Patrick Mahomes and Brock Purdy aren’t the only ones who are likely to be feeling intense pressure on Super Bowl Sunday.
Nate Burleson will be just as busy this weekend as the quarterbacks for the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. He is part of CBS’ “NFL Today” pre-game show. He will be helping to call the game for younger audiences as part of a Super Bowl simulcast on Nickelodeon, the kids-cable network that is, like CBS, owned by Paramount Global. And no matter how he fares in those programs, he must be ready to go again just hours later when he takes part in his regular job at “CBS Mornings.” After a full day of Sunday-night sportscasting, Burleson will have to be up and ready well before 4 a.m. Pacific Time.
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“He’s sort of one of the busiest men in show business right now,” says Paul Medford, Nickelodeon’s vice president of unscripted current series, during a recent interview.
When Mahomes and Purdy get a break in game play, Burleson will be facing his most difficult moment. As halftime approaches, he will have to leave a broadcast booth filled with Nickelodeon favorites, including the actors who voice SpongeBob SquarePants and Patrick Star, change out of what is likely to be a brightly colored wardrobe, put on more typical clothes, and rush to an elevator so he can get down to the field at Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nevada, where “The NFL Today” has its own outdoor set. Producers hope Burleson can avoid the teeming crowds likely to be gathering at ground level for the halftime show with Usher.
Burleson probably has “a matter of four or five minutes” to get from one place to another, says Drew Kalski, coordinating producer of “The NFL Today,” who notes: “We will get him, but he’s going to have to hustle.”
Paramount Global is counting on it. The company, increasingly viewed by Wall Street as an acquisition target, is eager to show that its facility with content can continue to draw the big crowds that investors, advertisers and distributors crave in an era when the rise of streaming video has splintered most TV audiences. There are some reasons for hope. CBS executives believe the Super Bowl sales process has nabbed a record haul and will surpass the $600 million Fox said it won from advertisers last year. Burleson is also part of a team at “CBS Mornings” that recently came within 6,000 viewers of ABC’s “Good Morning America” among audiences between the ages of 25 and 54 – a demographic coveted among advertisers.
To get things done, Burleson says he’s trying to avoid the parties that are so much a part of the week leading up to the Big Game — and of this year’s host city, Las Vegas. “You can handle Super Bowl week in multiple ways. You can go there and enjoy the glitz and the glamour,” he says during an interview, but “I’m fully committed to preparation for each show that I’m on. I have turned down every opportunity to go to a party or make money.”
Nate Burleson has worked hard throughout most of his 42 years. He hails from a family of athletes with a father who played football in both the Canadian Football League and the USFL. One older brother played in the NBA. Once his father retired from athletics, he took up a job in the grocery business.
“It just seemed like they were always working and never complained, all the while raising four boys that seemed like feral animals at times, eating them out of house and home” Burleson says of his parents during an interview. “I saw what hard work really was.”
He will see it this week, too. Even as he suits up each A.M. to participate in “CBS Mornings,” Burleson will also be working on “NFL Slimetime,” the Nickelodeon show that helps kids explore football. Burleson is “sophisticated, but he’s always very generous, which goes a long way when you’re working with kids,” says Medford. “He will get down in the dirt.” Burleson is also likely to take part in a Super Bowl after-show on CBS Sports Network with the “NFL Today” host assemblage.
He has steadily taken on more tasks since joining CBS’ “The NFL Today” as a studio analyst in 2017, then adding more duties with Nickelodeon and “CBS Mornings” in 2021. Burleson had been working at NFL Network as a co-anchor for its “Good Morning Football” show, but he needed to learn new things at the bigger outlet.
“On the NFL Network, he had a three-hour show every day. We were an hour show with more voices, so you really had to think about how you are going to present our comments and discussion,” says Kaliski. Burleson has become “so thoughtful and so prepared,” he says, and is easily reachable during the week even when he’s in the midst of projects for “CBS Mornings.”
It’s the news show where Burleson acknowledges he had to dig into new ways of presenting himself. “Every day is a challenge. You have to be overprepared for the small amount of time you get to speak on,” he says. “The challenge is making sure you are caught up with everything going on. We are talking politics, popular culture, movies music, sports and everything in between.”
Burleson has developed different chops during his A.M. tenure. ‘I would say we have moved from, ‘OK, let’s send Nate to do the interview with insert-sports-star-here,’” says Shawna Thomas, executive producer of “CBS Mornings,” during an interview. “Now we are at, ‘OK, lets do an interview about Black Wall Street in Tulsa and the massacre that happened there.’ He has also sat down with former President Obama,’” she adds. “Would I have started at the outset in 2021 with a direct one-on-one with former President Obama? Probably not. Is he ready now? Yes, and we will go even further.”
Burleson is one of a just a handful of prominent sportscasters who have moved over to important positions in TV news. The list is growing. Charles Barkley co-anchors a weekly primetime show on CNN with CBS News’ Gayle King and Curt Menefee recently took over an important co-anchor role at Fox’s WNYW station in New York.
When Burleson got the news job, there weren’t as many. He reached out to another former athlete, Michael Strahan, who is one of the three co-anchors at ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He offered Burleson sobering counsel: “Not everyone that sees you in that seat believes you can be there.”
A spokesman for Strahan confirmed the two had a conversation, but declined to offer additional comment.
Burleson took the words to heart. Strahan “gave really good advice” he says, adding: “Yes, this seat is prime real estate, and there are people who work for other networks that are looking at me and saying I shouldn’t be there. There may be people who work for Paramount or CBS or even Nickelodeon on my kids show that feel they deserve this seat. And they do. My job is to work extremely hard at the job to the point that they have to tip their hat and say, ‘I deserve that seat, but now I see so does he.’”
He has plans for other projects. He’s enjoying developing his skills in crafting features that take him out of the studio at “CBS Mornings.” But he also has other interests, including producing a documentary project about the former NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice. He has a book about his relationship with football. And he has considered acting. But Burleson knows he is already in the middle of a complex juggle. “I have learned not to spread myself too thin and have too many things going before I am able to establish myself in a specific space,” he says.
It’s hard to imagine he has much room left to stretch! In any case, Burleson first has to make it past halftime on Sunday.
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