Monday Night Football
Monday Night Football is a television broadcast of one of the premier National Football League matches of the week. It airs live on the ABC television network in the United States on Monday nights during the NFL season, and is one of the most popular shows on American television, particularly among men. Monday Night Football is the second longest-running prime time show on American television, after CBS's 60 Minutes.
By 1968, the NFL was becoming very popular in the United States as a broadcast television sport. Games were and still are mainly played on Sunday afternoons. Then-Commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle, began to envision the possibility of playing at least one game during prime time for a greater TV audience, and approached both the CBS and NBC TV networks with the idea. Both networks rejected it, as they already had successful prime time programming in place. (Reportedly, NBC turned down the idea when comedian and talk-show host Johnny Carson became incensed that a football game, if it lasted longer than the allotted three hours, would pre-empt a portion of his popular show, The Tonight Show). Even so, a few Monday night games were actually played in 1969, but were only telecast locally; that is, to the market of the visiting team (all home games were "blacked out" until a federal law was passed in 1971 permitting such games to be broadcast so long as all tickets to the game had sold out; the change took effect the following year).
As there were three major networks at the time, this left only ABC, where producer Roone Arledge immediately saw possibilities for the new show. Arledge set out to create an entertainment "spectacle" as much as a simple sports broadcast. Chet Forte, the director of the program for over 22 years, ordered twice the usual number of cameras to cover the game. He created the "color man" position and used graphic design within the show as well as "instant replay". The controversial and idiosyncratic sports broadcaster Howard Cosell commented on the action, along with veteran football commentator Keith Jackson and former player Don Meredith. Monday Night Football first aired on ABC on September 21, 1970, with a match between the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns, in Cleveland, Ohio. The show has run ever since, and the NFL has obliged by scheduling its best teams and biggest stars for that night, so as to gain maximum exposure; however, the league has sometimes been criticized for reflexively excluding teams that had finished near the bottom of the previous season's standings from the Monday night schedule; examples include the 1981 season, neither of whose two Super Bowl teams—the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals—had played on Monday night that year, and 1999, when the St. Louis Rams won the Super Bowl after not having appeared in a Monday night game during that regular season.
The most watched episode occurred on December 2, 1985, as the previously unbeaten Chicago Bears were defeated at Miami by the Dolphins, who had not lost to an NFC team at home since 1976. The show gained a Nielsen rating of 29.6 with a 46 share.
Often, the previous year's Super Bowl champion will be scheduled to play in the first Monday night game of the season, usually at home—although in 2003 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had won the Super Bowl the season before, were made to play the Philadelphia Eagles on the road in their opening game, in what was the first regular-season game ever played at Lincoln Financial Field. (The Buccaneers won the game, 17-0).
There have been occasions when two Monday night games were played simultaneously; this scenario would most commonly arise in October where an NFL team's home stadium is also used by the same city's baseball team, and the latter had reached the playoffs or World Series, forcing what was to have been a Sunday afternoon football game to be moved to Monday night; in these cases, the game so moved would be televised only in the market of the game's visiting team (and also in that of the home team provided the game sold out), with the rest of the nation's viewers watching the originally-scheduled Monday night game for that week.
The show as entertainment
Monday Night Football has continued to provide as much entertainment as sports throughout its run. In addition to the extra cameras, the show has also pioneered technological broadcast innovations, such as the use of enhanced slow motion replays and computerized graphics, such as a first down marker superimposed onto the field during play.
Celebrity guests, such as Plácido Domingo, John Lennon, President Bill Clinton, and even Kermit the Frog were often featured during the game to "liven up" the broadcast. However, the late 1990s and early 2000s saw an even more increased reliance on the entertainment factor. Some halftime shows, featuring popular music stars, were broadcast in full rather than being ignored in favor of analysis of the game by the commentators, as in previous seasons. Country music star Hank Williams, Jr. composed a music video–style opening theme for the show (a later theme was provided by Kid Rock). In 1998, Lesley Visser replaced ex-player Lynn Swann as a sideline reporter, in an apparent attempt to have a young, attractive female on camera for better popularity among men. And in 2000, after ABC briefly considered adding popular political commentator Rush Limbaugh, comedian Dennis Miller was added to the broadcast team, despite having no prior sports broadcast experience.
Visser was the first of several women added as sideline reporters. Several were perceived, fairly or unfairly, to have been added as "eye candy" for the male audience. In an apparent move away from the "eye candy" concept, Lisa Guerrero was removed after the 2003 season (her only season on the sidelines) and replaced, starting with the 2004 season, by longtime TV sports journalist Michele Tafoya.
Keith Jackson served on the broadcast team for only a year before returning to broadcasting college football for ABC. He was replaced by ex-player Frank Gifford in 1971, who began the longest tenure of any broadcaster on the show. Gifford left the program in 1998.
The current commentators are Al Michaels, a veteran commentator who has "anchored" the broadcast since 1986, and John Madden, a former coach, namesake of a football video game, and successful broadcaster with the CBS and Fox networks for 21 years before joining Monday Night Football.
A complete list of broadcasters (many of whom are ex-NFL players), with their period of tenure on the show (beginning years of each season shown, as the NFL season ends in the calendar year after it begins):
Graphical chart of just the announcers
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