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Commentary: CBS put Tracy Wolfson in post-Super Bowl peril pursuing the obvious

Commentary: CBS put Tracy Wolfson in post-Super Bowl peril pursuing the obvious
Tracy Wolfson reports from the sideline during a game between the Chargers and Dallas Cowboys in November 2017. (Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press)

A two-minute clip on YouTube saves for posterity the on-field postgame interview CBS’ Tracy Wolfson did with New England quarterback Tom Brady in the aftermath of Super Bowl LIII.

What isn’t shown are the disconcerting minutes leading up to it, when it appeared Wolfson was about to be swallowed alive by the mass of media, players and security, as she angled for a broadcast spot.

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All the while, a CBS overhead camera recorded it. Viewing it live was almost akin to watching an L.A. car chase. The optics didn’t allow for much of a positive outcome.

A day later, it’s still not clear whether it was worth the cringe-worthy time, effort or personal sacrifice in the pursuit of an innocuous soundbite.

Wolfson wasn’t made available to speak Monday. No matter how used to all this she says she is based on covering Southeastern Conference college football games — she told several news outlets afterward, “I embrace it and I love it” and “it was not as crazy as it looked visually” — no network needs to send a reporter into a mass of pushing-and-shoving humanity like that.

Three years ago, Wolfson’s pursuit of Denver quarterback Peyton Manning to ask whether his retirement was imminent after the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 might have been more newsworthy. CBS’ insistence on sending her into a minefield to get Brady’s response to a similar line of questioning was as idiotic as it was unnecessary.

Jim Rikhoff, the CBS producer, told The Athletic: “I am sure half the people loved the decision [to stay live] and other people thought we stayed on it too long. But to me that is what is great about live television. Tracy hung in there and she got the interview and asked the key question at the end. …

“To me, it was great live TV. … She handled herself like a professional and got three great questions, and the third question was what everyone wanted to hear — Brady is not retiring.”

Great TV at the possible expense of an employee? Hadn’t we already heard Brady’s non-retirement insistence during the CBS pregame show? Repeating the quote couldn’t have waited until the situation calmed down a bit?

Wolfson deserved better protection from someone higher up.

By the numbers

As former CBS News anchor Dan Rather tweeted out: “This Super Bowl will be memorable for how forgettable it was.”

But don’t forget, it’s still a Super Bowl, which these days can survive quite well even despite its worst efforts.

CBS reported Monday that 100.7 million willingly witnessed the Rams’ 13-3 loss to New England in Atlanta, which covers the network’s TV and interactive platform, the NFL digital properties, Verizon mobile options and ESPN Deportes coordinated efforts. Live streaming accounted for 7.5 million unique devices and more than 560 million total minutes, up 20% from a year ago.

There was an overall 44.9 overnight rating from the fast rating nationally — down from 47.4 last year and the worst posting in a decade — and Los Angeles didn’t even match.

Its 44.6 rating, while maybe it’s best Super Bowl number since 1996, accounts for nearly 2.4 million homes, or about 6 million people. Boston’s 57.4 rating equals about 1.35 million homes, or 3.4 million people. San Diego was up 7% from last year, to 48.3.

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New Orleans’ self-imposed boycott of the game resulted in a 26.1 rating, last among the 56 cities used for overnight rating measurements.

Tune in

► No matter what extra “load management” LeBron James might have in picking his roster for the Feb. 17 NBA All Star game, TNT is on board to televise the process (Thursday, 4 p.m., before the Lakers-Boston game) after the NBA players union balked at having it covered on TV last year for fear of it embarrassing someone. James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the leading vote-getters from the Western and Eastern conferences, divide up the 10 starters and 16 reserves, a process that this year has an extra compelling element: James may already have Anthony Davis as a Lakers teammate — the NBA trade deadline is also Thursday — before this takes place.

Tune it out

► ESPN confirmed that anchor Adnan Virk, accused of leaking confidential company information to the media, was let go late last week. The story was first reported by the New York Post, which added Monday that Virk, 40, is pursuing legal recourse and added more details about Virk giving information to the website AwfulAnnouncing.com about ESPN’s plans for “Sunday Night Baseball” telecasts.

► CBS spent part of Sunday’s Super Bowl telecast promoting its coverage of new The Alliance of American Football, starting Saturday (Channel 2, 5:30 p.m., with regional coverage of the San Diego Fleet at San Antonio Commanders, using Spero Dedes, Trent Green, Tiki Barber and Jamie Erdahl on the call). Don’t expect it to do much going head-to-head with ABC’s Oklahoma City-Houston NBA game or even ESPN’s prelims of UFC 234 from Australia. CBSSN, TNT, B/R Live and the NFL Network are also media platforms for the eight-team league started by TV producer Charlie Ebersol, son of former NBC Sports chief Dick Ebersol.

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