Publish date:

Rethinking MNF

On March 8, ABC's Monday Night Football told color commentator
Boomer Esiason to, in effect, "turn out the lights, the party's
over" after two years on the show. Esiason's firing from TV's
second-longest-running (30 seasons) prime-time program was
closely related to MNF's Nielsen ratings. In 1998, Esiason's
rookie season, MNF did an alltime-low 13.9 rating. Last year it
sunk further, to 13.7.

Whether Esiason, who first teamed with Dan Dierdorf and Al
Michaels and last season worked only with Michaels, should have
been the scapegoat for MNF's decline was last week's news. This
week's topic is, What must ABC do to restore the telecast to its
Cosellian heights? A few suggestions:

1) Get Over the 1970s. Disco is dead. So are Howard Cosell, major
network hegemony and marquee rivalries such as Cowboys-Redskins
and Raiders-Steelers. Cable television not only provides viewers
more choices but also has dulled the specialness of a televised
weeknight pro sports event. ABC was thinking retro last week when
it named Don Ohlmeyer, who produced MNF in the '70s, to do so
again next season. He'll be hard-pressed to duplicate the buzz
MNF had then.

2) Drop Hank Williams Jr. and all his rowdy friends. Like the
theme for SportsCenter, the old MNF instrumental anthem was a
goose-bump-evoking classic. Bring it back.

3) Don't set the schedule in stone. "When you go back and take a
look at it," says ESPN Sunday Night Football color man Paul
Maguire, assessing 1999's Monday night slate, "they had some
awful games. You can only do so much with two bad teams." The
NFL would only help itself by giving MNF flexibility in
selecting its games, a possibility that the league is pondering.

4) In the booth, three's company. "When you're doing a major
game, it is imperative that you have three guys to play off of
one another," says Maguire, who for the past two seasons has
worked with play-by-play man Mike Patrick and co-analyst Joe
Theismann. O.K., but who? What MNF must do is...

5) Court candor. In the days following Esiason's dismissal, John
Elway, Dan Marino, Bill Parcells and Steve Young (who was still
deciding whether he'll play in 2000) were prominently mentioned
as being among Boomer's possible replacements. No, no, no and
no. All are future Hall of Famers, but none has anything
provocative to say. Our short list would include Jimmy Johnson,
who is not afraid to be critical and is naturally entertaining.
Tom Jackson and Sterling Sharpe, former jocks now working as
studio hosts for ESPN, also deserve a serious look. Sharpe,
who's more outspoken and has, well, more sex appeal than
Jackson, might play better to the MNF audience.

Finally, there's the affable Maguire. Entering his 30th season of
NFL broadcasting, Maguire is largely responsible for the terrific
chemistry in the ESPN Sunday night booth. Has anyone recommended
him? "Not that I know of," he says. "I might've recommended me,
but nobody else has."

--John Walters

COLOR PHOTO: CRAIG SJODIN With Esiason (right) out of the picture, who--and how many--will join Michaels?

FOUR HITS, ONE WHIFF
A new CD features major leaguers taking their musical cuts, with
decidedly mixed results

In baseball, it seems, there's a Rocker and there are rockers. On
March 14 a dozen present and former major leaguers released Big
League Rocks! (EMD, $16.98), a compilation CD of mostly original
material to benefit the Major League Baseball Players Trust for
Children. Our ratings of selected cuts, in the order in which
they're heard:

Mark Langston, Welcome to the Show: Indians southpaw starts this
party playing acoustic guitar on a Jump-era-Van Halen-flavored
rendering. When we played it backward, we thought we heard, "I'm
still waiting for that called third strike on Tino Martinez."
Rating: Two-base hit.

Paul O'Neill, Just Like Baseball: Yankees rightfielder-drummer
backs up an uncredited vocalist with a driving tempo. One-base
hit.

Jack McDowell, Silence: Black Jack rocks! Cy Young winner sings
lead and plays guitar on a hell-bent rocker that conjures REM's
Orange Crush. Homer.

Bernie Williams, Eye of the Storm: No aromatherapist's office
should be without this lithe, mellow jazz instrumental from the
Yankees centerfielder-guitarist. Two-base hit.

Ernie Banks, Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Backed, it seems, by
every drunk on Waveland Avenue, Mr. Cub sings one yeoman chorus,
followed by a second. Let's play two? Let's not. Whiff.

Jose Lima, La Gozadera (The Party): Is the Astros' All-Star the
next stellar Latin crossover singer? If so, he needs better
pitch. Fielder's choice.

--J.W.

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