Changes coming to CBS golf coverage under new leadership in 2021
It’s not just the most exclusive job in golf, it’s one of the most exclusive jobs on earth.
Since 1959, there have been 62 Masters champions. Tiger Woods has won 82 times. Thirteen U.S. Presidents have held office. Myanmar has installed three governments (and has gone by three different names).
And Golf on CBS has had two coordinating producers.
The network’s incredible run on talent began in 1959, when Frank Chirkinian — the father of golf television — was hired as the network’s first true “lead” golf producer. Chirkinian radically changed the way golf television was viewed, introducing the concept of scores “over” and “under” par, instant replay, and even the practice of spray-painting the edges of holes white. In 1997, Chirkinian was succeeded by Lance Barrow, his protégé, who commandeered the network’s coverage for the next 23 years.
On Saturday, the number of coordinating producers in Golf on CBS history expands to three.
“I’m thrilled to welcome Sellers Shy to our role as the coordinating producer,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said on a conference call previewing the 2021 season. “He’s the perfect person to carry the mantle from Lance Barrow. When you think about the heritage and the shoes he’s stepping into, it’s pretty august company.”
Sellers Shy, a veteran producer whose time on the CBS Golf team dates back to 1987, begins his post as the network’s third coordinating producer at 3 p.m. ET Saturday at the Farmers Insurance Open. Shy is a Memphis native and decorated former junior golfer — a talented, multi-sport producer for CBS who succeeds the newly retired Lance Barrow.
“I have ultimate faith in Sellers, he’s got a great production mind,” McManus said. “He lives and breathes golf, 52 weeks a year. He’s innovative, he’s organized, he works incredibly well with talent, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Sellers is going to bring us forward.”
In recent years, CBS’s golf coverage fell under frequent criticism from golf fans for a series of perceived missteps. Some felt the network’s coverage moved too slowly and neglected to show an adequate number of golf shots, while others were frustrated with Barrow for what they saw as a refusal to adjust to modern sports television.
Shy steps into the lead producer role with a series of changes planned to refresh the network’s look and feel.
“We’ve worked very hard on making sure that there is a slight difference, a re-energized few areas,” Shy said. “All I’m going to do is repeat what Sean (McManus) said and say that we’re really excited about it. In the first hour, you might see three, four, maybe even five new looks.”
Among the most significant changes: new music, updated graphics and a constant mini scoreboard in the lower righthand corner of the screen. The goal, Shy says, is to keep the leaderboard on-screen on a near-constant basis, similar to the score bugs used in other professional sports broadcasts.
“We like to think that viewers love the score bug on football and on basketball, and we’re attempting to make that a standard position for golf for our mini-leaderboard,” Shy said. “I’d like to think that whenever anyone comes in the room and they want to know who’s leading the tournament, you’re going to find out very shortly.”
Outside the production truck, CBS will employ a full-time PGA Tour rules official to help explain rules situations in real-time, while the network hopes to push further into hybrid advertising options.
“We’re hoping to have even more ‘Eye on the Course’ commercials so that live golf continues to be covered even when we’re in commercial,” McManus said. “So stay tuned for that also.”
“The other areas, Sean didn’t talk about, we’re hoping that we’ll increase our collaboration with our technology in our compound with Amanda [Balionis’] area in her cart,” Shy said. “I think the sky’s the limit for this team in New Zealand we work with so closely.”
Even if the changes amount to no-brainers, the network’s third coordinating producer showing an affinity for innovation and a willingness to break the mold set forth by his predecessor signals a noteworthy shift in the tenor of the broadcast.
After all, sports television broadcasts are supposed to be malleable. Viewers are tuning in to watch an entertainment product, and entertainment products carry the expectation of molding to viewership. The best sports broadcasts — Sunday Night Football, the NBA on TNT, even the NFL on CBS — stick to the bleeding edge of culture, tech, and their given sport. Often in golf, that tenet is conflated with “skewing younger,” but the reality is simpler. Broadcasts that remain even a half-step ahead of viewer expectation stand to gain a more deeply invested following, and eye-catching content helps to drive viewership retention and growth. CBS knows this well, they were the original innovators of golf television and saw the impact it had on the growth of the game. Not to mention their sister channel Nickelodeon just fetched two million viewers for its forward-thinking NFL playoff broadcast.
Shy’s promotion might not immediately translate into a preponderance of drone shots, microphones or shot tracers. Nor is it likely to mean that Golf on CBS will take on a radically different form from the version that has greeted viewers for the last several years — at least not right away. But make no mistake about it, Shy shouldn’t be viewed as a ringing endorsement of the program left behind by his predecessor, nor a sign that the network has no intention of shaking things up.
“We’re excited for showing you hopefully in the first hour that we’re improved,” he said. “Hopefully in this season and beyond.”
On Saturday, Sellers Shy becomes the third name etched next to “coordinating producer of Golf on CBS” in the last 60 years. Then the real work begins.
“Sellers is going to bring new ideas and new thoughts and new technology,” McManus said. “It’s a new beginning for us piggybacking on a great heritage and a great tradition of CBS Golf. And I couldn’t be happier to have Sellers Shy being the man in charge.”