A look inside how CBS planned Super Sunday coverage

Joe Reedy

LOS ANGELES (AP) – CBS and NBC trading Super Bowls is one of the rare times that might end up benefitting both networks.

Under the usual rotation, NBC originally had this year’s game from Tampa and CBS owned rights to 2022 in Los Angeles.

But in 2019 the networks and the NFL agreed to a switch. The reason was simple: CBS did not want to have its game go up against NBC’s coverage of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

While NBC gets an Olympic/Super Bowl doubleheader next year, CBS got one of the best quarterback matchups in the game’s 55-year history yesterday with Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers facing Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs.

“Having gotten a matchup between Brady and Mahomes, I would make that trade every year,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said. “If you had asked us in September, what’s the dream matchup? It would have been this one. It’s almost too much to hope for, but we got it. “

A man is reflected in the Lombardi Trophy at the NFL Experience in Tampa, Florida. PHOTOS: AP
A sign for Super Bowl 55 is framed by palm trees at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida

The matchup also is the lynchpin to a day of programming planned for over a year – and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Many might think arranging a network’s Super Bowl coverage falls mainly to the sports division, but news, entertainment and other departments are involved, too.

It is also the first chance since the Viacom-CBS merger was completed 15 months ago to show collaboration by many divisions.

“Obviously, it’s a huge day for sports, but it’s really a big day for the entire network,” CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl said. “On the day of the Super Bowl, you get 100 million people, and you try to lure as many of them to stick around and introduce a new show or or bolster an existing show. Every few years, we’re lucky enough to have that.”

The Super Bowl Today pre-game show not only has CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell’s interview with President Joe Biden and Late Late Show host James Corden with The Weeknd, it also has features from Showtime’s Desus and Mero, Comedy Central’s Daily Show, and Nickelodeon’s Unfiltered game show.

Coordinating producer Drew Kaliski has been planning features since April, but even up until this week there have been changes. When Tampa Bay reached the game for the first time a team has played a Super Bowl on its home field, Kaliski began brainstorming. He will showcase Tampa Bay fans who have seen all three of their professional sports teams play for a championship in the last six months.

With COVID-19 protocols still in place – meaning no visits to team complexes – along with a blizzard that hit New York earlier this week, Kaliski has been pleased they were able to do remote interviews.

“We were able to have our Studio 43 set in New York as our home base to do the interviews, which looks phenomenal,” Kaliski said. “With all the obstacles we had to face, I never thought we’d be able to pull it off. And I’m a pretty positive guy. I think the effort of people and the technology that’s out there now, it’s mind boggling to think about it but it just works perfectly.”

After a crazy multi-year stretch covering a pandemic, a political campaign like no other and the transition to a new administration, CBS News gets an opportunity to focus on an event Susan Zirinsky, the division president, refers to as “almost spiritual in the American population.”

The news division has been contributing features on shows and providing to affiliates all week, but its most-anticipated contribution will be Biden’s first sit-down interview since taking office.

“Christmas came early,” Zirinsky said about the network landing the first interview with Biden, which was done on Friday. “The presidential interview, you know, it is a tradition. What will appear in the pregame show will be unique. It’s more of a conversation. This is the president’s first interview and a chance for him to kind of touch America.”