A year ago, CBS and Turner tried something new with the NCAA tournament selection show. The Sunday evening program was moved away from CBS, where it had aired for the previous 36 years, and instead shown on TBS. It was extended from one hour to two hours. And perhaps most jolting was the format: The 68 teams were announced alphabetically before the full bracket was unveiled.
The alterations were not well received by the viewing public, with complaints focusing on the show’s length and the interminable wait to see the full bracket. Indeed, the reviews were not great, to say the least.
And so Tuesday, CBS and Turner announced a return to the traditional format on the traditional network. CBS will host the selection show at 6 p.m. on Sunday night. The show will last one hour, and the brackets will be unveiled at the top of the program. Greg Gumbel will host the show, along with analysts Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis.
“Being very honest, we tried something new and we were not serving the viewer as well as we could,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said on Tuesday. “It was an honest effort on our part and on Turner’s part to do that. But the feedback we got was, ‘Give us the brackets as quickly as you can.’ It’s as simple as that. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
He added: “It is a selection show, and the purpose of the selection show is really the brackets. So why delay that?”
McManus made the comments at a media event promoting the upcoming tournament, where he appeared along with Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN who this month was named head of news and sports for WarnerMedia following the merger of AT&T and Time Warner.
“We’re all fans,” Zucker said of the back-to-basics selection show format. “Look, I don’t think there’s ever any harm in trying, and if you don’t try things you’ll never evolve. But I think it’s a sign of understanding when things don’t necessarily go as well as you would hope you change it. So there’s no shame in that. At the end of the day, you have to give the fans what they want.”
The traditional format will heighten the drama of the unveil. Instead of an anticlimactic listing of the 36 at-large bids, the matchups themselves will reveal which bubble teams will play in the tournament and which will not, as they’re announced.
Moving the show to cable last year also played a part in a 52 percent drop in ratings. The selection show drew a 1.6 household rating last year according to Nielsen figures, down from a 3.3 the previous year.
Asked whether the backlash to the change indicated that TV viewers value habit over innovation, McManus said, “We’re constantly trying new technology: virtual reality at two different sites this year, 4k production at two different sites this year, more innovative camera angles and audio. We’re constantly using this as a testing ground for new technology, but at the end, the basic priority is covering the games and telling the story of the games. So you want to make sure you don’t lose sight of that and get hung up and intoxicated by the new technology. It’s still a basketball game; the court is still 94 feet long.”
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