Monday night makeover
We all knew that Monday Night Football was in for a change when Boomer Esiason, fired after two seasons in March, and Don Ohlmeyer, the show's producer in the 1970s, were brought back. And now, with the addition of Dennis Miller to the booth, many fans are asking, "What are the ABC executives thinking? Who are the ad whizzes who came up with this one!?!" While many Monday night quarterbacks have their recliners in the upright position in a fit of rage over ABC's latest change, I think the addition of Miller definitely has the potential to improve the broadcast.
If nothing else, the new team of Al Michaels, Dan Fouts and Miller can't be any worse than last year's team of Michaels and Esiason. While I wouldn't hesitate to call Michaels one of the best (if not the best) play-by-play announcer in the business, the fact-of-the-matter is that Esiason's style is pretty flat. In retrospect, it's hard to say whether he was supposed to be an analyst or a color commentator because he was never really too much of either. To be fair -- he wasn't terrible, just not exceptional.
However, it's clear that Ohlmeyer wants Monday Night Football to be exceptional -- and who can blame him? The show's ratings have slumped in each of the past five seasons -- from an average of a 17.8 share in 1994 with Michaels, Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford in the booth to last season's record low of 13.7 with Michaels and Esiason.
I don't want to pass Miller off as some kind of Messiah either. First of all, MNF is a good show to begin with. The addition of Miller appears to be a good move because Monday Night Football is returning to a three-man booth. If Ohlmeyer was bold enough (read: stupid enough) to try to make this plan work with just Michaels and Miller, he would probably get the same reception as Dennis Rodman teaching kindergarten.
With this plan, Miller won't be expected to discredit the use of zone coverage with the middle linebacker on a second and four. He'll just be expected to jump in every now and then to tell it how it is. In Marc Connolly's column on abcsports.go.com, Miller described his thoughts on the famous/infamous kickoff in last year's AFC Championship Game, that led to a Titan TD to advance to the Super Bowl by saying, "I would have gotten 11 of the feistiest guys on that team and just said, 'I want you to go down there and knock heads. It's time to play football.'" If Miller delivers lines like that during the broadcast, he'll be golden.
I think I speak for armchair quarterbacks everywhere when I say I have wanted someone on the air who will just tell it like it is.
Now I know someone out there just said, "Hey, wait!!! John Madden gives it straight all the time." You know what, you're right.
But when Madden says "I don't know what they were thinking on that play," it is almost always followed by "You know Pat, this reminds me of the time back in 1973 when I was coaching the Raiders." Somehow I doubt that Miller will relate any games to Saturday Night Live, unless the Browns or Saints are playing.
One thing to watch will be how much Miller chimes in. Fouts will probably be the main sounding board for Michaels' commentary. Fouts has been an NFL analyst for years, so switching him for Esiason was a smart move. I'll even go out on a limb to say that most people would rather have Fouts in the booth over Boomer on reputation alone, just like they'd rather have Fouts at quarterback on their all twentieth century team.
Melissa Stark and Eric Dickerson round out the team, who will be replacing Lesley Visser as sideline reporters. Personally, I thought that Visser was a quality sideline personality, the only thing that I can see that Ohlmeyer held against her was that Visser is 46 and Stark is 26. Stark has spent the last four years as a reporter for ESPN, and Hall of Fame running back Dickerson seems as good a fifth man as anybody -- the crew appears pretty solid.
Personally, I've always enjoyed Monday Night Football and I look forward to the new faces and insights. This year MNF premiers on September 4th with Denver at St. Louis. You can count on me tuning in; I won't have classes to worry about, and I don't plan on tuning in to Ally McBeal, either. As far as I'm concerned, Miller or no Miller, Monday Night Football is the best show on Monday night television.