Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Professional Football TV Action Entertains the Masses

Football fans will have their choice of live football games almost every night of the week this season. NBC, ESPN and the NFL are all getting in on the most reliable moneymaking action on television. The competition between the networks is almost as exciting as the game itself.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

As summer winds down, the Big Three television networks will soon begin to roll out their fall programming. Commentator Frank Deford says the drama won't be limited to primetime.

FRANK DEFORD: In the big time television world, where the networks schedule competing cocktail hour news broadcasts, it's been a breathless saga. Can Katie Couric actually manage to read teleprompter headlines as a soprano as well as Brian Williams does as a tenor? Will the venerable Charles Gibson connect with his gray-beard confreres? Everybody down at the American Legion hall is absolutely agog with this drama.

But listen up, folks. In pro football, a far greater TV upheaval is upon us. After 36 years, ABC has given up Monday Night Football, dropping the program that actually changed America's nocturnal habits. Instead, ABC has seeded Monday night to its cable partner ESPN while NBC has opted back into the NFL with a Sunday night game.

But here's the hurdle facing the peacock. Monday night football showed the only game played that game in all the republic. Now, NBC actually expects football fans to breathlessly tune in a third straight game on the same day? Might it be for even for NFL nuts that at a certain point Coles(ph) to Newcastle kicks in?

But NBC is desperate. It's in fourth place in the network league. And since Johnny Carson hung it up, the NFL is the single most reliable act on the tube. NBC is just betting on meat and potatoes, too, deploying John Madden and Al Michaels in the booth alone. Both are old reliables.

But when nightshades fall after a day's marathon of audibles, routes, blitzes, looks, touches, picks and receps, will fine old wine in new bottles be satisfying enough to keep sex-starved eyeballs away from Desperate Housewives?

ESPN: numbing statistics, the point spread, instant replay, tedious analysis, jiggling cheerleaders and idiot sideline reporters.

Already after his pre-season debut, Kornheiser blew his top when his reviews were unflattering. Only Howard Cosell has ever succeeded as a third banana.

Of course, if you're looking for neither classic coverage on NBC nor yuks with your yardage on ESPN, the NFL itself has its own network now with games to begin in November on, yes, Thursday nights.

Bryant Gumbel is manning the NFL network mic. And just to show that he's no house toadie, he's already publicly labeled the NFL owners obscenely rich, dismissed the players' union as a dog on a leash, and called the games too long, the commercials too many. I think that's known as firing a shot across the bow of your employer.

Oh, well, it's comforting to know that the NFL provides more options for football bores than Katie, Brian and Charlie do for the dear folks actually interested in the passing news of the real world.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford
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