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Super TV On Super Sunday?


There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and the annual exponential growth of the Super Bowl pregame show.

You can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it. And there's certainly no containing it on television.

America's screens are littered with the Super Bowl. Fox has the rights to the game and its cinch 45.0 Nielsen rating and $1.6 million fee for 30 seconds of advertising glory, but Rupert Murdoch's favorite capitalistic toy is unable to hog all the gory, umm, glory to itself.

You have a better chance of escaping an IRS audit than you do escaping Super Bowl TV coverage. Consider some of these programming notes from networks not named Fox: By the end of business Sunday, the ESPN family will have televised 150 hours of Super Bowl programming. This includes live coverage Friday of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's State of the NFL address (No-Doz optional), a two-hour Sunday Countdown pregame show and Monday Night Countdown, which will actually air on Saturday.

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At halftime Sunday, the Golf Channel will air a special edition of its call-in talk show, Golf Central.. Meanwhile, the USA Network will air a special edition of WWF Halftime Heat, a commercial free 20-minute championship match that will include a countdown to the second half kickoff. I'm guessing that the match will end about 19 minutes in.

Saturday night in prime time, CBS will air The NFL All-Star Comedy Blitz, hosted by Greg Gumbel and Phil Simms and featuring current stars like Brett Favre, old stars like Deacon Jones, and CBS stars like the nasal-impaired Fran Drescher. Comedians like Jon Lovitz and Bill Maher will also crack wise, and Sheryl Crow will sing.

Even the kids and comedy cable outlets are getting into the act. Comedy Central has Offsides at the Super Bowl Friday night. Kablam! on Nickelodeon will feature the voices of John Elway, Favre, Troy Aikman and Kordell Stewart. And Saturday night on Cartoon Network, a special Tweety vs. Sylvester Super Bowl toon showdown will feature play-by-play by Fox's Pat Summerall and John Madden.

When you start adding up minutes, Summerall and Madden will have a much busier day than either Elway or Chris Chandler. Besides chalk talk with Tweety Bird Saturday night, Madden will be involved in two segments of Fox's (cue fanfare music) seven hour pregame show, and that's in addition to his 90-minute All-Madden Millennium Team special that occupies the middle of the pregame block.

Then for your apres-Super enjoyment, Madden and Summerall will lend their voice to a special episode of Fox's The Simpsons, with the plot line leading Homer to raid the private Super Bowl luxury suite of Fox majordomo Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch himself lends his voice to the show, which is about two sentences more than he's given all of America's TV sports critics in the last five years.

Althis wretched excess is a result of the country's fascination with the event. If the ad dollars were not there to support this kind of stunt programming, it would die quicker than Kenny on South Park.

Fox's bean-counters estimate that its wrap-around packaging is worth around $50 million in revenue. Add that to $150 million-plus in game revenue and you have a very happy Fox.

The Foxies won't even attempt to snow the public that every minute of this is must-see TV. It is what it is, very profitable background music before kickoff.

"We've seen the Super Bowl game grow into Super Bowl week. This is a good thing,'' said the ubiquitous Madden. "I've been on the other end as a fan, and you have people throwing parties with the TV on. Is someone going to sit and listen the whole time? I don't think so. But what else would you rather have on leading up to the game?"

"We don't expect a huge part of the audience to watch all seven hours," said the show's producer, Scott Ackerson. "My mom and dad might be the only ones who will. But that said, I don't think anyone who does will consider it a waste of time. There are some elements here that only we could get."

That would include a retrospective look at Super Bowl XIII featuring an interview between Fox's Terry Bradshaw and Dallas' Thomas Henderson. The linebacker is best remembered as the man who launched Bradshaw's reputation by saying he couldn't spell cat without being spotted the C and the A. A look at Super Bowl XXIII features a chat between Fox's Cris Collinsworth and his Bengals teammate Stanley Wilson, who spent the night before kickoff shooting heroin.

"I feel bad saying it, but we actually could use an extra half hour," said Ackerson. "It's always better to find yourself leaving things out."

And hey, there's always next year. Someday, the Super Bowl pregame show may begin on Monday -- the day after the NFC and AFC title games -- and become known as the Super Bowl fortnight.

Super TV Notes: Fox's pregame segments, which begins at 11 a.m. (ET), will include a half-hour of "Hardcore Football," the show which airs on Fox Sports Net and is hosted by Ronnie Lott, Bill Maas and Ron Pitts, and a half-hour look at Fox's Super logistics hosted by Keith Olbermann.

The All-Madden All-Millennium special will take up 90 minutes (12:30 p.m. ET) and feature a special effects interview between Madden and Vince Lombardi and a computer generated game between his All-M team and a team of 1998 NFL stars.

There will also be music segments by Ice Cube, Mack 10, the Black Crowes and KIIS. Some Fox prime time stars will also pop in for requisite guest shots, in the form of Super Bowl trivia segments.

Madden, who interviewed those involved in the Super Bowl triangle for the pregame show, doesn't think the Elway-Dan Reeves-Mike Shanahan feud will have an impact on te game. "No one will be running down the field saying `my coach hates their coach.'

Madden isn't picking a winner, but he thinks the game will be high-scoring. "If I had to pick the best team, I'd say the Vikings," he said. "That sounds stupid because they're not here, but they looked like the best team before they lost to Atlanta."

Fox will have 30 cameras at its disposal for game coverage, but director Sandy Grossman says the key to a good broadcast is making those 30 look like 12.

On the ad front, I'll go out on a limb and predict the most popular advertisement of the day will undoubtedly be a 30-second Victoria's Secret spot in the first quarter, at which time the lingerie-clad models will stare at the camera, wet their lips and announce their new web site.

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