Sunday will mark the return of NFL PrimeTime, the NFL Highlights show that aired from 1987 to 2005 on ESPN. The show will again feature Chris Berman and Denver Broncos Ring of Fame linebacker Tom Jackson, as the two break down the day’s games each week.
The show will air on ESPN+ beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET and be available through the week on demand. Scott Van Pelt and Monday Night Football play-by-play man Joe Tessitore will add the Highlights for the Sunday night and Monday night games for on-demand viewers.
Berman called it “a very, very exciting” proposition and said “I’m working with my best friend, what’s not to like about that?” But as the first show closes in for what he hopes is another long run, Berman talked about what’s to come.
As you get ready for all of this, did you think it would happen?
“We’ve been hoping this day would come, and it’s been in the works a little bit. I don’t know if it’s Christmas, but I hope football fans think it is. Selfishly, that I’m working with one of my best friends, doing something that we love is wonderful. PrimeTime has a special ring with people that enjoyed the show. The last year we did it was ’05, did it on Sunday night, and new people will be exposed to the show in a new way. ESPN+ I find interesting, I’ve finally joined the 21st century, kicking and screaming I might add. The fact this is actually happening, I guess when the show opens Sunday night I’m going to look around and go, ‘Wow, this actually happened.’ I hope everybody feels the same way about it.”
Do you remember anything about the first PrimeTime show?
“There’s a good question. Well, it was a lot looser than this one will be, I can tell you that. That would have been myself, Tommy, the late great Pete Axthelm, we had John Saunders do a highlight or two from the tape room — we only had one studio then … but it was a big deal. It really was the closest thing to doing a game, but a highlight show. Yes, the games were over and the tapes are rolling, but we never saw any of the late games end, never saw any of the late-game Highlights, [we’re] winging them, they’re ending when we’re on the air right? It’s funny, my old director Jeff Wynn, I’d say, ‘You know, we put all this effort into doing all this, this game goes here, this game goes here, but in the end it’s you and me and we’re rolling these things blind.’ The two of us were like hockey goalies. That first year a couple things went wrong, that tape didn’t go, it was sloppy, we’d go to commercial break, we’d each hit the button and say, ‘Think they got the puck by us that time, but it’s only 1-0.’ This will be a lot smoother ride than the first few in 1987, I can tell you that. I had a lot more hair then, I was a lot thinner, but as far as the production, it won’t be comparing it to that. That was really the brave new world. This is, maybe, the brave old world. Maybe that’s not the snappiest thing I can tell you, but it’s the easiest way.”
Why has the show resonated with people?
“It’s fairly basic, right? I understand back then you only had three games [on TV] in your market and that times are very different, and you can watch everything you want now, see things everywhere, however, it’s a gathering place for football fans, for friends, for the football industry, I think all of that, this will be about the same, I think there was something special about spending 45 minutes watching the whole day of football. Even if you watched some of the games, boil it down for me, but don’t boil it down so much for me every game is 30 seconds. I think there is a storytelling. You have music the people like, you have Tommy’s commentary, Highlights, a little bit on context. Let me put it to you this way, even though people are eating meals all day long, as in watching individual games, or seeing this 80-yard pass and this and that, I think people still like sitting down and having a full dinner. We’re going to give them a full dinner.”
Did you have any trepidation about putting the band back together as it were?
“It’s a good question, I haven’t really had time to think about it. We all had a bike when we were 6, 7 years old, right? Might we fall off and get a scrape here or there? Maybe, but this is what we do and the people behind us … are the best and the brightest at mobilizing the forces real quick. I have confidence, I know a lot of the key players, whether it be the producer, the director, who’s doing the Highlights, the research guy, I’ve worked with all of them … it’s not so much trepidation, it’s a good question, but I’m in there and let’s go. Let’s kick the ball off and see what happens. We’ve done that PrimeTime playoff show every year, that’s one, but we’ve done one every year, so this isn’t, ‘My goodness we haven’t even thought about this for three years, I wonder if we can still speak clearly.’ We’ve had enough reps and we talk, Tommy and I, all the time. We talk every week, that part will be easy, I think.
What has Tom’s role been in this for you?
“He boils football down. He see things. He was [a Broncos] linebacker for 14 years, he’s been with us for 29 [years]. Tommy and I can complete each other’s sentences, we’re the best of friends, we listen to the same music, we know each other’s families. Tommy’s role is key. No one’s ever been at ‘Gimme 30 seconds on something’ and it’s ‘Oh, why couldn’t I say that in 30 seconds and explain that?’ … He has a way of making it seem so simple, but boiling down and ‘Boy, I understand that now.’ He’s great at that … I’m just excited to be working with my best friend and if that doesn’t come through the TV, we’ve done a bad job.”
What are your feelings about jumping into the 21st century as you called it?
“It’s the same show and that will be fun. But it’s kind of cool — my kids are in their young 30s — but it’s kind of cool to see, hopefully it goes well, but ‘I watched ESPN+ on my phone’ and they’re 18-year-olds, I find it intriguing. As you know it’s our 40th year here and I’ll be here 40 years Oct. 1, and we didn’t know what the hell cable TV was then, how does that work? I kind of went through this once and I guess if you live long enough you get to experience similar things in different shades.”
Does it feel a little like that now? Like those first shows when you first started?
“It will be for how it’s consumed, it won’t be for doing the show. We’ll sit in the studio and do it. I won’t think about this is on ESPN+, on the phone, but people can put it on large screens, they do what they do with it, I won’t think about the distribution just like I didn’t look in the camera and think, ‘Who’s watching?’ I thought about one person viewing. It will be the same music, with 2019 teams and stuff, but heard with different speakers. That’s exciting to me.”