MNF makes the right decision
One of TV’s top-rated and most-watched programs changed its studio location and sports fans can see the result on “Monday Night Football” this week.
Monday night’s game between the Chiefs and Rams was to be played in Mexico City, part of the NFL’s effort to help the sport’s popularity outside the United States.
But, after an inspection of the playing surface last week, league officials decided to move the game between the two 9-1 teams back home to Los Angeles.
It was the right decision for both the on-field product and for the broadcast.
First and foremost was player safety and quality of play, especially for a game involving two of the NFL’s top teams.
On the broadcast side, the change should benefit viewers because even with all the advanced satellites and technology, games from international venues always look and feel different than normal broadcasts.
Mexico City is hardly remote and clearly a huge metropolitan area. Still, it’s a 12-hour drive from the southern tip of Texas and the potential goodwill and merchandizing of an NFL game there do not outweigh a quality game and broadcast.
ABC and the league invested much time planning for a broadcast from the venue. Now that planning and the related cultural features or vignettes are worthless.
That’s OK, though, because we should get a better broadcast as a result.
Bigger than any location or scheduling challenge, the focus for “MNF” was internal this past week, with network officials defending the broadcast team, specifically the work of analysts Jason Witten and Booger McFarland.
Both former players are new to their roles, Witten to TV entirely and McFarland to such a high-profile position — and, literally in McFarland’s case, to a position perched high atop the sidelines in a movable personal broadcast seat.
Critics of each have been abundant, sometimes fair and sometimes not so fair.
Still, ‘MNF’ producers insist they’re committed to both moving forward, and that’s fine.
Witten has gotten a little better since the start of the season. McFarland has a unique view and seems determined to be contrarian with his broadcast partners regarding certain off-field topics. He’s also succeeded in every role ESPN has offered him in recent years.
Neither of those two might be the show’s weakest link, or loudest change, for viewers, though.
Play-by-play man Joe Tessitore brought unquestioned credentials to the role this season, but it’s been interesting to hear him try to balance down-and-distance facts and info with loud promotions and reactions as times.
That back and forth might impact the perception of the other two as much as anything because Tessitore at times sounds worse on “MNF” than he ever did on boxing, college football or whatever previous assignments he had at ESPN.
n The Steelers-Jaguars game was initially set for “Sunday Night Football,” but because of the Jaguars’ struggles was moved to a 1 p.m. airing on CBS today.
n NASCAR’s Cup Series ends its season at Homestead-Miami Speedway this afternoon (3 p.m. NBC). Based on the past few races leading up to this race, viewers can expect some on-track contact and emotion. With the sport’s playoff structure, four drivers are eligible for the championship, and a couple of them do not like each other.
Sampsell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.