Wednesday, February 08, 2006

MNF announcers

Tuesday, we got all the evidence we need that Monday Night Football is undergoing a transformation from a weekly national event to just another football game.
Monday Night Football announcers used to be icons, or at the very least household names: Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Keith Jackson, Frank Gifford, Al Michaels, John Madden.
Even -- ahem -- Dennis Miller.
So, with ABC bowing out after 36 years, who is ESPN going to trot into the broadcast booth next season?
Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser and Joe Theismann.
I don't have a problem with Tirico as the play-by-play man. He's a polished, personable announcer with experience covering a number of sports. Kind of a younger version of Michaels.
Kornheiser and Theismann together as the color guys? That's another story.
Tirico might be overpowered by the hyper-opinionated bullhorns of his booth-mates. Kornheiser is used to shouting down and cutting off co-host Mike Wilbon on "Pardon the Interruption." Theismann has a history of abrasive commentary that could set Kornheiser into full debate-team mode.
Can you imagine Theismann snapping off a "John Riggins was a better running back than Jerome Bettis" comment during a telecast, or the like? It might be a semi-outlandish assertion, but for Kornheiser the argument would be on. Touchdown drives, interceptions, it probably wouldn't matter what was going on down below. Kornheiser and Theismann would determine a winner if it took until the end of the game. Tirico might as well head to the media lounge and get some coffee.
ESPN obviously wants talkative, opinionated commentators for its telecasts. But there is a time and place for Kornheiser's brand of commentary, and I question whether it's in the broadcast booth when the game is supposed to be the focus, not "would T.O. be a good fit for one of the teams?"
The object of a broadcast booth team is the opposite of what Kornheiser does on "PTI." You are supposed to work with your colleagues to enhance the telecast, not try to verbally subdue them. I'm not saying Kornheiser can't make the adjustment, it just seems like a broadcast style that goes against his grain. And the quality of ESPN's telecasts might suffer because of it.
The ABC-ESPN two-headed monster has tried this before. The Dennis Miller experiment failed because, for all his extensive vocabulary, his football knowledge didn't extend beyond "yeah, that guy is pretty fast."
The Rush Limbaugh experiment was quickly killed after the infamous "Donovan McNabb gets a free ride from the media because he's black" comment. Again, a bad mismatch of commentator and job.
ESPN, I think, is looking for the next Cosell. A brash, fearless, opinionated announcer with sports knowledge. But Cosell wasn't just good at spouting out what he thinks. He was also an excellent announcer and interviewer with an unforgettable delivery.
With Kornheiser, as with Miller and Limbaugh, ESPN might be looking for love in all the wrong places.

No comments: