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Lackluster matchups hurt 'MNF'

By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 23, 2001

Though the Bucs may not seem worthy of an appearance on Monday Night Football at the moment, at least they're not the first this season to share that distinction.

Last year, MNF seemed to get one outstanding matchup after another. This year, Al Michaels and Co. have been cursed with a litany of dull and/or unimportant games -- and that's done nothing to help already-sagging ratings.

Compared with Green Bay's 37-0 victory over Washington, St. Louis' 35-0 victory over Detroit, and Dallas' 9-7 win over the Redskins (in the first MNF game to feature two 0-4 teams), Monday's Bucs-Rams matchup seems merely ho-hum.

These two teams provided MNF with what might have been the most exciting game of last season, a 38-35 Bucs win in Tampa in December. But even ABC doesn't pretend to think Tampa Bay will carry its weight this time. Writes ABCSports Online in its game advance: "The addition of Brad Johnson and a lot of talking have only amounted to a 4-5 record."

Meanwhile, the lack of quality matchups has amounted to still-lower ratings for Monday Night Football. The show had record-low average ratings last season despite the fantastic finishes. This year's average rating is down another 12 percent, to an 11.2 (one ratings point equals 1 percent of U.S. households with televisions).

The novelty of Dennis Miller also has worn off. He is smart, and he is funny, but when he was at his best last season, he mixed in some insightful football commentary with his one-liners. His main job these days seems to be making random and obscure references that later can be explained (usually in the Tuesday morning Annotated Dennis Miller column written for ABCSports Online).

The column, started by a Brittanica.com senior editor last year, is one of the best things about MNF, which must be why ABC decided to snap it up and promote the heck out of it. Unfortunately it's on the Internet and not TV, and there's nobody around to explain Miller during the broadcast. Even analyst Dan Fouts said recently, "I just laugh when Al laughs."

DIVISION (RATINGS) CHAMPS: Are Bucs fans holding out hope? Or is it just that nobody can turn away from a train wreck? Whatever the reason, local viewers still are watching their favorite team.

Sunday's game against the Bears earned a 34.4 rating and 53 share in the bay area, meaning nearly 35 percent of all TV sets and 53 percent of the sets turned on were tuned to the game. That was easily the highest-rated program of the week in the market, and it ranked as the week's fifth-best local NFL rating nationwide.

NBA DEAL: Industry observers are keenly interested in the NBA's negotiations with NBC and the parent company of TNT/TBS, and not just to see how much the TV rights will cost in a depressed marketplace. The New York Times reports AOL Time Warner and the NBA might jointly create a network that would broadcast the majority of the league's games on cable. The rights fees then might not increase, but the NBA could make more money by having a stake in the cable network that airs them. Both NBC and AOL Time Warner are in the final season of a four-year deal that cost a combined $2.64-billion. Both are in the exclusive negotiating period with the league; if a deal isn't struck, there has been talk that Disney's ABC and ESPN might be interested in bidding.

TESTOSTERONE ALERT: Professional bull riding (not to be confused with reruns of Urban Cowboy) will make its live network television debut at 4 p.m. Sunday on NBC. Contestants in the Bud Light World Challenge will wear microphones, presumably so we can get the best possible sense of what it's like to ride a bull without entering an arena, or one of those bars like John Travolta hung out in.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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