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Monday, June 24, 2024

Charissa Thompson Is ‘MVP’ of Amazon’s First NFL Season

  • Host juggles TV rookies and veterans on ‘Thursday Night Football.’
  • Thompson also hosts ‘Fox NFL Kickoff’ on Sundays.
Charissa Thompson handling Amazon's Thursday Night Football coverage with panel of former NFL players 

Growing up, Charissa Thompson’s favorite player was Deion Sanders, the dual sports athlete.

Fast forward to today, Thompson is juggling multiple prime time TV and business opportunities of her own. 

Tonight, she’ll continue her first season as host of Amazon Prime Video’s “TNF Tonight” studio show before “Thursday Night Football.”

Since 2013, she’s hosted a Sunday NFL pregame show, “Fox NFL Kickoff,” on Fox Sports. 

Thompson also co-hosts the “Calm Down with Erin and Charissa” podcast with friend and Fox colleague Erin Andrews. She owns and operates her own interior design business. She previously served as co-host of the entertainment show “Extra.”

“Even when I was balancing sports and entertainment, and going in both of those spaces simultaneously, I kept thinking, ‘How cool is this? I get to do a pregame show, then change into a ball gown and cover the Emmys on a red carpet?’” Thompson told Front Office Sports.

“Deion Sanders was my favorite player growing up. I loved the idea of playing in a football game, then playing in a World Series game. It’s opportunities – and I will take them all.”

By all accounts, Thompson has aced her first season as the leader of Amazon’s pregame, halftime, and post-game shows, which co-star analysts Tony Gonzalez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Richard Sherman, and Andrew Whitworth, along with feature reporter Taylor Rooks and news reporter Michael Smith.

On “TNF Tonight,” Thompson alternates between host, quarterback, and point guard. 

She had to balance the face time of three TV veterans (Gonzalez, Rooks, and Smith) with three promising TV rookies (Sherman, Fitzpatrick, and Whitworth). 

A good studio host has to be unselfish, making their colleagues look smart while keeping viewers informed and keeping the show on track.  

“She’s really the MVP of what we’ve done. From Day One, she really took a leadership role beyond what she does on the air,” said Jared Stacy, Amazon’s director of global live sports production. 

“A leadership role in making the guys feel comfortable. Being a safety net. Always having their backs. She’s really put them at ease. It allowed them to be authentic on air. Because they didn’t have to carry the show. That’s really where she’s stepped in. She’s just been a fantastic teammate from the jump.”

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Stakes Are High

Thompson scored the high-profile hosting gig after Amazon signed an $11 billion deal to exclusively stream TNF from 2022-2033. 

The stakes were high for Thompson and Co. this season: 

  • Amazon’s nascent TNF team didn’t have much time to prepare for production of a broadcast. Jeff Bezos’ Amazon seized the chance to take over the TNF package a year early from Fox Sports – sparking a scramble for talent. Stacy said Amazon talked to “dozens” of candidates before choosing its broadcast team and studio cast. What’s more, the new show would be a traveling circus, ala ESPN’s “College GameDay,” stopping in 15 different cities over the course of the season. These shows look great on TV. But they’re a planning and logistical nightmare. 
  • Thompson’s new show would have to stream without the traditional “lead-in” program found on traditional TV. Instead, viewers would have to find their way to Amazon Prime Video to watch her show. Then maintaining the audience before, during, and after the game.
  • Most notably, Amazon was under the microscope to produce a quality NFL studio show on par with “Fox NFL Sunday,” CBS Sports’ “The NFL Today, NBC Sports’ “Football Night in America” and ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.”

The NFL demands the best from its media partners. That’s why Disney’s ESPN agreed to shell out a combined $165 million over the next five years for its new “Monday Night Football Booth” of Troy Aikman and Joe Buck. 

Amazon knew some of the league’s longtime media partners were hoping the new kid on the block would fall flat on its face.

“We were an expansion team. But there was no expansion draft,” Stacy said. “And we had to put a winning team on the field in year one.”

How It All Started

Over her career, Thompson improbably worked her way up from the HR department at Fox in 2006 to on-air roles at ESPN, Yahoo, and Versus, as well as startup networks like FS1 and the Big Ten Network. Her experience with startups helped this season.

Yes, Amazon’s a global tech giant with $469 billion in revenue and a trillion-dollar valuation on Wall Street. But the new TNF team still operates with a “start-up mentality,” Thompson said.

“There’s something very special about that. Having been a part of these launches before with Big Ten Network and FS1. I’ve seen a lot of similarities in the three,” she said. “It’s special. You get really close to the group. You feel like you’re all in it together.”

Entering tonight’s stream of the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Seattle Seahawks, Thompson took stock of what has worked and hasn’t this season.

For Thompson, the biggest plus has been the chemistry between the cast and crew. Viewers know it when they see it.

“It’s lightning in a bottle. It’s very rare to find. Working with a bunch of different teams throughout my career, it doesn’t happen like this. It’s very, very rare. So I feel that’s been a huge positive.”

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On the other hand, Amazon has experienced the myriad of audio and technical glitches that come from broadcasting live NFL games.  

Amazon was also criticized for the way it covered Tua Tagovailoa’s frightening on-field concussion in September.

It was the new crew’s third telecast together. Thompson was happy she had Fitzpatrick, Tagovailoa’s friend and ex-teammate with the Miami Dolphins, to remind viewers of Tua’s humanity.

“Ultimately, this was a human being. This was a father down on the field, a husband down on the field,” she said. “Players are people – first and foremost – before football players. I think we did a great job reacting as humans. While remembering we still had jobs to do.” 

Highs and Lows

The NFL scheduling gods giveth and they taketh away. 

For Amazon’s season debut on Sep. 15, the streamer scored a great matchup, with Patrick Mahomes leading the Kansas City Chiefs to a 27-24 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.

But Amazon has also had some unappealing games, to the chagrin of venerable play-by-play announcer Al Michaels, who used to call the marquee matchups on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”  

The worst might have been the Indianapolis Colts’ sleep-inducing 12-9 win over the Denver Broncos on Oct. 6: a game featuring seven field goals and zero touchdowns.

But the TV gods smiled on Amazon late in the season, with Baker Mayfield coming off the waiver wire to lead the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams to an exciting 17-16 win over the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 8. The giant streamer will close its season on a high-note with America’s most popular TV team, the Dallas Cowboys, taking on the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 29. 

Thompson just laughed about Mayfield’s Lazarus-like resurrection: “The football gods said, ‘We gave you all those field goals in Denver, so we’re going to make it up to you with this incredible finish.”

Looking ahead, Thompson predicts Tom Brady will exceed expectations when he joins Fox as a game analyst.  

“He will be fantastic on television because he will do his homework – and it will show,” she said.

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