Bill Richards, the producer who oversees Fox’s Sunday NFL pregame show, came to Fox Sports president Eric Shanks when the network landed "Thursday Night Football" and said, "Here’s a crazy idea."
On Thursday night, the idea became a reality when Michael Strahan, Terry Bradshaw and Howie Long hosted a studio show for a preseason game . . . in midtown Manhattan.
That might not seem unusual, but it is for Fox, whose Sunday show always has and will continue to originate from southern California.
"A crazy idea it was," Strahan said. “I thought it was crazy, too. But I’m glad it worked out.”
The impetus was wanting to include Strahan, and the fact that during the week the former Giants star is a regular on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” which is based in Manhattan.
Sundays in L.A.? Long commute, but doable. Thursdays in L.A.? Not so much.
“I never thought I would be a part of it; I’m thinking it’s in L.A,” Strahan said Thursday at an event to promote the new show. “When Eric and everyone said, ‘Well, you know what? If it’s something that you’d be interested in doing, we could do it in New York,’ the second they said that, without hesitation I’m in.”
During the event Bradshaw turned to Strahan and said, “How does that make you feel to know that the head of Fox said, ‘If you want this show in New York, we’ll come to you’?”
It felt pretty good, obviously. But Bradshaw and Long had to buy in, too, as the bi-coastal plan involved major changes for them.
Bradshaw did not hesitate. “I love New York,” he said. “I started at CBS in New York for pregame shows and I loved it here and I thought it would just be so much fun.”
Long had some explaining to do to his wife, Diane.
“Initially it was sold to me as a Los Angeles production and I went home and sold that,” Long said. “’It’s easy. We have a place in Arizona.’ . . . Then we were at an advertisers’ function on a movie lot and Eric called us over and said, ‘It will be great! Terry, Michael, you, in New York!’
“It was like I saw a ghost because I knew my wife was back at the hotel and I had to go back and tell her it’s not going to be in L.A. It’s in New York.”
Apparently the Longs soon were all in, too. Strahan, Bradshaw and Long spent Thursday shooting promotional content – Bradshaw said he identified 19 kinds of squirrels in Central Park – and said New York will make the show special.
"New York, it’s a certain energy here, and Thursday night needs that energy and I think we’re going to bring that energy to ‘Thursday Night Football,’” Strahan said. “We have a field outside. We’re going to go outside with the fans and incorporate them in our show.”
Curt Menefee hosts the Sunday show – on which Jimmy Johnson is the fourth analyst – but for Thursday nights, Strahan technically will serve as host. He said he has studied Menefee and others to prepare.
“I watched a lot of Dick Clark before I did the ‘$100,000 Pyramid,’” he said. “I truly feel I watched everyone and I have respect for everyone because it’s not easy . . . But you can’t try to copy somebody. You have to be yourself.”
The Thursday night slate failed to generate as much buzz as Sunday and Monday nights during the years CBS and NBC shared coverage, along with the NFL Network.
The NFL hopes an improved schedule and the stability of having Fox signed for five years will make the package more appealing.
Fox’s 11-game part of the package kicks in for Week 4 with Vikings at Chargers – in L.A., of all places – one week after the Jets visit the Browns in an NFL Network-only Thursday nighter.
Fox’s No. 1 NFL announcing team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman is scheduled for the entire Thursday schedule and will get some Sundays off when Fox does not have a national doubleheader game.
“We put a lot of effort into getting the Fox stars and the Fox personalities to put everything into it,” Shanks said. “We also went into the scheduling process saying, ‘Look, we have the NFC package and any game that the league would have thought about on 4:25 Sunday we’re more than happy to have it on Thursday.’
“So I think just by us stating that we want Thursday to be as important as Sunday afternoon, and then the league working with us on that, I think we’re all working together to raise the level of Thursday night.”
CBS’ Phil Simms admitted that the Thursday/Sunday schedule wore on him at times. Shanks said he hopes Buck and Aikman will find Fox’s plan for them comfortable for the long haul.
“We haven’t had the experience of doing this; we’re doing everything we possibly can to make it sustainable,” he said, “We’ll see how sustainable it is. But I can tell you, they’re fired up and ready to go.”