Fred Gaudelli Justifies Keeping Underperforming Cowboys, Eagles On "Sunday Night Football"

“Sunday Night Football” producer Fred Gaudelli defends NBC’s decision not to flex out the Eagles/Cowboys game, despite both teams’ sub-.500 records. The rivalry between the two teams factored into it, as well as the Cowboys’ vast fan base.

This is a rare week in the NFL where there is no action in the NFC East division until the final two games of the week.

And before the New York Giants square off against the Washington Redskins on Monday night, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night.

Yes, the Cowboys, losers of five of their last eight games, including their most recent one on Thanksgiving, and the Eagles, who haven’t won a game since Week 4.

To borrow an old NBC slogan: Must-see TV.

Or is it?

Right before Thanksgiving, NBC announced that they opted not to flex out this week’s Cowboys/Eagles game on “Sunday Night Football.” This even as the teams involved in the game aren’t necessarily having their best seasons on the field. The Cowboys are bad, but the Eagles are far worse.

One might think that keeping this game, a game with a double dog of a pair of teams, in primetime, would be like polishing dog excrement.

And so, it’s up to “Sunday Night Football” executive producer Fred Gaudelli to put some lipstick on this pig.

He appeared on Angelo Cataldi’s morning show on WIP-AM/FM in Philadelphia and explained why mass appeal still exists for a game between two teams that initially was good on paper, but as the month of December starts, there’s a good chance that either one might mail it in.

And as much as the people in Philly didn’t want to hear it, a lot of it had to do with their next opponent.

“The Dallas Cowboys are akin to the TV series ‘Dallas’,” Gaudelli argued. “There’s just drama swirling constantly, no matter what it is.”

And team owner Jerry Jones? “He’s J.R., for a fact.”

And just like the old CBS drama that starred the recently departed Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing, viewers tune into Cowboys broadcasts in droves, due to the team’s national following across the country, as well as sports fans that thrive to see the proverbial Ewings foiled at their game.

“As many people who want to see them win,” Gaudelli admitted, “there’s probably twice as many people who want to see them lose.”

But the Cowboys aren’t the only NFC East team that’s a force to be reckoned with on “Sunday Night Football.” With this weekend’s tilt, the Cowboys will be playing their 21st Sunday night game on NBC; this is without counting the Wednesday night kickoff game this year, or the Cowboys/Eagles game played on Christmas night (a Monday) in 2006, or any playoff telecasts on Wild Card Weekend. The New York Giants have the second most appearances on Sunday night with 19; again, this is without counting NBC games played on other nights (the Giants had two midweek kickoff games) or weekend playoff games. The Philadelphia Eagles are right behind the Giants with 17 Sunday nighters on NBC; again, this figure does not count wild card playoff games, nor the aforementioned Christmas (Monday) night game, nor the “SNF” broadcast that was moved to a Tuesday night in 2010 due to inclement weather in Philadelphia. And with the exception of playoff games or a Thursday night kickoff game against the Giants, the Washington Redskins bring up the rear in NFC East representations on Sunday nights with just eight appearances – and mind you, those are all in a five-year span: After two home games on NBC in a six-week period in 2010 – and the first, unflexable half of the season, at that – the Redskins have not played on NBC over the last two regular seasons. And like the 2008 season opener, six of those eight Redskins Sunday night games were against division rivals.

In fact, during the “SNF” era, including season kickoff games, this weekend brings the grand total of regular season NFC East division matchups on NBC to 24. While the Cowboys have played the Giants on NBC six times thus far (including a span of three regular season games in five weeks), NFL schedule makers kept NBC in mind in regards to the Cowboys’ rivalry with the Eagles. With the exception of the 2008 season, at least one Cowboys/Eagles game was scheduled on NBC (in 2009, they lucked out and got two, including a playoff game in Dallas).

So it’s no surprise that NBC decided to stand pat with the Cowboys/Eagles contest scheduled on the network this year. Said Fred Gaudelli: “We think it’s still one of the best rivalries in the NFL.”

Mind you, both teams come into this game with sub-.500 records – including a streak of seven losses and counting for the Eagles.

“People associate them with winning,” Gaudelli said. “And unfortunately for them, the wheels have kinda fallen off the wagon this year.”

He thinks that a combination of the turmoil surrounding the Eagles, especially their lame duck head coach Andy Reid – who’s about five more losses away from being a gold lamé head coach – and the aforementioned “drama” that always follows the Cowboys makes for “a matchup that people would want to see… in a different kind of way.”

Despite there being a few games between teams with records above .500 (Bears/Seahawks, Packers/Vikings, Broncos/Buccaneers, as well as Ravens/Steelers, who were just on NBC’s air earlier this month) that might better pique viewers’ interest – and ironically, it was a Bears/Seahawks game in Week 11 of 2007 that was the first-ever game to be flexed out of primetime – NBC decided that a game between two teams with a combined total of eight wins would have “the most national interest, even though (it was) not for the reasons we would have thought… back in April.”

Granted, there are three games this weekend which pits teams that have a lower amount of combined wins against each other – but Oakland vs. Cleveland or Buffalo vs. Jacksonville just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Dallas vs. Philadelphia.

Of course, if on this week, NBC was scheduled to air, say, Dallas vs. Oakland, there’s a possibility it would have been played earlier in the day, as opposed to under the lights, and in primetime.

As Gaudelli explained, if the Cowboys were facing “a team with a lesser pedigree, we’d probably move out of the game, but we didn’t think there was good enough reason to [use flex scheduling].”

This isn’t the first time Gaudelli, approaching a quarter-century of producing NFL broadcasts, including “Monday Night Football,” as well as games on the previous home of Sunday night football, ESPN, has sung the praises of the “ratings punch” that the Cowboys can provide. “John Madden used to have a saying, ‘When in doubt, the Cowboys’,” he said in 2010. “I think that still holds true.”

This year, “Sunday Night Football” has consistently finished each week as one of the top-rated, if not the top-rated, shows watched. The Week 3 Patriots/Ravens game outranked the annual Emmy Awards broadcast, and the Week 8 telecast of a Saints/Broncos tilt got a better rating than the final game of this year’s World Series.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily prove that the NFL can plunk a Kansas City Chiefs/New York Jets game on Sunday night and expect ratings magic. But if NBC gets an equally sizable viewership for this week’s Cowboys/Eagles game, despite the fact that both teams may likely miss the playoffs, it’s a testament not just to both teams’ national fan bases (moreso the Cowboys) but to the network’s decision making when it comes to flex scheduling. It’s not to say that upper echelon teams are immune to flex scheduling: believe it or not, the New England Patriots have had the most games (three) flexed out of “SNF”, mostly due to the underperformance of the opponent over the course of the season (e.g. last year’s Patriots/Colts matchup, which really lacked its juice with Peyton Manning being inactive) – and one of those games were in 2008, the year Tom Brady missed virtually the entire season; so yes, this had a little to do with the Patriots, as well.

The Cowboys’ star running back, Demarco Murray, could return after missing several weeks; while they’ve seen many defensive players land on injured reserve. On the other side of the field, the Eagles – well, they’re a mess: Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy have been ruled out, and DeSean Jackson was just added to the “I.R.” this week.

Obviously, Nick Foles, Bryce Brown and Jason Avant aren’t household names.

And this Sunday night, they’ll all have mere walk-on roles in a brand-new episode of “Dallas” on NBC.

With Jerry Jones as J.R. Ewing.

Of course, it’s a little too late now to find out if J.R. Ewing the owner would fire J.R. Ewing the general manager.

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Health Scare For LA, Philly-Based Sports Media Figures

Hall of Fame Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda is recovering from a heart attack he suffered on Monday. Meanwhile, Philadelphia sports radio host Angelo Cataldi (right) is preparing for intestinal surgery, which should sideline him for most of the month of June.

Tuesday presented some sobering medical news involving two popular sports personalities – one prominently known in Philadelphia, and one who hails from the Philadelphia area, but is well-known to baseball followers across the country.

Tommy Lasorda, a native of the Philadelphia suburb of Norristown, suffered a heart attack on Monday in New York City. Appearing in the World Series four times during his 20-year reign as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he currently serves as an advisor to the team. He was in town for the 2012 MLB draft when he fell ill and was hospitalized. The team subsequently released a statement saying the Hall of Fame manager, 84, had a stent inserted to fix a blocked artery. He’s reported to be resting comfortably. Ironically, a heart attack led to Lasorda abruptly retiring as Dodgers manager in July 1996; he had gone to the hospital citing abdominal pain which, unbeknownst to him, was actually a heart attack.

Among Lasorda’s sports media credits are roles as a commentator on “This Week In Baseball” in 1997, and as a correspondent for the Los Angeles-based “Jim Rome Is Burning” program in 2009. He also starred in the early-80’s baseball sketch comedy show geared toward children, “The Baseball Bunch.”

Meanwhile, Angelo Cataldi, who has practically been the morning host on WIP for as long as it’s been a sports radio station (we’re talking way before its migration to the FM dial last year), was MIA on Monday, and ended up calling into his own show that day – live from a hospital in South Jersey – to share his own medical predicament with his audience: he’s suffering from diverticulitis, a digestive disease usually affecting the large intestine or the colon. Under doctor’s orders, he is to remain off the air for practically the entire month of June, as he is scheduled to undergo surgery on Thursday. Cataldi’s wife, Gail, told the Philadelphia Daily News that her husband, a known “embellisher,” was “really sick” to the point that he could not make it into work to talk about Eagles training camp, or the Phillies’ two-game slide at that point. (Ironically, the Phillies are currently playing the aforementioned Lasorda’s Dodgers.)

As Cataldi, 61, recuperates from surgery, WIP late-night host and throat cancer survivor Big Daddy Graham will sub for him in morning drive.

A speedy recovery to both the godfather of Philadelphia sports radio and the godfather of late-20th century baseball.

Auld Lang Sigh: Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against WIP Bigwig Another Black Eye For Sports Radio

A lawsuit filed against Marc Rayfield, who oversees several Philadelphia radio stations, including sports WIP-AM/FM, is yet another blow to sports radio in a year that has been totally out of bounds.

The former director of marketing communications for a Philadelphia news station is taking her former boss to court on grounds of sexual harassment.

Attorneys Samuel First and Christopher Wagner have filed a lawsuit against CBS Radio’s entities in New York and Philadelphia on behalf of their client, Shelley Kanther, who claims she endured a “highly offensive, discriminatory environment and culture at CBS Philly.” Kanther was fired from her position at KYW Newsradio 1060 in Philadelphia, an action that she thinks is “in retaliation for… complaints” about the “degrading and extremely upsetting” atmosphere that she and co-workers experienced while working at the top-rated all-news station in Market No. 7. “No remedial action of any kind was ever taken” at KYW, according to the lawsuit, “despite Ms. Kanther’s repeated complaints.”

Specifically identified in the lawsuit by Kanther is CBS Radio Philadelphia Senior Vice President and Market Manager Marc Rayfield, whom Kanther dubbed “one of the worst offenders” during her tenure at KYW.

In addition to KYW, Rayfield also oversees five other radio stations in the cluster, including WIP, which has been broadcasting a sports format on AM 610 for close to a quarter-century – and just this past fall, added a simulcast on 94.1 FM; the station now brands itself as “SportsRadio 94 WIP.” This is actually Rayfield’s second go-round working at WIP: in the early 1990’s, he had previously served as the station’s local sales manager when it was owned by Spectacor Broadcasting. He was hired in the same capacity by KYW in 1992, and worked his way up to station manager. Later, KYW owner CBS Radio merged with subsequent WIP owner Infinity Broadcasting, and Rayfield had assumed responsibilites for WIP.

I could go into detail about some of the graphic “locker room behavior” that is described in Kanther’s lawsuit, but I won’t. I’ll actually direct readers here. And when you read the alleged comments and actions depicted in the lawsuit, consider this quote from the same lawsuit picked up by this source:

“… Kanther once complained about the discriminatory treatment to another female employee, who in turn told Kanther that the harassment was par for the course, and that ‘that’s always how it has been here’…”

One wonders if WIP employees experienced the same “highly offensive” environment that Kanther has while at KYW. I myself am not alleging, nor confirming, that a similar workplace exists or has existed at WIP. But knowing that Rayfield manages five radio stations – actually, four, when legendary rock station WYSP flipped to a simulcast of what was then known as “Sports Radio 610” and is now known as WIP-FM, though AM 610 occasionally airs programming different from 94.1 FM at times – the immediate thought is whether or not the same behavior can be found in the work environments of all of the radio stations under Rayfield’s watch.

Not to single out WIP specifically, but when you read about the alleged tawdry goings-on at KYW, anyone familiar with Philadelphia radio may immediately ask themselves, “Is this business as usual at WIP?”

In fact, we are coming off of a year in which sports radio personalities have engaged in regrettable behavior, on and off the air. This past spring, former ESPN Radio 1000/Chicago personality Jay Mariotti, who is also seen on ESPN, was arrested in Los Angeles for assaulting his girlfriend. In August, nationally syndicated host Tony Bruno referred to Giants pitcher Ramon Ramirez on Twitter as an “illegal alien pitcher” after a pitch hit a Philles player, ensuing in a benches-clearing brawl. Just this week, we witnessed another lesson in how not to use Twitter as a sports radio personality, as Pittsburgh’s Mark Madden took an unwarranted shot at all women by instructing a female listener to “get in the kitchen, have a kid, dance ’round a pole.” (While the radio station Madden works for has an alternative music format, Madden has a strong sports background.) And, of course, there was the recent fallout with Albany sports radio host Bruce Jacobs and his comments about the WNBA which invoked gay slurs, which was first reported right here on sportsrants.com.

2011 also saw another lawsuit being filed, this one specifically against a sports radio station. Back in March, Jen Royle, reporter for Baltimore’s WJZ-FM “105.7 The Fan” – which is also owned by CBS Radio – hit rival sports station WNST, and its owner and main radio personality, Nestor Aparicio, with a defamation lawsuit stemming from comments Aparicio made on the air about Royle, including, among others, “that she looks like a stripper.” As you can imagine, radio station WNST, like its owner, Nestor, is nicknamed “nasty.” (Royle would drop the lawsuit right before Labor Day.)

And now, this latest lawsuit against one of the people in charge of one of the most well-known sports radio stations in the country.

Again, I’m not holding WIP or any of their personalities accountable. (Even former WIP host Mike Missanelli, who now holds down afternoon drive on rival WPEN-FM “97.5 The Fanatic.”) Yes, the lawsuit revolves around another radio station Rayfield oversees.

But to borrow an old adage, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Name-calling. Gay-bashing. Drunk-tweeting.

These are just some of the examples of things that sports radio can do without.

With all of the ugliness that has taken place amongst the sports radio landscape in 2011, what does 2012 have in store?

Hopefully, more on X’s and O’s, and not so much, T & A.