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Dennis Miller Live

Comedian among four added to 'MNF' broadcast

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Posted: Thursday June 22, 2000 08:05 PM

  Dennis Miller Dennis Miller currently hosts "Dennis Miller Live" on HBO and was a former Saturday Night Live cast member.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Are you ready for some wry observational comedy with your football?

Dennis Miller -- yes, THAT Dennis Miller -- is bringing his ranting schtick to "Monday Night Football" as the wild card in ABC's bid to overhaul a program with declining ratings.

Miller and Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, a straight Xs-and-Os analyst, will join holdover play-by-play announcer Al Michaels in the broadcast booth this season.

"'Monday Night Football' was not as special as it used to be and that's why we've taken the dramatic steps we've taken," ABC Sports president Howard Katz said Thursday. "We wanted to remove some of the sameness. We wanted to reinvent a little bit."

Miller was a regular on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and now has an HBO comedy show, while Fouts has shown a low-key style in his work for ABC on college football and for CBS on the NFL.

Eric Dickerson, like Fouts a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and ESPN's Melissa Stark, 26, join the show as sideline reporters, replacing Lesley Visser, 46.

Asked about the disparity in ages between Visser and Stark, the show's producer, Don Ohlmeyer, dismissed the question as a "non-issue."

Broadcaster Donna deVarona, 52, filed a $50 million lawsuit against ABC Sports in April, saying she was fired because of her age and gender.

Visser, who joined ABC in 1994, covered a variety of sports, including college football, figure skating, baseball and thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.

Housecleaning at "Monday Night Football" began in March, when Boomer Esiason was fired after two seasons, and Ohlmeyer, the show's producer in the 1970s, was brought back.

Ohlmeyer, who hand-picked the new crew, vowed to get viewers talking about the show the way they did when Howard Cosell and Don Meredith were on ABC's NFL team.

Miller's selection might do just that -- at the risk of alienating viewers who prefer their football announcers with a background in the game.

"Football is not played in St. Patrick's Cathedral. People watch football to have some fun. We want a telecast that's relevant, successful and unpredictable," Ohlmeyer said.

"If it doesn't work out, no amount of buzz will save us."

The Nielsen ratings for "Monday Night Football" have decreased each of the past five seasons, from an average of 17.8 with a booth of Michaels, Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford in 1994, to last season's record-low for the program of 13.7 with Michaels and Esiason. A rating point represents 1 percent of U.S. TV homes.

About 20 people were in contention for each of the new spots in the booth, and auditioned by "calling" a tape of last year's AFC playoff game between Buffalo and Tennessee with Michaels.

Bombastic talk show host Rush Limbaugh was "seriously considered," Ohlmeyer said, adding, "I'm hopeful that Rush will do some appearances for the show in some capacity."

Miller insisted he would not try to dominate the air time -- and he and Ohlmeyer were quick to say Miller's role on the program is not that of a comedian.

"I'm going to try to stay in the background and ask questions a fan would ask," Miller said. "The rants are my HBO show and I won't try to recreate that. I'm going to try to integrate myself in a three-man scheme."

The new trio will start working together next week, Ohlmeyer said. Their first game is Denver at Super Bowl champion St. Louis on Sept. 4.

"It remains to be seen whether this will have an effect on NFL ratings. Most people tune in to watch the game, not the broadcasters," said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports who now runs a sports consulting firm.

"If anything works it will definitely start a trend. Whether it's 'survival shows' or game shows or somewhat offbeat talent introductions, if it works it will be emulated."

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