First, let's get this straight: I am a big fan of Dennis Miller. I have his book, and a CD of his stand-up work. When we got HBO, I watched his show religiously. His nothing-is-sacred take on current events always made me laugh; his obscure references to pop-culture figures from the 1950's made me feel "cultured." It was mostly his "Us moderates like to be assholes" line that hooked me. I've been a fan ever since.
Which is why ABC's announcement this summer that Miller would become part of the legendary "Monday Night Football" team brought a smile to my face. Don Ohlmeyer, who revolutionized televised sports with MNF in the 1970s, was looking for a new personality, someone who would make the broadcasts interesting and hopefully controversial. In other words, he was looking for another Howard Cosell. Cosell, the biggest catch of Ohlmeyer's life, was so polarizing that "people would buy television sets just to throw bricks at him when he came on screen."
But he was so very successful. And since the heyday of MNF in those years, the show had slipped, to where, even with the addition of the Hank Williams Jr. theme song, cheerleaders from the Victoria Secret's catalog and at-home interaction with the show via the Web, ratings were falling. Thus ABC brought in Ohlmeyer to rejuvenate the show, and Ohlmeyer brought in Miller.
Miller started out well in the preseason. "Democrats and Republicans. Now there's a bunch of 4 and 12 teams," he chortled. But since then it seems like Miller has been pulling his punches. In the season opener Sept. 4 he was silent for most of the game except halftime, when he was eating Skittles during his analysis. In the broadcasts since, Miller has become even more timid, as columnists have pronounced the comedian-as-football announcer experiment a failure.
No doubt, at first Miller was overwhelmed, and it seemed like the enormous media frenzy over his performance had gotten to him. It will also be difficult to learn the intricacies of the game. There is a fine line between Cosell, who was annoying because he was a brilliant analyst with an opinion, and NBC basketball analyst Bill Walton, who is annoying because he is an idiot.
But I have faith. Miller needs to go back the basics, say "Up Yours" to the powers-that-be, and stop caring what people think. He can definitely be funny about the NFL--there is no shortage of topics.
For example, he could poke fun at the Dallas Cowboys' love affair with mind-altering substances. Doug Flutie's awful ads for 10-10-220. John Madden's barbeque-mobile. The list keeps going on and on--once Miller find his targets, you'll be watching MNF again. And it'll be something to rant about.