In making the transition to Monday from Sunday night football, ESPN realized there’s something to be said about letting the game speak for itself. Gone from its broadcast are the hype and hollering, the over-the-top visuals and videogame-like camera angles. In its stead is a show that looks and feels a lot like ABC’s “Monday Night Football.” ESPN’s dilemma is figuring out what to do with Tony Kornheiser, whose role is nebulous at best.
NBC is making football a Sunday night franchise and their debut — featuring a marquee matchup between the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli — produced colossal ratings.
The telecast was remarkably smooth, and Al Michaels and John Madden were their usual selves, not asked to do anything other than call the game, be a little witty and throw in some oddball stats. The Peacock was wise to stay the course with the game’s best.
ESPN has taken cues from the last few years of “MNF,” pretty much allowing Mike Tirico and Joe Theismann to dominate the announcing. Tirico has a calm and concise presence, and Theisman, who has eliminated his former screechy speech pattern, responds with enough energy in his delivery to enhance the call. They have wisely pushed Washington Post columnist/”Pardon the Interruption” co-host Tony Kornheiser toward the background; there doesn’t seem to be space for his rants in the telecast.
Kornheiser was given several oddball historical references to make hay with — Brad Johnson threw the ball away 51 times during his Super Bowl year with Tampa Bay; let’s look at the eight players drafted before Johnson 16 years ago — and laugh about where they are now. He was marginally entertaining, though never questioning of any of Theisman’s commentary. As the game between the Redskins and Vikings wore on, he strangely had less and less to say — and this is his hometown team of the last 25 years, the team he should know best.
Uncomfortable also partially describes the crew in NBC’s Sunday pregame hour “Football Night in America.” Bob Costas and three former players share their random thoughts in a far too polite manner, leaving plenty of dead air due to their being unsure about who is supposed to talk.
With an overly militaristic and heavy-handed theme, “Football Night” lacked the playfulness of the daytime pregame shows. The give-and-take that makes them watchable should come in time, but the debut was strictly a highlight show. That the show didn’t manage to assess the newsworthiness of the games or find a theme — how bad are the teams that got shut out, for example — suggested a lack of effort in the production booth.
Give Sterling Sharpe some credit: He attempted to generate some debate, but a nervous Jerome Bettis and a smiling Cris Collingsworth were having none of it.
NBC has sold sponsorships to various aspects of the telecast, some logically applicable — the Chevy Drive Across America, which oddly was not limited to highlights of scoring drives — and some a little sillier — the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder Breakdown Play.
ESPN has made one similar move with its opening — a bizarre, futuristic collection of graphics that included players running through the streets, a GMC endorsement and Arnold Schwarzenegger picking up a helmet.
“MNF” producers are using generic, non-NFLlooking uniforms in the graphics; they should explore altering the opening to reflect the two teams each week, to try to make some sense out of the thing.
ESPN has recorded a beefed-up version of the 36-year-old theme; Hank Williams Jr. is still ready for some football, and he brings along an all-star band that includes Steven van Zandt, Little Richard, Bootsy Collins, Charlie Daniels and others. NBC, on the other hand, has Pink singing a cringe-inducing rewrite of the Joan Jett hit “I Hate Myself for Loving You” that misses the mark on many levels.