Jim Nantz, Phil Simms part of the CBS showcase
For the last decade or so, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have been nearly as familiar in Foxborough as the End Zone Militia.
Nantz, who has been paired with Simms on CBS’s No. 1 NFL broadcast team since 2004, figures they have called 70-something Patriots games, playoffs included.
So it is somewhat out of the ordinary that the duo didn’t broadcast their first Patriots game of the season until now, Week 7, with the Thursday night matchup against the Jets.
Then again, this has been anything but an ordinary season for Nantz and Simms. This is CBS’s inaugural season of broadcasting “Thursday Night Football,” a privilege for which the network paid the league $275 million. (The NFL holds an option for a second year on the deal.)
CBS has attempted to give the game a big-event sheen similar to that of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” and a significant element was putting its highest-profile broadcast team in the booth.
It has made for a particularly busy season; not only are Nantz and Simms calling 15 Thursday games, but they’re also doing a dozen Sunday games. There are only five weeks in which they are not working two games.
“It’s a lot, but I’ve loved it,’’ said Nantz, who estimates he goes through 250 pages of notes and information for each game. “Honestly, just now I’m getting a sense of the rhythm and timing.
“The process is my concern, not so much the execution on game day, because that is such an adrenaline rush. My concern coming in was, how do we balance doing two games in one week? But it’s worked.”
In most regards, it has worked for CBS, too. Viewership for Thursday is outstanding, with an overall 10.0 household rating through last week’s Colts-Texans game and an average of 15.9 million viewers. And the high production value suggests the prime-time games are of great magnitude.
“We want it to feel like the quality of a postseason game times 10,’’ Nantz said.
The one thing that hasn’t gone CBS’s way for the most part: close games. The first three games this season were the three biggest blowouts in the nine-year history of Thursday night broadcasts.
When it was suggested to Nantz before the Patriots-Jets game that they haven’t had much luck so far, his reply was delivered with a perfect deadpan.
“Oh, we have had a lot of luck,’’ he said.
“Rotten luck. “
Not that he is particularly bothered by it from a broadcaster’s standpoint. He has seen plenty of blowouts, whether he’s calling football, college basketball, or golf, the three sports for which he is CBS’s lead broadcaster. There’s one sport above all in which a lack of competition or even action is the most challenging.
“Golf is a wonderful forum for true storytelling,’’ Nantz said. “But in golf, though, we deal with rainouts. It’s a live show, that’s scheduled for 3-4 hours, and here we go, it’s pouring, and we’re washed out. I’m still obligated to fill that space without a single live golf shot on the air. That’s when you really find out what you’re made out of.
“In a blowout football game, at least they’re still playing. It’s still a challenge to make it interesting, but let me tell you, it’s nowhere near as challenging as talking to yourself for four hours on a live golf show.”
Orsillo picked up
According to industry sources, NESN did the right thing and picked up the contract option for play-by-play voice Don Orsillo for 2015 before the Red Sox season concluded. There aren’t many better baseball play-by-play voices around, something that has been confirmed by his absence on TBS’s postseason broadcasts this year. That network required just two announcing teams this year because it had the rights to only the American League Division and Championship Series. The network went with Ernie Johnson — understandable given his prominence, but miscast here — and Brian Anderson as their play-by-play announcers. Orsillo and Dick Stockton were part of their postseason coverage in years past . . . Fox Sports has added David Ortiz to its pregame and postgame studio teams for the first two games of the World Series. He’ll be joined by former Red Sox teammate Gabe Kapler, a superb analyst, as well as Hall of Famer Frank Thomas and the Indians’ Nick Swisher. Kevin Burkhardt will anchor.
The NBA’s experimental 44-minute preseason matchup between the Celtics and Nets Sunday will air on both Comcast SportsNet New England and NBA TV. It’s difficult to figure how shortening a game by a minute per quarter will have a noticeable effect on the broadcast, but there is one benefit to viewers. There will be one fewer mandatory timeout (two rather than three) in the second and fourth quarters. The NBA’s reason for the test run is to gather evidence on whether a shorter game — or at least one fewer break — affects the flow of play in a positive way . . . ESPN and ABC revealed their shared NBA studio programming roster Thursday, and though there were no surprises, it was more notable for who wasn’t on it than who was. Host Sage Steele and analysts Jalen Rose and Doug Collins will return for the Friday and Sunday “NBA Countdown” programs. But Bill Simmons, who returned Wednesday from his three-week suspension for calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar and daring ESPN to punish him, is not returning. Simmons’s departure is not news — it was announced in early August — but it is interesting that the network has decided not to replace him in the studio. He will remain prominent in the network’s basketball coverage, however. His “Grantland Basketball Show,” which features Rose (the two have easy chemistry), debuts Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. on ESPN.