Don't be rattled to discover rollout of lineup shake-ups


The Kickoff

September 08, 2006|By RAY FRAGER

If you woke up just in time for the start of the NFL season, you might notice a difference or two from last year on your television.

(Oh, and while you were sleeping, Vince fired Ari on Entourage, but that Jim and Pam thing on The Office remains up in the air.)

As they might say on Sunday nights - though they'll be saying it on another network this year - let's go the highlights:

Monday Night Football has shifted from ABC to ESPN, with a new team in the booth - Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser.

NBC has taken over Sunday nights, having imported the Monday Night duo of Al Michaels and John Madden.

NBC also has replaced ESPN as home of the evening highlights show each Sunday at 7 - called (everybody salute!) Football Night in America - with studio host Bob Costas, joined by Cris Collinsworth, Sterling Sharpe, Jerome Bettis and Sports Illustrated's Peter King.

Fox NFL Sunday has a new host, with Joe Buck assuming James Brown's role, and the pre-game show has moved out of the studio and hit the road. It will be broadcast from the site of the network's best game each week.

Brown has shifted to CBS' The NFL Today, and the former pre-game host, Greg Gumbel, has returned to play-by-play.

The league's TV arm, the NFL Network, has a package of eight games in the second half of the season, called by Bryant Gumbel and Collinsworth.

(And if that doesn't wake you up, maybe we'll have to go into what happened with The Today Show, The View and CBS Evening News.)

Most of the media attention has been split between Sunday and Monday nights. With Monday, that means attention to what qualifies as a Great Experiment in TV sports, using longtime Washington Post columnist Kornheiser as an analyst.

"I think that people that tune in for the first time will be just stunned that I'm there and wonder what in God's name am I doing there?" Kornheiser said in a conference call this week.

He was kidding. Maybe.

Theismann praised him by saying, "I've been very impressed by his growth, his progress," and spoke about how Kornheiser has learned to let others talk - a habit that Theismann himself still needs to pick up. Kornheiser replied, "Does that mean that I've made the team, that I'm quiet enough to make the team?"

Meanwhile, Sunday is trying to be the new Monday, something the NFL clearly is pushing.

Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, said in another conference call: "The NFL has a lot riding on Sunday night. The stakes are really high."

To help NBC succeed, the NFL has instituted flexible scheduling - the ability to shift games to Sunday night - for the network's telecasts in weeks 10 through 17 (excluding Christmas Day), giving NBC a shot at a marquee matchup each week.

Though McManus said, "I think the effect will be fairly minimal," Fox Sports president Ed Goren sounded less than pleased with the arrangement.

"[Fox and CBS] have expressed our concern on how this will play out," Goren said in yet another conference call. (I still have a crick in my neck.)

If the current setup holds, the two networks must decide after Week 4 which five games they want to block from being moved to Sunday night.

"Why should our crystal balls be better than NBC's when it comes to which games are protected?" Goren said.

George Bodenheimer, ESPN and ABC Sports president, whose Monday night schedule is locked in, doesn't sound as if he's sweating it.

"An awful lot of things even out over the years, so I'm not concerned with the flexible schedule," Bodenheimer said. " ... The NFL is in the business of keeping all of its television partners satisfied."

Radio ready

Those who prefer to get ready for the Ravens opener Sunday via radio rather than TV have options.

On the flagship station, even though the actual game will be heard only on 98 Rock (WIYY/97.9 FM) because of a conflict with the Orioles, Countdown to Kickoff begins at 10 a.m. on WBAL (1090 AM), hosted by Steve Davis, who is joined by the announcing team of Gerry Sandusky, Stan White and Rob Burnett, along with various other voices.

WJFK (1300 AM) and WHFS (105.7 FM) air Baltimore GameDay at 11 a.m. If you fear withdrawal pains because of the switch in Ravens announcers, the former radio team of Scott Garceau and Tom Matte heads the proceedings. Anita Marks, Tom Davis, Gary Stein and Chuck Evans will also - as the kids say - rock the mike.

On WNST (1570 AM), Ray Bachman and Casey Willett preview the Ravens before the station turns things over to network programming.

Afterward, WBAL and WJFK each will give you two hours to celebrate/commiserate with post-game shows.

Read Ray Frager's sports media blog at

Weekend highlights

Tennis -- In case you need a respite from the football frenzy, CBS (WJZ/Channel 13 and WUSA/Channel 9) finishes up the U.S. Open today (11 a.m., women's semifinals), tomorrow (noon, men's semifinals; 8 p.m., women's final) and Sunday (4 p.m., men's final). And if you're not sick of the Maria Sharapova "I Feel Pretty" and Andy Roddick Pong commercials by then, you'll never be.

Auto racing -- The last race before the Chase. Drivers jockey for position in the Nextel Cup Chevy Rock & Roll 400 tomorrow night at 7:30 on TNT. The rocking they're probably OK with. It might be best for them to stay away from rolling, however.

College football -- Ohio State vs. Texas on ABC tomorrow (8 p.m., WMAR/Channel 2 and WJLA/Channel 7). No. 1 vs. No. 2. It's huge. But Brent Musburger surely will do everything he can to dial back the hype.

[ Ray Frager]

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