Monday Night Football was beginning of end



Sportscaster Al Michaels, left, gestures to Monday Night Football announcing partner John Madden in July 2002. ABC Sports has been swallowed by ESPN.



END RUN: ABC Sports, the network sports program arm that colonized living rooms everywhere in the ’70s with Wide World Of Sports and made Howard Cosell famous, has been swallowed by the ESPN brand, which will take over sports programming on the network with ESPN On ABC. According to a New York Times story, the network’s sports division was dealt a fatal blow when it lost the rights to Monday Night Football recently, after seeing several successive bids to broadcast the Olympics slip away, and after a recent survey revealed that ESPN was a stronger brand name among sports fans.

“The tail took over the dog,” said Frank Gifford, who was an ABC Sports anchor for 27 years. “The tail outgrew the dog. The world has changed.” Indeed, it has — boasts that cable specialty channels would absorb the niche markets in the networks’ general interest programming were met with derision 20 years ago, but time, and news like this, has proved them prophetic.

Sports networks like ESPN have done a superb job of convincing sports fans that they were better served with 24-7 programming destinations than neatly segregated program slots on the networks. In a way, they acted like a sort of low-tech TiVo, offering new flexibility and options that were previously unavailable. At the same time, movie, music and news programming started to seep away into the cable realm.

The challenge for the networks now is to sell us on just what, precisely, it is that they do well.

WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO: The USA Network has given a go-ahead to a new reality intervention show starring Jackass and Wildboyz star Steve-O, to be produced by Bunim-Murray, creators of The Simple Life and Real World, according to a story in Broadcasting & Cable News.

Camp Steve-O will send its star and host across the U.S.A. in a camper to the homes and workplaces of unwitting victims who’ve been nominated by friends, family and co-workers for their apparently terminal lack of backbone. Steve-O will use his trademark dumb-ass stunts to work “Extreme attitude adjustments” on the “wimps, nerds, and couch potatoes” so sorely in need of “de-wussification.”

Don’t get me wrong — I love Jackass as much, if not more, than the next guy. (A fact that my wife regards as something very like a fatal character flaw.) But wasn’t there a time when the height of manliness involved storming a machine-gun nest to save your platoon, or diving into freezing water to save a drowning child, or foiling a mugging with little more than a swift karate chop and a granite chin?

Today, it seems, the epitome of manliness involves hooking up an electric muscle stimulator to your genitals, snorting wasabi or walking a tightrope over a crocodile tank wearing chicken parts in your jockstrap.

Even sadder: I’ll probably watch it.