The NFL has been talking about going to a flexible schedule for "Monday Night Football" for several years, and this past week's lopsided matchup between the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears was a good argument in its favor.
The game, a 27-9 Miami rout that was never in serious doubt, had a 10.7 rating, the fourth-worst showing of the year and well below MNF's 11.5 seasonal mark. Viewership peaked at 12.5 between the 9 p.m. kickoff and 9:30, but it was down to an 8.0 in the last hour of a dull blowout.
Al Michaels actually pleaded the case for more flexibility when he said, on the air, "I'm wondering, Paul [Tagliabue], is it too late for tonight?" Only one of 14 MNF telecasts this season has gone down to the final minute, giving Michaels and John Madden far too much time on their hands to discuss a wide variety of nonessential game issues. (By the way, enough with those camera shots of the announcers in inaction. Once is fine before the game. We know what they look like. Show the field, show the cheerleaders, show anything except two talking heads.)
The league no doubt will discuss the flexible schedule again at its league meetings in March, but until CBS and Fox give their blessing, it's not going to happen any time soon. Neither is the blessing. The best guess for flexibility success would be when the league and its TV partners enter their next round of negotiations on a contract that expires in 2005, when the league will have plenty more leverage to insist, rather than ask.
The final three games on the MNF schedule do have some ratings potential: New England at Tennessee, Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay and San Francisco at St. Louis. Five of the six teams likely will be in the playoffs, and all three games could have postseason implications, including home-field advantage for the 49ers in the finale.
No Comment From Davis
Steve Davis, Channel 9's new sports director, apparently made quite a scene a few weeks ago after the news conference at DeMatha High School to announce that the Hyattsville school's longtime Hall of Fame basketball coach Morgan Wootten was retiring.
According to several sources, Davis was scheduled to do a live shot on an early evening news segment, accompanied by a package of highlights from Wootten's distinguished career. Back at the station, there were some problems completing the package on time, and when Davis found out about it, he walked away in a huff just before he was about to go on the air.
When anchor J.C. Hayward tossed it to Davis, he wasn't there. After a bit of "technical difficulty" apologies, the newscast went on without him. Back at the station, news director Dave Roberts reportedly was not happy when he learned about what happened, but Roberts said Davis has never been suspended. That's probably because Channel 9 was in a November sweeps ratings period, the first with Davis on the air.
Asked about the incident itself, Davis and Roberts both declined to comment.
Fond Memories of Arledge
Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell has fond memories of Roone Arledge, who died last week at the age of 71 after a lifetime of major accomplishments in television, including getting the NFL to play on Monday nights.
As chairman of the league's Television Committee, Modell was then-commissioner Pete Rozelle's right-hand man in all the negotiations with networks and loved the prospect of putting the game on in prime time. He recalls getting a call from the head of a competing network who was not totally sold on the concept but told Modell: "We'll follow the map drawn by Roone Arledge."
"Everything that's been said about him is true. He was a great visionary and saw what many others did not see -- the attraction of pro football in prime time. During the negotiations, we reminded each other that we were once competitors. In the early 1950s, I was in the television business, and we both produced competing cooking shows. We were talking about halftime, and I said to him, 'The hell with high school bands, we'll have a souffle bakeoff between competing chefs.' "
When Modell had a mild heart attack this summer, Arledge called him to wish him well. "He asked, 'How are you?' " Modell said. "Then he said, 'You have to take care of yourself.' This was a guy who was dying of cancer. It's something I'll never forget."
From Beatles to Basketball
Versatile broadcaster Johnny Holliday has written a delightful autobiographical memoir now available in most local bookstores called "From Rock to Jock."
Holliday is the longtime voice of Maryland football and basketball, but he started out in life as a disc jockey on stations from San Francisco to New York. This is a man who hosted the Beatles' last concert in the United States before the band broke up. This is a man who once traveled with the Monkees as the announcer on a nationwide tour.
Over five decades, Holliday has done radio and television at a wide variety of stations, including a long stint at WMAL in Washington, covered a number of Olympic competitions for ABC Radio, where he also handled daily sportscasts for many years, and has even starred in countless Dinner Theater productions around the area.
For the holidays, a little Holliday makes a sweet read.