Just like the bone-tired preseason teams they've spent the last four weeks covering, Fox Sports is still struggling to get its NFL on Fox squad in sync. Glitches and mistakes marred Sunday's opener with the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially the halftime and pre-game shows.

Just like the bone-tired preseason teams they’ve spent the last four weeks covering, Fox Sports is still struggling to get its NFL on Fox squad in sync. Glitches and mistakes marred Sunday’s opener with the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially the halftime and pre-game shows.

But the outlook isn’t completely grim. With a cast of knowledgeable ex-players, coaches and studio analysts, it will just be a matter of time before Sunday’s heroes accept the nascent weblet as a legit replacement for time-honored CBS coverage.

The network has put all the pieces into place since Rupert Murdoch bought the TV rights to the National Football Conference (a division of the NFL) out from under CBS for $ 1.58 billion. Along with those rights, Fox “borrowed” a good deal of talent, including longtime anchors Pat Summerall and John Madden. The network also enlisted many of CBS’ behind-the-scenes staff.

So where has it gotten the wannabe web?

Fox’s coverage on Sunday was solid, professional and generally comparable to any other network, whether NBC, ESPN, TNT or even CBS.

Anchors Madden and Summerall don’t often misstep. Their voices are like institutions for many Sunday afternoon couch tubers. But even those old pros brought more enthusiasm to this season opener than they had in preseason weeks past.

Fox led a full-scale blitz on the technical end, using 12 cameras (instead of the normal eight that CBS used), two Super Slo-Mo cameras and eight videotape machines. But the staff still needs to learn to sked its time between plays. Too often, penalties and special plays went without replay.

The network also still insists on that annoying see-through clock and score graphic in the upper-left corner of the screen throughout nearly the entire game.

Fox Sports prexy David Hill has said it’s important to know the score and how much time is left when you sit down and the game is already on.

Well, yes. But how about those who actually watched the beginning of the game and would rather have their screen clear of graphics.

Fox, however, is to be cheered for updating other NFL game scores every 10 minutes, complete with running clock and quarter designation in those reports.

The halftime and pre-game shows beg the most attention, awkwardly hovering between sophomoric and silly. Terry Bradshaw and James Brown (another CBS vet) are both proven half-time color men, who can explain the intricacies of the game without being ponderous.

But they weren’t used for that. Nor were former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson and former Oakland Raiders star Howie Long, both rookie analysts.

Bradshaw, himself a former quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, brought too much uncontrolled energy to Sunday’s show. Rambling about the Hollywood studio (another football anomaly as usually they’re in New York), Bradshaw talked to staffers, laughed, threw footballs on the small internal demonstration field, laughed, explored the studio, laughed. Any hope of coherent pre-game or halftime analysis got hopelessly lost in nervous energy.

Most Murdochian moment of the telecast was definitely the decision to show the loopy fan who dashed onto the field during a play. Security guards chased him down before slapping handcuffs on him.

Normally, networks shy away from publicizing these stunts, to deter other fans from thinking it’s one way to get on TV. Madden actually mumbled something about that as they had the kid pinned at the 50-yard line. ]

But something tells me that Rupert Murdoch doesn’t care what the league thinks.

Nfl on Fox

( Sun. (4), 1 p.m., Fox)

Production

A production of Fox Sports. President of Fox Sports, David Hill; exec producer for Fox Sports, Ed Goren; producer, Bob Stenner; director, Sandy Grossman. Pre-game show producers, Richie Zyonez, Scott Ackerson; directors, Artie Kempner, Bob Levy. Anchors, John Madden, Pat Summerall. Running time: 3 hours.
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