All-women sports show premieres amid weeks of attention to NFL domestic violence issues



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NEW YORK — What perfect timing.

An all-women sports show premieres Tuesday night after weeks of NFL domestic violence cases dominating the headlines. Co-coordinating producer Emilie Deutsch has spent a lot of time listening to that male bastion of sports talk radio to prepare for the gig, and she marvels that "I can't tell you the number of times I've heard someone say, 'Well, I talked to my wife about this and my wife said this.'"

A core panel of a dozen female commentators will get to speak for themselves on "We Need to Talk," which airs on cable channel CBS Sports Network. The weekly, hour-long, prime-time show is the first of its kind.

To Deutsch and fellow coordinating producer Suzanne Smith, the all-women cast makes it completely different than other sports programs — yet no different at the same time.

Smith notes that "The NFL Today" studio is next door to that of "We Need to Talk," and she believes any of her 12 commentators could comfortably slide onto that set.

"They can talk the talk," said Smith, the only woman currently producing or directing NFL games.

But CBS wouldn't be doing the show unless its executives believed their talk would offer a different perspective.

"They bring their experiences as young girls, women, mothers, daughters to the topics," said Deutsch, a vice president of features and original programming.

The main panelists are a mix of veteran broadcasters and former pro athletes. CBS is using five of its own announcers: Pro Football Hall of Fame honoree Lesley Visser; former Oakland Raiders CEO Amy Trask; sideline reporters Tracy Wolfson and Allie LaForce; and radio host Dana Jacobson. They are joined by reporter Andrea Kremer of NFL Network and HBO Sports, boxer Laila Ali, basketball stars Lisa Leslie and Swin Cash, swimmers Dara Torres and Summer Sanders, and tennis player Katrina Adams.

This is not a show specifically about women's sports, unless they happen to be a major source of news. The domestic violence charges against star U.S. Soccer goalie Hope Solo will likely be discussed during Tuesday's premiere — a subject that has received plenty of mainstream media attention in the context of the NFL's handling of the Ray Rice case.

The first two planned segments Tuesday are on the league's response to domestic violence allegations, hardly a stretch considering that has been by far the biggest sports story of the last month.

"(Viewers) are craving these women's voices now more than ever before," Smith said Monday.

"We Need to Talk" was announced in late August and in the works long before that. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was facing criticism at the time for handing Rice a two-game suspension, but only later did the issue become massive national news when TMZ released video of the Baltimore running back assaulting his then-fiancee.

Goodell, who had since acknowledged that the initial punishment was too lenient, suspended Rice indefinitely after the Ravens released him.

"All these things happened that totally needed a women's perspective also," Leslie said. "You had men addressing abuse that's happening to a woman. What do women think?"

Leslie also thinks, though, that she brings a perspective of a hardcore fan no different from the male sports talk radio hosts she loves to listen to in the car. The passion that makes her yell at the TV and decide to attend 7 a.m. church services so she can make it home in time to watch her favorite New England Patriots.

After the first two segments Tuesday, the premiere will turn to more on-the-field sports topics such as Derek Jeter's retirement and the job security of Michigan football coach Brady Hoke. And there may very well be male guests in future weeks.

CBS has shown its commitment to the show by promoting it during hugely popular NFL and SEC broadcasts. Trask and Kremer will also appear on Tuesday's "CBS This Morning" to plug it.

The audience for "We Need to Talk" will be limited, though, by the distribution for CBS Sports Network, which is in fewer than half of the country's homes with televisions. The channel is not rated by Nielsen, so viewership numbers won't be available.

Just the existence of the show is important to Deutsch, who respects Visser, Wolfson and LaForce's work as sideline reporters but is frustrated that women aren't in the booth on NFL games.

"It's really time for women to have more of an opportunity," Deutsch said, "than being relegated to three minutes during a three-hour football game."

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