Softballs ahead of the Super Bowl in CBS pregrame

Associated Press
Players warm up on the field before the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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Players warm up on the field before the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game between the San Francisco …

NEW YORK (AP) — With storylines ranging from head injuries to deer antler extract, CBS had a spicy gumbo of issues for its daylong pregame coverage of the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Party background noise for most viewers, the oft-derided Super Bowl pregame programming can also be revealing of the broadcasting network. Often, networks bend over backward to awkwardly promote unrelated shows. Fox (one shudders to recall) once put a red carpet in a parking lot with Ryan Seacrest.

CBS's coverage of its 18th Super Bowl didn't lack in cross-promotion (including one shameless tie-in with Pizza Hut), but it had a more professional feel than the gluttonous pregame affairs often do. The network centered its Super Bowl lead-up on teary human interest stories and football-centric programming.

But there was plenty of soft-balling. The controversial Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis was interviewed not by a journalist, but by his former teammate and current CBS Sports analyst Shannon Sharpe.

The interview, disappointingly, was taped before the story broke alleging his use of deer antler extract, which includes a banned substance. No need to worry, though, Sharpe quickly explained that issue was old news. He also let Lewis completely sidestep addressing the double murder case in which Lewis testified against two men and pleaded guilty to a meisdemanor charge of obstruction of justice.

The biggest issue in the NFL today — head injuries — was frequently discussed by the CBS crew, including a story by NFL Today host James Brown that delved into some of the effects of the NFL's hard hitting, and the efforts underway to protect players. But the bent of the story, as Dan Marino insisted on the set, was that the NFL is "way out in front" of the issue.

Coming to a Super Bowl pregame show for an in-depth, frank discussion of a subject like concussions, though, is perhaps foolhardy. As the two-tiered panel of analysts each weighed in, it was difficult to hear over the boozy, whooping fans bordering the Jackson Square set outside the Super Dome.

In an interview with CBS News' Scott Pelley, President Barack Obama again said that if he had a son interested in football, he would think before letting him play football, given what's now known about head injuries.

Whether head trauma would get much airtime during the game broadcast by Jim Nantz and Phil Simms was to be one of the broadcast's big questions.

Likely to be a major feature of the game's drama is the sibling match-up of the head coach brothers Jim and John Harbaugh. CBS, which plans to have two of its 60-plus cameras focused on each brother throughout the game, scored a set visit from the Harbaugh parents before the game.

Three years running, the NFL's championship game has set a viewership record, topped last year by NBC's broadcast to an average audience of 111.3 million people.

But ratings are a mere point of pride for CBS heading into kickoff. The ads have already been sold (some at more than $4 million a pop), so the network can now only hope to put forth its best broadcast and deflect as much of the Super Bowl glow to its other programs and its cable sports network.

The game is also being streamed live on both CBSSports.com and NFL.com, but CBS expects the broadcast to be the overwhelmingly more popular viewing choice.

After the game, CBS will run a new episode of the Thursday-night drama "Elementary" and a special broadcast of "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson."

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle

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