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'Monday Night Football': Does it really matter who's in the broadcast booth?

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Mondayfootball_lMonday Night Football is about to undergo another facelift. (And a hair implant.) Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden will replace noted bald man and flying phobe Tony Kornheiser (Pardon the Interruption) in the ESPN booth, beginning this August. Kornheiser, an award-winning newspaper columnist who routinely half-joked about his on-air shortcomings since joining the program in 2006, cited his fear of flying as the reason for his resignation.

But the shakeup continues a long exercise in broadcast-booth Sudoku, as jumpy networks pursue creative casting to win higher ratings. (Remember Dennis Miller?) Kornheiser never really seemed comfortable in a crowded booth with Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski, and the Gruden hire is the anti-gimmick. Though he has no major experience in broadcasting, Gruden is photogenic, articulate, and he knows his stuff, having led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the NFL title in 2002-03. But unless he regularly puts Jaworski in a headlock to stifle his analysis, Gruden should have no impact on ESPN’s ratings.

Really, who’s ever watched or not watched a sporting event based on the announcer? Especially a telecast as ritualistic as Monday Night Football. Seems obvious, right? The only people who seem not to understand this are the network execs tasked with wringing one more dollar from their broadcasts. They’re doomed to a quixotic quest to recapture the 1970s ratings juggernaut when Howard Cosell and Don Meredith routinely jousted in the press box. But those days of (three-network) television are long gone. If they really want to increase ratings, maybe ESPN and NBC, which airs Sunday Night Football, should start thinking outside the box again. (Since the NFL switched its marquee game from Monday to Sunday night in 2006, the games have collectively drawn an additional three million viewers each week, according to Nielsen.) My suggestion this time: No commercials in the fourth quarter. Think that’s crazy? Heck, World Cup soccer eschews commercial breaks altogether. Substitute the endless breaks with a small Budweiser icon in the top-left corner of the TV screen, and let the big uglies play. People just might stay up and tune in.

Of course, I could be wrong. Will Gruden-for-Kornheiser make any impact on your football viewing? Are there any sports announcers that compel you to turn off your favorite team? Would a commercial-free last quarter encourage you to stay up for the end of games? PopWatchers, you are on the clock!

addCredit(“Tony Kornheiser: Jim Mone/AP Images; John Gruden: Jim McIsaac/Getty Image”)