Looking for spark, ABC sets off 'Blast'

Media Watch

September 08, 1998|By MILTON KENT

When ABC officials told Frank Gifford about their plans to take the new "Monday Night Football" pre-game show to Baltimore, he was a bit skeptical, mostly because he had finally managed to get out of the grind of weekly travel from one city to the other.

But it only took last night's visit to the ESPN Zone for last night's premiere of "Monday Night Blast" to sell Gifford on the show, the city and the restaurant.

Thinking back to his playing days with the New York football Giants, Gifford said: "Baltimore hasn't been a great place for me, but it's an easy trip [from his Connecticut home], and the show is great. And I can't wait to get [his son] Cody down here. He'll love this place."

Gifford's ABC bosses are hoping Baltimore, but more specifically, the new, sports-themed restaurant, will help bring a spark to "MNF," now in its 29th season and airing one hour earlier, 8 p.m.

"The thing we're trying to do is reach beyond the usual sports enthusiasts and open the show up to the casual viewer. After all, it's a sports and entertainment show," said "Blast" producer Bill Bonnell.

Bonnell said ABC officials started looking for a way to jazz up the show five months ago, and the ESPN Zone -- which, like the network and ESPN, is owned by Disney -- seemed to be the perfect place, given its sports theme.

"For me to stand here tonight and see this is incredible," Bonnell said. "We could not have built this in New York."

The other vital component of the show is the casting of boisterous Chris Berman as the "Blast" ringleader.

Berman, host of ESPN's football studio shows, is perfectly cast as the man to lead the biggest party on network television, though he says he'll be feeling his way through it all to start.

"There's a feeling of excitement," Berman said before the show last night. "About halfway through the year, we'll know more about what we're doing. It will be fun to be a part of television history, though when Mel Brooks makes 'History of the World, Part 2,' I don't know that this will make it."

However, if you came down to the ESPN Zone last night hoping to trade wacky nicknames with Berman or to make football chalkboard talk with Gifford, chances are you went home disappointed.

Truth be told, there probably won't be many opportunities for the average fan to mingle among the television celebrities, at least not during the first few telecasts, if at all.

A glass door separated the paying customers from the invited throng of about 200 or so employees and guests of the Cordish Corp., the developer of the Power Plant, site of the ESPN Zone.

Bonnell said the bar area in back of the screening area would have limited access until the Baltimore portion of the telecast ends, which would be the start of the second half.

Berman and Gifford came out and chatted with the gathered crowd about 7 p.m. for a few minutes, but Gifford left not long after his part of the show -- introducing an NFL Films-produced piece -- was over. Berman, meanwhile, spent the first half in a nearby production truck prepping for the halftime show, but chatted amiably with the crowd between segments at halftime.

"People in Baltimore love it when Philadelphia struggles, but they really like it when the Redskins struggle, right?" Berman said.

The hunt for 62

It's Fox's turn to televise the seemingly inexorable march toward a single-season home run record, with the telecast of tonight's Cardinals-Cubs game (Channel 45, 8 o'clock).

If, for some reason, Mark McGwire does not connect tonight to break Roger Maris' 37-year-old record, ESPN would get the rTC chance to air the potential history-making blow tomorrow at 7: 30 p.m. from Cincinnati.

Berman, who was on hand here on a September Wednesday night when Cal Ripken made history, may call tomorrow's Cardinals-Reds game, and says he's already thought of what he might say if the situation calls for it.

"I was a history major at Brown, and I would try to think of something to mark the history of the moment," Berman said. "I would not try to be cutesy or anything like that. I think something like, "Back, back, back, the home run record is gone. No. 62."

By the way, ESPN will air a documentary on the life of Maris tonight at 7: 30, with a re-air on ESPN Classic at 10 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/08/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.