CBS Pulls 'Thursday Night Football' Opener Featuring Rihanna Amid Ray Rice Mess

Won't Air Video Including Rihanna's 'Run This Town'

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Rihanna at the Grammy Awards.
Rihanna at the Grammy Awards. Credit: Francis Specker/Bloomberg News
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CBS is pulling its planned "Thursday Night Football" opener as the Ray Rice situation envelops all talk about the NFL.

The network had said earlier that it would open each game in its new package of "Thursday Night Football" games with "Run This Town," a Jay Z song featuring Rihanna, accompanied by narration from the actor Don Cheadle. But CBS abruptly decided to skip the "Run This Town" opening for Thursday's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, where Mr. Rice had played until TMZ posted video Monday that appeared to show him punching his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator. The Ravens released Mr. Rice on Monday.

CBS instead decided to start coverage with an interview of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that was conducted by Norah O'Donnell on Wednesday. The "Run This Town" opener will be used in subsequent "Thursday Night Football" games, a network spokeswoman said.

The change, reported earlier by SI.com, reflected the network's desire to strike the right tone, a CBS spokeswoman said. The format will now include more analysis of the controversy, including questions over how the NFL has handled the months-old domestic-abuse allegations against Mr. Rice.

"Run This Town" could have also reminded viewers of the felony conviction against Chris Brown after he attacked Rihanna in 2009. TMZ played a role then, too, obtaining and publishing photos of the battered popstar. Mr. Brown served five years of probation.

CBS made no mention of that incident, but plenty of other outlets were making the connection between the Chris Brown saga and the Ray Rice story that the NFL is trying to put behind it.

The NFL suspended Mr. Rice indefinitely this week after earlier suspending him for just two games. The initial penality had prompted such an outcry that the NFL changed its domestic-abuse policy, but the league did not toughen its punishment until after the TMZ video became public. Mr. Goodell maintains that neither he nor the league had seen the elevator video before this week.

CBS, which will air eight "Thursday Night Football" games along with the NFL Network, has a lot riding on the franchise. It invested heavily in promoting "Thursday Night Football" and has been garnering about $500,000 for a 30-second commercial spot.

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