MNF goes long on entertainment

ON THE AIR

August 31, 1994|By MILTON KENT

These are pretty heady times for ABC's "Monday Night Football," and why not?

MNF remains the biggest weekly spectacle in televised sports, garnering ratings high enough to keep the show in the Nielsen prime-time top 10 for the past four years.

And when the curtain goes up on the show's 25th season Monday night, as the San Francisco 49ers play host to the Los Angeles Raiders, the home-viewing audience will find basically the same formula that has yielded big dividends to this point.

"On Monday night, we have a special mandate. We've made it something beyond what you get on Sundays," said producer Ken Wolfe. "We give [the audience] all the football you need, but we give them entertainment both from the announce booth and the truck."

Oh, the entertainment that has come from "Monday Night Football." Who can forget "Dandy" Don Meredith and his weekly wail of "Turn Out The Lights" at the appropriate moment when the game sufficiently was decided?

Or Howard Cosell slapping Washington's Alvin Garrett with the "little monkey" moniker during a 1983 game?

Ah, the memories. Those days with Cosell, Meredith and Frank Gifford generally are viewed as the golden age of the program, but the current three-man announcing team of Gifford, Dan Dierdorf and Al Michaels has been together for eight years.

That's longer than any previous MNF triumvirate has stuck around. Gifford, who gave up play-by-play duties in 1986, when Michaels came on board, says the program has become a marker of its times.

" 'Monday Night Football' has followed the sociological trends of the times. In the early 1970s, the nation was rebellious and there was some of that in the booth," said Gifford. "But we are more reflective of the times now. We are information-oriented. We can kill you with the information we have now."

For the coming season, MNF will make a few cosmetic changes, adding Lynn Swann, who will report from the sidelines, and Brent Musburger, who will host the halftime show, while welcoming back Hank Williams Jr. to sing the show's theme.

"We're more of an entertainment vehicle. It's a formula that's worked for 24 years, and it's something we're not afraid to do," said Dierdorf.

NFL vs. CFL

The fight wasn't exactly fair, what with Saturday's Baltimore-Hamilton CFL game having a one-hour head start, but the game from Up North, carried on Channel 2, handily defeated the Giants-Bears game on Channel 45 in local ratings released yesterday.

The CFL game attracted a 6.7 rating and a 14 share of Saturday's audience; the NFL game did only a 4.0 rating and an 8 share. Sunday afternoon's telecast of the Kickoff Classic, between Nebraska and West Virginia on Channel 13, did a 6.0/16.

A bogey for CBS

CBS has followed a dangerous course by allowing the Masters to boot analyst Gary McCord off next year's telecast team.

Officials at Augusta National, who have a history of dictating conditions by which the tournament is telecast, had complained about McCord's irreverence, which manifested itself this year when he referred to the greens as appearing to have been cut with "bikini wax," and to the bumpy terrain as looking "like body bags." The network has a long history with the Masters and obviously didn't want to risk it by bringing McCord back to offend the stodgy Augusta members.

How could the network now, for instance, refuse the NCAA if it said Billy Packer was no longer an acceptable announcer for tournament coverage? Then again, that might not be such a bad thing.

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