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Monday Night Football is a long-running weekly broadcast of NFL (American Football) games. Debuting in 1970 on ABC, the program was conceived as both an answer to Major League Baseball's Game of the Week (and the NHL's Hockey Night in Canada) and a showcase for the best teams in the NFL, as the league traditionally uses the coveted Monday Night slot to spotlight matches between high caliber teams.
There were some Monday night games on CBS in the late 1960s as a sort of test run of the concept, but they were not played every week. Those games are not considered part of the series as such.
Monday Night Football was an instant hit in the ratings and quickly became a fixture in American pop culture. In particular, it made household names out of it's announcing team: Play-By-Play man Frank Gifford and color analysts Howard Cosell and "Dandy" Don Meredith. It also can be credited for helping make the NFL the most popular sport in the US, as the series routinely highlighted the league's top players and rivalries. It also spun off a spin-off of sorts, as ESPN (by then majority-owned by ABC) followed suit to launch Sunday Night Football in 1987.
Sadly, things changed when in 2005 when Disney (who by that time owned both ABC and ESPN) decided that declining ratings (exacerbated by the popularity of pro wrestling's WCW Monday Nitro and WWF Monday Night Raw) and escalating TV contracts no longer made the series profitable enough for ABC to keep. A large part of the problem was that competitive balance had become a problem for the schedule makers as the top teams from the previous season might no longer be so the next season. This resulted in late-season match-ups that were clunkers because one or the other of the teams were no longer a playoff contender, making the Monday night game less appealing to a mass audience. ABC also ended up with a death slot before the game after MacGyver was canceled as no show could recapture the perfect chemistry of Richard Dean Anderson's iconic character leading into MNF, and as many local affiliates figured that out and pre-empted whatever was before the game with a local football show, was stuck airing 20/20 Downtown to complete viewer apathy.
ABC, among other entities, tried to get the NFL to agree to a concept that would eventually become known as "flex scheduling," which would be invoked when needed to replace a poor match-up with a better one. The idea was deemed impractical because of the logistics involved in moving a Sunday afternoon game to Monday night.
As part of that year's reshuffling of the NFL TV contracts, Disney decided to bid on the MNF contract but put the games on ESPN. With subscription fees in addition to regular adversiting income, ESPN could bid more for the contract than ABC and still maintain profitability. The move of the top rated, icon show to cable angered many fans but NBC bid on the now-vacant Sunday night package. The Sunday night game was now considered the marquee game of the week and flex scheduling was put into place for this package as it's much easier to move a game 3 1/2 to 6 1/2 hours later in the day than a day-and-a-half later. Likewise, MNF ended up taking the games that were on the old Sunday night contract. Disney decided not to bid on the Sunday night package due to the then-dominance of Desperate Housewives on Sunday nights at the time, though once that show ends it looks like it may have been an error in judgment as every network is strong on that evening, while NBC easily wins the evening. (On the other hand, ABC's Monday Night lineup of Dancing With the Stars and Castle has done extremely well for itself, even against MNF, while NBC is now stuck with a post-Super Bowl lineup on Sunday nights which generally trails the other networks.)
Monday Night Football remains popular even with the jump to cable and routinely ends up in the Top Ten Nielsen ratings chart every Monday. And with the games on cable, it's now possible to have a season-opening Monday night doubleheader with one game beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern time and the second at 10:15 Eastern. The later game usually involves two west-coast teams (usually the currently awful Raiders have been involved to much viewer and advertiser annoyance) but in 2010, it will be the showcase for the newly-remodeled Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs (a 9:15 p.m. kickoff locally). It also gives ESPN a prominent day to market everything about their network, and all programming is focused around both Monday morning quarterbacking and hyping that night's game.
Monday Night Football has been broadcasted on:
- ABC (1970-2005)
- ESPN and ESPN2 (2006-present, as well as a couple of one-off '90s games)
- NBC (first game of Christmas 2006 doubleheader)
- Fox (postponed 2010 New York Giants-Minnesota Vikings game, moved to Detroit's Ford Field due to a roof collapse in Minneapolis's Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome; the game only aired in New York, Albany, NY, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Rochester, MN)
Monday Night Football contains examples of the following tropes:
- Bearer of Bad News: During a broadcast Howard Cosell broke the news of John Lennon's death on Dec. 8, 1980.
- Bootstrapped Theme: Now universally recognized as the MNF theme music, Johnny Pearson's "Heavy Action" was originally used only as accompaniment for halftime highlights, and didn't become the opening theme until several years later. (The original opening theme was a funky organ-based piece called "Score".)
- What's more, "Heavy Action" wasn't actually composed for MNF at all, but for the BBC sports-competition show Superstars.
- Channel Hop: From ABC to ESPN. As both channels are owned by Disney, this is only a jump from broadcast to cable.
- Practically, however, it was a wholesale change, as much of the old crew, including the commentary team and lead producer were graciously allowed to leave for NBC, while ESPN's old Sunday Night Football crew formed the backbone of the current MNF production.
- Flipping the Bird: Done by a disgruntled Houston Oilers fan to the camera during a 1972 game, prompting the classic Meredith quip, "He's saying the Oilers are number one in the nation!"
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: A few early examples came mainly from Don Meredith:
- During the first Monday Night game between the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns; the camera spotlighted a Cleveland receiver named Fair Hooker, prompting Meredith to joke that he "hadn't met one yet".
- During the opening comments from the 1973 game between the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos (the latter making their Monday Night debut), Meredith (who occasionally smoked marijuana then) quipped "We're in Mile High, and so am I".
- Long Runner: 40 seasons and counting
- Odd Couple: Cosell and Meredith openly disliked each other (though they both intentionally played this up), providing dramatic tension in the broadcast and pushing ratings through the roof. Joe Theisman and Tony Kornheiser were a lesser version.
- The Pete Best: Legendary college football announcer Keith Jackson was the show's play-by-play announcer in its inaugural season of 1970. The following year he was replaced by Frank Gifford, who remained on the show for 27 years. To be fair, Gifford was always ABC's first choice and Jackson was an explicit seat warmer until Gifford's contract with CBS expired.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Hurricane Katrina postponed a 2005 Week 1 game between the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints, moving it from a Sunday afternoon game to Monday night and causing that Monday to have two games. The concept of a Monday night doubleheader in Week 1 was later added into the schedule permanently with the move to ESPN, along with a Christmas doubleheader in 2006.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Cosell's stock in trade.
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Dennis Miller's run on the show.