ABC's NFL Monday Night Football has been a cultural institution since it first aired in 1970. It is the second longest running network prime time show behind only '60 Minutes' for longevity. But now, in a clear sign of the changing times in the world of television, the NFL has announced that ESPN will be taking over 'Monday Night Football' in beginning with the 2006 season.
ESPN is also owned by Disney, so the production team and announcers may stay the same. However, 'Monday Night Football' has had slumping ratings in recent years with the advent of satellite dishes and digital cable with hundreds of channels to choose from. In the present television culture, it no longer made sense for ABC to spend so much money for an ever diminishing number of viewers. ESPN paid $1.1 billion per year for an eight-year deal to broadcast MNF.
Meanwhile, NBC will return to broadcasting NFL games after an eight season absence. The peacock network will take over the Sunday night telecasts for six seasons beginning in 2006, replacing the games formerly shown on ESPN.
NBC sports chairman Dick Ebersol was thrilled with his network's new deal. 'A great deal with the NFL is the best deal you can get in television,' Ebersol said.
The Sunday night package will also feature scheduling flexibility, allowing the network and the league to move games originally scheduled for Sunday afternoons to Sunday night during the second half of the season. This should guarantee that NBC has marquise matchups late in the season instead of games between two struggling teams who are out of the playoff chase.
The starting times of both Sunday night and Monday night games will be moved up. Sunday night football will now begin at 8:15 PM instead of the present 8:30, while Monday night games will kickoff at 8:40 PM instead of the present 9:00 starts.
This will therefore mark the final season of 'Monday Night Football' on ABC. When the series debuted in 1970, it changed American culture. Howard Cosell dominated the show in its first decade and-a-half. The tension between Cosell and 'Dandy' Don Meredith was sometimes more exciting than the games themselves. Frank Gifford was in the booth as the play-by-play man. Later, Alex Karras, Fran Tarkenton, O.J. Simpson, Joe Namath, Dan Fouts and Dan Dierdorf had tenures at MNF before the present duo of Al Michaels and John Madden took over.
The last ABC broadcast of 'Monday Night Football' is scheduled for New Year's Eve in Oakland as the Raiders host the New York Giants. It will mark the end of an era.