Hank Williams Jr. may want to add another question to his “Monday Night Football” theme: Who slapped John Madden with the boring stick? Making his debut in “MNF’s” two-man booth after decades of Sunday work with CBS and Fox, Madden went soft in the Patriots-Steelers game, making little more than pithy comments and showing only occasional insight. ABC has always amped the entertainment value of football with its announcing team, and suddenly the audience is left with the deft and consistently accurate calls of Al Michaels and a bland Madden. Across the NFL’s television landscape, there appears to be a shift away from entertainment in the name of playing it straight.
Gone from Madden’s voice is an enthusiasm for the game, for the players in the trenches and, in particular, the big guys. He no longer pulls out the pen and marks up the screen to dissect a play and show what went right or wrong, raising certain players to an exalted level where audiences can follow suit; it’s always been the case that if Madden says a player is good, then it has been cast in stone.
Maybe it goes back to Madden doubting Patriots QB Tom Brady could lead his team to a Super Bowl victory in the final minute last February. Back then, Madden was steadfast in saying sit on the ball and go to overtime; now he has no suggestions, not even analysis of the Patriots’ odd decision Monday to call 23 passing plays in a row.
Game started rough, beginning with Nick Carter’s atrocious rendition of the national anthem. In one of his early breakdowns of a play, Madden in his commentary didn’t match what was being shown onscreen. Later he even struggled with English, declaring “the defender is running the route better than the offender.” Offender?
Michaels was, as always, a delight, getting first and last names correct on every play, never speaking too much or too little. Madden seemingly went into this game with only his memories of the players and coaches, never referring to any recent statistics and, toward the end of the game even incorrectly explained a rule.
Technically the show went extremely smoothly, and field-level side camera even supplied some dramatic footage that expertly captured the speed of the pro game. Quickly edited packages of each quarter’s highlights were done extremely well and paired with upbeat music, Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life,” that fell easy on the ears. Cutting down on sideline reports is always a good thing, and fortunately Melissa Starks’ reports were brief and to the point.
ABC has done well in selling “MNF” inventory, and telecast’s promos were focused squarely on the Tuesday premieres of “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Daughter” and “Push, Nevada,” which will premiere next week.
Selling advertising should be a concern for the Fox Sports Net run of “The NFL Show,” which is loaded with PSAs and promos.
Revamp of its pro football pre-pregame “The NFL Show” plays as an extension of Fox’s testosterone-driven “Best Damn Sports Show, Period.” Between the analyses, though, show is bogged down by a pack of less-than-choreographed dancers hired to add T&A, while a mediocre bar band plays classic-rock riffs.
The couch puts the staid Chris Myers and comedian Tommy Davidson in the company of recently retired superstars. Former Cowboy Michael Irvin, more of a familiar name on police blotters than in fantasy leagues toward the end of his playing days, is the real surprise here — he’s an animated presence delivering information and opinion that exceeds that of his cohorts. Producers have yet to figure out what to do with Davidson.
CBS has kept its “NFL Today” in front of Gotham’s Central Park but made its pregame show such a downer that anytime Deion Sanders is not on camera, it’s a snoozer. Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino, who seems to be on every telecast, are incapable of giving any perspective beyond that of the QB. Sanders, who played defense, offense, special teams and baseball, addresses every angle — the financial, the racial, the former team, etc. — from which a player may approach a situation.
ESPN’s Game Day continues to be the supreme pregame show for football info junkies, though the disorderly shouting from the hosts seems to overshadow the one brilliant football mind in their presence, Bill Parcells.