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Instead of coronavirus-canceled NCAA Tournament starting Thursday, TV has game shows, movies

Networks continue to juggle and rearrange programming with the pandemic shutting down sports. Their goal: to be entertaining and relevant.

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ln a world without a coronavirus pandemic, Thursday would have been the first day of the NCAA Tournament.

But instead of having millions of people glued to their TVs for the marathon kickoff of March Madness, CBS will air game shows during the afternoon and its usual prime time shows at night. TNT and TBS will air their usual shows as well as movies.

Those networks were able to quickly adjust after the cancellation of the tournament March 12 because of the pandemic. But for networks that solely rely on sports, the adjustments have taken more time to implement.

Burke Magnus has always had a challenging job as ESPN’s head of programming, trying to juggle live events among ESPN’s various channels.

But Magnus and other programming directors are facing possibly the biggest task of their careers: How to schedule with no live sports on the horizon for the foreseeable future.

“There are so many creative things we can do, similar to some of the initiatives we’ve done in the past for special event anniversaries, ‘The Ocho’ day and more,” Magnus said in a Q&A with ESPN’s company blog. “The challenge is that now we need to replicate that dynamic 24 hours a day, seven days a week across multiple networks. That’s what is in front of us in terms of long-range planning.”

The start of NFL free agency this week has provided ESPN with a steady diet of live studio and news programming. The focus in future weeks, though, will be on original shows and films.

Magnus said everyone has two goals for this period, however long it might last: being relevant and entertaining.

Magnus, whose official title at ESPN is executive vice president of programming acquisitions and scheduling, realizes fans would love to see broadcasts of past games, but ESPN and most networks do not have those rights. For example, if ESPN wanted to show the Georgetown-Princeton game from the 1989 NCAA Tournament, it would have to get permission from NCAA Productions.

Discussions are ongoing between the networks and leagues about freeing up the archives. MLB Network, NHL Network and NBA TV have basically gone into offseason mode with documentaries and taped games, as well as shortened studio shows in case news develops. The NFL Network has had free agency news as well as tapes from past games.

NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said league and event partners have been a great help. NBC does have access to all English Premier League soccer programming and will air seven hours of top goals from 2010 through ‘17 on Saturday. They also have a library of original specials showcasing the Premier League.

NBCSN has also been trying to add a global perspective on how the coronavirus has halted sports. It is airing six hours of Sky Sports News on weekdays.

The new Marquee Sports Network, which is a joint venture between the Chicago Cubs and Sinclair Broadcast Group, has an archive of over 4,000 Cubs games. On Wednesday, they started replaying almost every postseason game from their 2016 championship run.

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