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Mohr or Less?

If you walk out of church on Sunday morning feeling a little too
righteous, a good way to burn off some of that excess holiness is
to flip on NFL This Morning on Fox Sports Net. The two-hour
pre-pregame testosteronefest (10 a.m.-noon EST) features seven
guys sitting around talking football while hurling insults that
range from the tame (dissing Fox football analyst Cris
Collinsworth for his Conan O'Brien-like coif) to the crass
(actor-comedian Jay Mohr questioning host Chris Myers's sexuality
by telling him that in using the term feng shui he "came out of
the closet like a Murphy bed"). Say what you will about the
show's lowbrow humor, it requires a lot less of the viewer than
Dennis Miller's Monday Night Football rants.

The on-air personalities are divided into two groups: Myers,
former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy and former All-Pro tackle
Jackie Slater sit at the broadcasting equivalent of the
grown-ups' table, while the kiddie korps of former NFL players
Bob Golic, Sean Jones and Billy Ray Smith, along with Mohr, sit
behind them in a denlike setup. The members of the two groups
offer analysis of the day's games and advice to fantasy football
owners and still find time to launch numerous barbs at each
other. It is, in the words of producer Mark Mayer, "chaos in a
very positive sense."

The key to the show is Myers, who has a knack for knowing when to
let his cohorts riff and when to rein them in. "Chris is a pro,"
says Mayer. "You need a strong personality in that spot, or he's
going to get steamrollered."

Chief among the aspiring steamrollers is Mohr. Fox Sports TV
Group chairman David Hill was familiar with Mohr from the often
hilarious but poorly rated Fox sitcom Action, which was quickly
canceled last year. Mohr had demonstrated a respectable knowledge
of sports in several appearances on Jim Rome's nationally
syndicated radio show, and the fact that Fox would hire a
football analyst based on how well he handled himself in "the
Jungle" says a lot about the changing face of sports
broadcasting. "For a long time we served viewers news and
information," says Mayer, "but the Internet and 24-hour news
services have changed the game. We need to give the viewer more."

If more includes Mohr, so be it. The irreverence of NFL This
Morning is welcome and appeals to the show's target audience,
which, says Mayer, is "the hard-core football guy, but also the
guy who's tired of being preached to. Football is supposed to be
fun."

--M.B.

COLOR PHOTO: RANDY HOLMES NFL This Morning's kiddie korps (from left, Jones, Mohr, Golic, Smith) specialize in lowbrow humor.

POUNDING HIS CHESS
A grandmaster has just the thing if you like to watch people
pushing pawns

Garry Kasparov is no longer the best chess player in the world--he
lost that title, which he'd held for 15 years, last week, when
fellow Russian player Vladimir Kramnik forced a draw in the 15th
match of the world championship in London to clinch a 8.5-6.5
victory. Kasparov's website, though, is still the best chess site
around; www.kasparovchess.com covered the championships (in which
the 25-year-old Kramnik won two matches; the other 13 ended in
draws) in an unbiased fashion and quite comprehensively, with
stats, analysis and chats, most of which was archived for players
of all levels to study.

Chess never caught on with TV audiences as Kasparov hoped it
would, and now he sees the Internet as the ideal medium for
attracting a worldwide audience of chess fans who want to watch
matches live: The scrutiny every move invites is ideal chat-room
fodder, and the paucity of action makes it easy to render
graphically. His site is no mere hobby. It has 65 employees in
three countries and has played host to a number of tournaments in
which players could compete from anywhere in the world while
anyone with a modem could watch. Kasparov recently told England's
Manchester Guardian Weekly, "With the Internet, chess has perhaps
its last chance of acquiring a new status in society."

If Net chess catches on, it would certainly bode well for the
game but even better for its erstwhile champ, who, as always,
seems to have a clearly mapped-out endgame in mind: Kasparov
plans to take his site public.

--M.B.