling metropolis.

The cellular technology is not just a substitute for microwave and satellite trucks. It changes the nature of the news. With the mobile, go-anywhere capability, reporters in cars rolled up and down the streets of New York City, Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey asking residents how they were coping and bringing a new level of intimacy to the coverage.

The Daily Show last week tweaked WSB Atlanta for its 25-reporter "news box pileup" that the Cox station created during its coverage of a snow storm that caught the city by surprise on Jan. 28. But that graphic, more than anything I've seen on one screen, showed the extraordinary resources stations like WSB have to be live and ubiquitous and their willingness to expend them when the story demands.

I think CBS missed a big opportunity this Sunday. In a two-and-a-half hour special starting at 8 p.m., CBS will celebrate the advent of The Beatles on U.S. soil 50 years to the day they first appeared on CBS's Ed Sullivan Show. It looks like a great show and I'll be watching, but it could have been truly landmark TV had CBS bought all that talent together for a live event.


Comments (4) -

Roger Thornhill Nickname posted over 3 years ago
What's old is new again. Yes, live could be broadcast television's newest edge (was it Grey's Anatomy that did a live episode a few years ago? More of that kind of thing would be wonderful and I think the actors would love it). And it's great to see CBS show a strong commitment to sports. It was dismaying to watch the networks getting bested over and over by ESPN.
Insider Nickname posted over 3 years ago
I believe it was ER that did the live episode. 30 Rock also did 2 live shows - with small differences on the live East and live West Coast Feeds.
Thomas Scanlan posted over 3 years ago
Harry, I agree with you fully. But two things you touched on warrant a comment. First, I'm sitting here watching NBC Sports Network where I'm watching the Olympics - live. Why wouldn't NBC provide its AFFILIATES with the opportunity to air them in daytime? FWIW I remember the days when ABC did indeed provide coverage to its affiliates pretty well full-time, not just packaged for replay in prime time. For cable cutters and satellite slicers who rely solely on OTA broadcasts, they don't get the live events available on NBC Sports Channel. Second, why don't the four affiliates in NY City offer their normal network service over a sub channel? On one snowstorm last year I called CBS and asked if they had a satellite feed, in the clear, of normal CBS network programming, and I was given a satellite and transponder to go to, but I'm not a normal viewer in the New York DMA. I would think that there are some viewers on the fringe of the five NYC boroughs who aren't interested in storm coverage; sub channels were one of the advantages touted during the buildup to ATV transmission.
newsbot Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Thomas, what you're forgetting is that the confiscatory rights fees for the Olympics pretty much necessitate the current approach. NBC needs to maximize audience levels in prime time to charge high enough ad rates to recover their investment. And when I mean recover, I mean recover - NBC will be lucky to turn a slight profit.
Marketshare Blog Playout Blog




Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 29, 2016
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Source: Nielsen


  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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