In the burgeoning partnership between sports and comedy on television, there is the good (Fox's Jimmy Kimmel and Jay Mohr), the not-so-good (ABC's Dennis Miller) and the ugly (Fox's Tom Arnold). Why the increasing nexus between sports and yuks on TV? "It's a necessary means to an end—and the end is ratings," says Mark Shapiro, ESPN senior vice president and general manager of programming. "If you can produce programs that serve the casual sports fans—and comedy does that—hopefully you can retain that audience for a longer period."
Two years ago Kimmel (The Man Show) was chosen to pick games for Fox NFL Sunday. Last year saw Miller's much-ado addition to the Monday Night Football booth. Mohr Sports will make its debut in February, when the actor-comedian—the merrymaker of Fox Sports Net's NFL This Morning team—moves to ESPN to host a live half-hour Sunday-night talk show.
Are network executives smiling? In Kimmel's case, yes: Fox NFL Sunday's average ratings have increased in the prized age 18-to-34 male demographic, from a 3.0 in 1999 to a 3.3 in '01. While it's unfair to blame Monday Night Football's slide (down 14% from 2000 through Oct. 22) on the hit-and-miss comedy stylings of Miller, neither has he provided a Nielsen jolt.
Even Miller provides far more chuckles than Fox Sports Net's nightly Best Damn Sports Show Period, which debuted on July 23 and is the worst damn hour in sports broadcasting, exclamation point. In a recent episode cohost Arnold offered unfunny jokes about toilet seats, pap smears and big butts. Fox's hiring of Arnold is destined to end up alongside D.B. Coopers disappearance and Pauly Shore's stardom as one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time.
Of course, much of the humor in TV sports is unintentional. "In my opinion the funniest person in all of sports is Eric Dickerson with his sideline reporting on Monday Night Football," says Kimmel, who launches into his impression of the running back turned broadcaster conducting a postgame interview: " 'How are you feeling after the game?' 'Uh, I feel pretty good, Eric' 'O.K., back to you, AT Now that's comedy to me."