ABC hopes prime lineup draws fans

Published September 1, 2006

Although Monday Night Football has been moved to cable, ABC will still have a steady presence of football on prime time this fall. College football, that is.

In a move that seems surprising only in the sense that none of the networks has tried it before, ABC will introduce Saturday Night Football, a 12-week block of programming the network hopes will become appointment TV for the college football fan.

Given that all the networks typically struggle for every ratings point on Saturday nights, as long as the schedule is worthy - and it seems that it is - it's a more-than-logical way to use such a hard-to-sell block of prime time.

"When you get right down to it, we're just expanding on the success we had last year and other years we've done prime-time games on ABC," said Dave Brown, vice president of programming for ABC/ESPN. "Last year we did five windows and averaged a 4.9 (rating). To have 12 prime-time windows a year is fabulous. This is going to develop into a tremendous showcase for the sport."

"We really got a lot of great support from the folks at ABC Entertainment, who really pushed us on the idea," Brown said.

Not all the games are set, but six weeks will feature a true national game, and the other six will have two games aired to different parts of the country. The series opens with No. 2 Notre Dame at Georgia Tech on Saturday, followed by No. 1 Ohio State at No. 3 Texas on Sept. 9, then No. 20 Nebraska at No. 6 USC on Sept. 16.

Kickoffs are at 8 p.m. Brent Musburger will be the lead play-by-play voice, with Bob Davie serving as analyst and Kirk Herbstreit joining them occasionally to make a three-man booth.

Because of conference contracts with other networks, ABC will not be able to lay claim to any games it wants in the later weeks. Its candidates come from the Big Ten, Pac-10, ACC, Big 12, Big East and Notre Dame. Southern California is scheduled to play at least five times, Notre Dame three times and Ohio State twice.

GATOR TALK: Proving that ABC has not cornered the market on big prime-time games, No. 7 Florida will play at No. 23 Tennessee at 8 p.m. Sept. 16, one of two games that day that kick off CBS's national schedule.

The Gators' first two games will be available live only on pay-per-view channels. The Saturday matchup with Southern Miss and the Sept. 9 game against UCF, both kicking off at 6 p.m., will be produced by Sun Sports. Once again, SEC rules dictate that when a game is not picked up by CBS, ESPN or Jefferson-Pilot, it can be made available live within the state only on pay-per-view channels.

SEMINOLE STUFF: Apparently, ESPN figures Florida State and Miami have enough star power to get the nation's fans ready for the revamped Monday Night Football. The Monday matchup between the bitter rivals has been scheduled for Labor Day partly to help the network get fans to adjust to tuning into ESPN - and not ABC - on Monday nights. Last year FSU broke Miami's six-game win streak with a 10-7 victory.

Other early national TV matchups include Clemson at FSU on Sept. 16 (7:45 p.m., ESPN) and a Thursday night game Oct. 5 against North Carolina State on ESPN.

IN HD: For the first time, every game on ESPN and ESPN2 this fall will be aired in high definition. But the ESPN2 broadcasts in HD will not be available to the roughly 1-million area Bright House customers because the cable company still does not make ESPN2 HD available to subscribers.

CHANNEL SURFING: ESPNNEWS will air a new show, College Football Overdrive, from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturdays. It will feature live cut-ins to games on ABC and ESPN and will be hosted by Dari Nowkha, featuring analysis from Craig James and Doug Flutie. ... Flutie, who has joined ESPN as an analyst, will work six to eight games, beginning with Boston College vs. Central Michigan on Aug. 31, the network said.