From 1987 to 2005 ESPN’s “NFL Primetime” was appointment television on Sunday evenings. With Chris Berman and Tom Jackson narrating the rapid-fire highlights, the show soared in the ratings.
It was so popular that when NBC won the rights in 2005 to “Football in America” on Sundays, they did so under the condition that “Primetime” would move to another day.
It’s been 12 years since Berman and TJ boomed out the highlights to catchy musical accompaniments. A lot has changed since then.
The two will reunite for a special edition this Sunday after the AFC and NFC Championship games.
In a long-form interview with Sporting News, Berman talked about the show’s popularity and how it would fare in today’s evolving digital landscape.
The semi-retired Berman told Michael McCarthy of Sporting News:
It’s not like, ‘Well, everybody sees the highlights now, we don’t need it.’ That’s not it. By contract, it’s not allowed to be done. Which is a bummer. Now let me just say this. This is a different thing. I think it would still be very popular were it allowed to be done from 7:30 to 8:30 [p.m. ET on NFL Sundays]. Even though, on your phone you just saw at 2 p.m. this play. But you didn’t see it all in an hour… As you know it was the highest rated weekly sports studio show in the history of cable. It will never be passed. Times changes. We got shows in the 5’s. We averaged for a year 4.8’s. Like, c’mon. The late ’90s. So would it do that? No. Would it get a number? Yeah. Could football use it to make fans? Not everybody’s born a football fan. I still believe today that show would make football fans. At that time.
Since Berman left ESPN’s “Sunday Night Countdown” show, audience ratings have fallen 12 percent.