- The Washington Times - Friday, October 12, 2001

"Monday Night Football," stuck with the first meeting of 0-4 teams in its 32-year history, is going Hollywood.
The Washington-Dallas stinker set for Monday night on ABC could challenge the series' worst-ever rating of 8.8, posted in a 1986 Redskins-New York Giants game played opposite Game 7 of the World Series. As a result, the network will loosen up its production to include motivational speakers, far more airtime for comedian-analyst Dennis Miller and tongue-in-cheek profiles of both teams' anemic offenses.
Among the quasi-celebrities scheduled to offer their thoughts on the struggles of the Redskins and Cowboys are Tony Robbins and Richard Simmons, as well as Jason Alexander. The former "Seinfeld" co-star will appear as the Bob Patterson character he plays on the eponymous ABC sitcom.
"Would I rather both teams be 4-0? Of course. You can complain all you want, but this is the game we have," said Fred Gaudelli, "MNF" producer. "So while we're going to be professional and cover the game as it happens, we're also going to take a different look at this, have more of an eye toward entertainment and have some fun with this."
Since "MNF" reaches more households than any other individual regular-season game and airs in prime time, it is considered the NFL's showcase and often features clashes between playoff regulars and teams with national marquee value.
The Cowboys still have a large national following, but this game represents more a return to old scheduling tendencies and a greater focus on divisional rivalries. No two teams have faced each other more often on "MNF" than Washington and Dallas. Monday's game will be installment No. 12.
"This is still Redskins-Cowboys, and it's still a fantastic rivalry," Gaudelli said. "Yeah, they're both definitely down, but I'd still prefer this over something like Cleveland-San Diego, who are both 3-1."
For the season, "MNF" is averaging a 11.9 rating, down 9 percent from the same point last season. And the 21.2 point average margin of victory helped along by Green Bay's 37-0 drubbing of Washington and St. Louis' 35-0 blanking of Detroit four days ago is the highest in series history.
A ratings point translates to a little more than 1 million U.S. households.
If the poor matchup weren't enough, ABC will also be competing against a real-life themed episode of "Third Watch" on NBC based on the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, and a new episode of ratings juggernaut "Everyone Loves Raymond" on CBS.
"You have games like this sometimes, and the NFL is still the NFL, but yeah, if I'm ABC, I'm definitely worried," said one TV industry executive who declined to be identified. "Advertisers typically buy 'Monday Night Football' for an entire season, but it's still a perception thing. Much of their prime-time lineup is already having problems, and they really need the football to work for them."
The league in recent weeks has shown a great deal of flexibility in moving games and broadcast plans around due to the terrorist attacks and the upcoming World Series. But a permanent, in-season mechanism to put the best games on "MNF" each week remains elusive after more than two years of discussion between league and network executives.
"Right now, all we can do, league and networks included, is strike some balance and go with our best judgments," Gaudelli said. "Back in the spring, I thought the Redskins had a chance to pretty good this year, even though the Jeff George-Marty Schottenheimer thing looked like a problem straight away. We saw this game as a good risk, and I still think viewers will still see something entertaining."

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