CBS Chief: ‘Thursday Night Football’ Will Be Fall’s Biggest New Hit

Sunday Night Football
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Leslie Moonves has no doubt that CBS has the biggest new show of the fall with the launch of “Thursday Night Football” franchise.

Moonves took part in a Television Critics Assn. press tour session on Thursday to tubthump the eight games coming to CBS’ Thursday lineup starting in September. CBS demonstrated the importance of the Thursday launch to the NFL by also having league commissioner Roger Goodell and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the panel alongside CBS Sports chief Sean McManus.

“This is a sure thing,” Moonves told reporters in touting the benefits of the package to CBS’ primetime fortunes. Goodell emphasized that seeding an appetite for Thursday primetime games has been a priority for the past eight years on the NFL Network cabler. The one-year deal with CBS is a chance to build on the NFL’s commitment to broadcast TV. He called Thursday a “bookend” to the NFL’s weekend games.

“There is a tremendous demand for more football on Thursday night,” he said.

CBS is in the unusual position of having this first year be something of an audition before the league commits to a long-term Thursday rights package. “It is our job to show the NFL how great it’s going to be,” Moonves said. “We’re confident at the end of the year they’re going to feel like CBS did a tremendous job.”

Moonves said CBS would be open to the idea of expanding beyond eight games in the future. “If the NFL would like to go longer we’d certainly be interested in talking to them,” he said.

McManus enthused about the production plans for the Thursday broadcasts, which will be driven by super high-definition 4K cameras, including one with a special position dangling over the goal line. One player per game will be outfitted with a microphone for in-the-moment coverage (albeit with a delay to guard against profanities). CBS will use its A-team NFL talent, Phil Simms and Jim Nantz, on the games, which are co-produced with the NFL Network.

Moonves promised that CBS talent would be enlisted to promote the Thursday package, and NFL storyline will be woven into some of the Eye’s scripted series.

Goodell and Kraft were peppered with questions about the safety of the game, given the recent focus on debilitating head injuries suffered by current and former players. And the entire panel dodged the touchy issue of the name of the Washington Redskins team and whether it should be banned from on-air use. There’s been a groundswell of protest about the name and its derogatory connotation for Native Americans.

“We don’t tell our announcers what to say on any topic,” McManus said.

Goodell was also noncommittal on the question of when Los Angeles might get another franchise after a nearly 20-year drought. Kraft, who chairs the NFL’s broadcast rights committee, was more forthcoming: “The ownership collectively is very concerned that we don’t have at least one team in L.A.”

Kraft was even open to the suggestion of a franchise in London, based on the reaction his team received when playing exhibition games in Blighty. “We should work hard on trying to have a franchise in London before the decade is out,” he said.

After the panel, Moonves was pressed for his reaction to the news that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox is pursuing a takeover of Time Warner. He grinned and stuck to no comment other than to observe: “Nobody ever competes well against Rupert.”

There’s no doubt that CBS is in the market for acquisitions, though maybe not on the scale of swallowing Time Warner. But the Eye already has a good deal of cash on its books and will be even more flush by next year when the divestiture of its outdoor advertising assets is complete. For Moonves, it’s an easy equation: “We sold billboards to buy more content.”

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  1. Patty Newitt says:

    I HATE FOOTBALL

  2. Do Moonves and CBS have "ratings gold" with Thursday Night Football? says:

    Not a lot of creativity or artistic development involved as the NFL does all the work. Moonves exercises a lot of hubris in his declarations.CBS has the rights to air the games but somehow it seems a bit shallow to give the network a lot of credit for doing so. As far as the games being woven into some of the scripted series, YAWN. Talk about misplaced and misdirected fantasy…..The world is crazy enough without killings, dead bodies, abused children, unequited love and confused former CIA agents and computer geeks interjecting their storylines into football games, stadiums and sidelines. Really, Les, really? You get paid millions and that’s all you’ve got? Danny Reagan chasing John Reese while Eli Manning is leading a charge down the field? The New Orleans Saints NCIS? Phil Sims saves the day, after Jim Nantz has his rental car stolen at a Washington game attended by Jethro Gibbs? Better hope everybody isn’t watching Scandal. Football is supposed to be on Sundays, and maybe Monday nights.
    Thursday night games are a “creativity cop out.”

  3. cadavra says:

    Moonves also went out on a limb and predicted the sun would rise in the east tomorrow morning.

    • Lorinda says:

      Great comment about the sun! Football on Thursday’s !!ugh! Why don’t they just show football on it’s own channel like baseball ! We don’t need regular programming messed with. And when Moonves said everyone wanted NFL on Thur. night’s ; WHO is everyone ?

  4. giobravo says:

    No, Les they do great competing against Rupert. :D Look at the hacking scandal and News Corp. investigation, his wife leaving him, Piers Morgan leaving CNN, his kids looking to not be further investigated…

  5. Sigh says:

    And what does this do to the regular Thursday night line-up?

    Just what we craftspeople in town need. Less production of dramas & sitcoms.

    Thanks.

  6. Not a fan of CBS says:

    At last…..a CBS program which reflects diversity, thanks to the NFL providing a cast already in place for each weekly offering.

    • Jacques Strappe says:

      Well said and sadly so true. Finally a program on CBS hat doesn’t involve chalk mark outlines and serial killers.

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