In a blockbuster deal that stands to reorder primetime television, CBS has won bidding rights to air eight NFL Thursday night games next fall. The NFL -- as NBC has so clearly established -- has been hugely successful in primetime, indeed TV's single most successful ongoing program. CBS -- already strong, indeed dominant in primetime -- now stands to score as well.
The release: CBS will air eight early-season games that also will be simulcast on NFL Network. NFL Network will also televise eight late-season games in the run-up to the playoffs. The mix of games will include 14 on Thursday nights and two late-season games on Saturday. The full slate of 16 regular-season games will be produced by CBS with its lead broadcasters and production team, including Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, on all Thursday night games. In a new twist, NFL Network hosts and analysts will be featured in the pregame, halftime and postgame shows along with CBS Sports announcers. The agreement is for the 2014 season with an additional year at the NFL’s option.
The deal marks the return of regularly scheduled NFL games to a weeknight primetime schedule for the first time since 2006, when ABC ceded its Monday night franchise to ESPN. The NFL Network has carried the Thursday night games, presumably with some success, but the NFL Network is no CBS, of course.
Meanwhile, as CBS's competitors surely know, this is a major game-changer, to use the old cliche. Thursday nights have been owned by CBS for many years now -- certainly a factor that went into the NFL's thinking -- and this deal simply makes the network more omnipotent. The regularly scheduled series, such as "The Big Bang Theory" -- TV's top comedy -- and "Elementary" will simply start their seasons later, most likely in November, when the games are over, but possibly even in the new year. Overall, there doesn't appear to be any downside for the network.