If you're watching a PGA Tour telecast on CBS and notice a lot of eye-in-the-sky aerial views, chances are Sean McManus has been on the phone with his production team that afternoon. More than once, in fact. “I really like blimp shot coverage, and it’s one of the constants I call up about,” the CBS Sports chairman and B&C Hall of Famer says. “For the person at home, to see a shot of the golf course or player from the blimp can be extraordinary.”
On CBS’ NFL coverage, McManus is a big fan of the “goat shot,” spotlighting the player whose gaffe allowed the opposing team to score. While the network is in commercial following a touchdown, McManus will have his executive producer ask the director, “‘Have you got a shot of the goat?,’” to air after the break.
“A lot of times, that’s the more memorable shot than the player who is celebrating,” McManus says. And since the 18-year chief of CBS Sports also holds the title of executive producer of the NFL on CBS, “I can legitimately call in on that one,” he notes with a laugh.
CBS’ NFL crew will have many more opportunities to satisfy the boss’ affinity for airship and goat shots when the network kicks off its new seven-game Thursday Night Football package (plus one Saturday telecast) on Sept. 11.
TNF is “the most important franchise we’ve launched at CBS Sports since we got the NFL back in 1998,” says McManus, who made that deal to return pro football to the network after a four-year absence. The ’98 pact, which revived CBS’ then-sagging sports division, remains “the biggest professional thrill of my life,” McManus says.
The NFL is counting on McManus and CBS’ new partnership with the NFL Network (which will carry seven late-season TNF games and a Saturday game) to establish Thursdays as appointment viewing for fans.
“The quality of production on CBS Sports’ broadcasts has Sean’s fingerprints all over it, and that’s not just with the NFL,” says Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, chairman of the league’s NFL Network committee. “Sean knows how to produce, promote and entertain… and his commitment will set the standard very high for Thursday nights.”
McManus’ fascination with football began as quarterback of a flyweight team in Fairfield, Conn., from 4th through 9th grades. He painted his cleats white to emulate his idol, Joe Namath. McManus got to spend time with Namath—along with his other boyhood hero, Muhammad Ali—and scores of other stars as the son of legendary ABC sportscaster Jim McKay. The future exec got his start in the biz at age 11, sweeping out production trucks while traveling with his dad.
By the time he was in college at Duke, McManus knew he wanted a career in TV. He worked summers for ABC Sports at Olympics, U.S. Open golf tournaments and Indy 500s and a midnight-to-8 a.m. gig as an ABC News desk assistant—all at the elbow of production and rightsnegotiation wizard Roone Arledge.
“The two things I enjoy most are production and negotiating deals,” says Mc- Manus, who learned the art of the rights deal during an eight-year stint at NBC Sports before spending nine years as a senior VP of IMG’s television division.
“I don’t think there’s any thrill that matches coming out of a production truck knowing you’ve done a really good job on a broadcast,” McManus says. “It’s the same kind of thing negotiating a big deal. It’s an incredible feeling of elation and satisfaction.”
McManus and his mentor Arledge are the only execs to simultaneously run network sports and news divisions. McManus spent six years in both roles at CBS. His shift back to one job, with his 2011 promotion to chairman of CBS Sports, has allowed him to spend more time with his family and take them along to more Super Bowls and Final Fours.
“My job fortunately has a lot of intoxicating moments,” McManus says. “Being on the floor [after the NCAA championship game] with your wife and kids when they’re playing ‘One Shining Moment’ reminds me of how lucky I am to have this kind of job.”