CBS excited about its next big show: Thursday Night Lights

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CBS Sports announcers Jim Nantz, left, and Phil CBS Sports announcers Jim Nantz, left, and Phil Simms speak with the media at a CBS Super Bowl XLVII broadcasters press conference at the New Orleans Convention Center on Jan. 29, 2013. Photo Credit: Getty

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

There is nothing new about the NFL playing on Thursday nights, but Americans who own TVs (and/or computers, or radios, or newspapers) might have noticed during the past six months that CBS is the new home for the games.

How could they have missed it, even with the first CBS Thursday game still more than three weeks away? Nothing quite like this ever has happened before at the Tiffany Network, which is bedazzled by its new jewel.

"I don't think CBS corporation has ever mounted a larger or more expansive promotional campaign than we have," CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said Monday at the annual pre-NFL media lunch, which was much more heavily attended by journalists than in most years.

Jim Nantz, who will call the games, added, "I've never in my 29 previous years seen CBS get behind something as much as they've gotten behind this Thursday night game."

And why not? This is a historic opportunity to join a prime-time club that rarely welcomes new members, and the hope is to develop a franchise on par with its Monday and Sunday predecessors.

Beyond that, not only is the network paying an estimated $275 million for the privilege of showing eight games, but it also must prove itself up to the task, given that there is no guarantee that the NFL will stay the course in 2015.

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The league has an option to renew for one more season, but the league has the right to ditch CBS if a better, more lucrative offer comes along.

No one involved expects anything other than spectacular success, which, given the NFL's television track record, is a reasonable assumption. "You want to bet against it, I'll take your bet," analyst Phil Simms said. "It's a bad bet."

Said Nantz: "It's a fair question. I think the answer is going to be yes. It's going to be going against some pretty stiff competition. Not that the NFL has ever shied away from that . . . I think the NFL is going to win again."

The NFL Network showed a full slate of Thursday games the past two seasons, but the league was less than thrilled with the ratings or buzz and looked to broadcast network suitors to boost visibility -- and revenue.

CBS won out. After NBC telecasts the NFL opener between the Packers and Seahawks on Sept. 4, CBS will show Thursday games Weeks 2 through 8, plus a Saturday game in Week 16. Those will be simulcast on the NFL Network.

In Weeks 9-12 and 14-16 -- NBC has the Thanksgiving night game in Week 13 -- the NFL Network will carry Thursday games with CBS' announcers but without CBS' broadcast outlet. It's an unusual partnership, but it's one that should help both channels as soon as fans figure it all out.

Brian Rolapp, the NFL's top executive for media matters, said the goal is to make Thursday "a bigger night for fans" without upsetting "the competitive nature of football."

Thus the policy against teams playing multiple Thursday night games will remain.

To give the package a boost, it was front-loaded with attractive teams -- including Giants-Redskins Sept. 25 and Jets-Patriots Oct. 16 -- while the Bills, Raiders, Rams, Titans and Jaguars were left for the NFL Network half of the season.

"I think it was important for us to create a schedule worthy of broadcast television in order to get as many people [as possible] conditioned to know we are playing football on Thursdays," Rolapp said.

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Nantz and Simms will take some Sundays off but will do double duty when CBS has a national doubleheader.

Simms said he is not worried about the hectic new schedule affecting his preparation. Nantz said he is a bit wary. "I'm a voracious reader," he said. "I don't feel comfortable putting the headset on until I've read every clip. I'm maniacal about it . . . But I'll figure it out."

He has no choice. Nantz said the Thursday series has "reinvigorated the entire network" and that since he received the news shortly after the Super Bowl, "there hasn't been a day that has gone by it hasn't been first and foremost on my mind."

CBS' promotions department intends to make sure he is not the only one.

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