SBD/Issue 69/"MNF" On ABC: 1970-2005

“MNF” On ABC Timeline: Highlights, Lowlights And Milestones

It all officially started on September 21, 1970, when DON MEREDITH welcomed a national audience to the first “MNF” broadcast featuring the Jets and Browns. But the history of pro football on Monday nights actually predates that game at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. THE DAILY offers a timeline of the primetime television franchise:

1964: Bid for one primetime NFL game a week, to be played on Friday, is defeated. People fear NFL game will hurt attendance at Friday night high school football games.

1968: NFL Commissioner PETE ROZELLE approaches CBS and NBC about putting one NFL game a week on primetime. Both networks reject Rozelle’s proposal.

“MNF” Innovations Include Camera Utilization,
Color Commentating And Instant Replay
1969: A few NFL games are played on Monday night, but televised locally only to the markets of the visiting teams. All home-team markets are blacked out. ABC Sports Producer ROONE ARLEDGE then seizes the opportunity to air primetime football, and ABC inks a three-year contract to televise 13 Monday night games a year, for a total of $25.5M, an average of $8.5M annually. Arledge promises to bring new innovations to the game. Additions such as twice as many cameras as usual, use of a “color” commentator and instant replay are implemented. And of course, the “honey shot.”

1970: 9/21: “MNF” airs for the first time, featuring Jets-Browns. HOWARD COSELL calls the action alongside KEITH JACKSON and former player Don Meredith. Jackson signs on with, “From Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, two powers in professional football meet for the first time ever as members of the new American Football Conference of the National Football League.” Advertisers are charged $65,000 per spot.

1971: “MNF” commentator Don Meredith wins a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Sports Programming. This marks the first of ABC’s 25 “MNF” Emmy wins, through the ’04-05 season.

1972: 10/9: During the Raiders’ 34-0 defeat of the Oilers at the Astrodome, a cameraman zooms in for a close-up on a man sleeping in an empty section of the stadium. Cosell describes the shot as "a vivid picturization of the excitement attendant upon this game." With the camera on him, the fan opens his eyes, looks up and extends his middle finger. This prompts Meredith to say, "He thinks they are number one in the nation."

1973: RONALD REAGAN and JOHN LENNON visit the “MNF” booth.

1974: 12/9: Cosell interviews John Lennon in the crowd....ABC airs 14 “MNF” games in ’74 and ’75.

1975: ABC signs Miller as the exclusive beer of “MNF” for approximately $5M.

1976: 9/27: First overtime “MNF” game, a Redskins victory over the Eagles, after the NFL institutes the regular-season overtime rule in 1974....ABC airs 13 “MNF” games in ’76 and ’77.

1978: NFL changes schedule from 14 to 16 Monday night games. ABC broadcasts “MNF” every week of the season instead of having an open week, as in previous years.

1980: 12/8: Howard Cosell announces Lennon’s assassination during a Patriots-Dolphins “MNF” telecast. Cosell: “This, we have to say it, remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City. John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead ... on ... arrival.”

1981: For the first time in “MNF” history, the two eventual Super Bowl teams, the 49ers and the Bengals, do not play a Monday night game during the regular season.

1982: Only nine “MNF” games air due to a player strike.

Theismann Suffers Career-Ending
Hit From Lawrence Taylor In ‘85
1983: 9/5: During a Redskins-Cowboys matchup, Howard Cosell refers to Redskins WR ALVIN GARRETT as a “little monkey.” Controversy ensues. Before the ’84 season, Cosell resigns after calling the NFL a “stagnant bore,” leaving the booth to Gifford, Meredith and O.J. SIMPSON. 10/17: Packers and Redskins play the highest-scoring “MNF” game ever, a 48-47 Packers victory.

1985: 11/18: Redskins QB JOE THEISMANN takes a career-ending hit from Giants LB LAWRENCE TAYLOR. Theismann endures a compound multiple fracture of the right leg. 12/2: The Bears are four wins away from becoming the second team in NFL history to record an undefeated season when the Dolphins beat them on “MNF” by a score of 38-24. The game marks the highest-rated “MNF” telecast of all time, a 29.6/46.

1986: “MNF” enters its 17th season on ABC, becoming the longest-running program in the history of the network....AL MICHAELS and FRANK GIFFORD form the first two-man booth in “MNF” history. The two-man team lasts for one season before DAN DIERDORF joins them in ’87.

1987: ABC renews “MNF” from ’87-89 for $460M, an average of $147M per year....NFL brings on country singer HANK WILLIAMS JR. to do “MNF” intro. Williams sings “Are you ready for some football?,” adapted from his song, “All My Rowdy Friends.”

1990: Williams wins his first of four Emmy’s for the “MNF” intro....ABC renews “MNF” from ’90-93 for $900M, an average of $225M per year.

1991: ABC begins airing 17 “MNF” games per year, as the NFL expands its schedule to include bye weeks.

1994: ABC renews “MNF” from ’94-97 for $920M, an average of $230M per year.

1997: After 27 seasons, Gifford works his last season of “MNF” before ABC moves him to the “Monday Night Blast” pregame show and halftime report.

1998: In an interview promoting the “Monday Night Blast” pregame show, Gifford comments on his change of position: “Frankly, it wasn’t handled well by ABC”....ABC renews “MNF” from ’98-05 for $4.4B, an average of $550M per year....ABC changes “MNF” air time to 8:00pm with kickoffs at 8:20pm. Time change lasts just one season as ratings decline about 8%....LESLEY VISSER replaces LYNN SWANN and becomes the first female sideline reporter for the program....10/21: ABC airs “MNF” in Spanish for the first time, during Steelers-Chiefs, using Secondary Audio Programming (SAP)....ABC lets Dierdorf go in favor of a two-man BOOMER ESIASON and Al Michaels booth in ’99.

1999: ABC experiments with the two-man “MNF” booth for only the second time in “MNF” history, with Esiason and Michaels. ABC returns to three-man booth in ’00.

2000: Despite having no prior sports broadcasting experience, DENNIS MILLER is added to the “MNF” broadcast team for two seasons alongside Michaels and DAN FOUTS. Miller’s hiring is met with controversy. RICHARD SANDOMIR writes in the N.Y. Times that the move "is the boldest gambit the show has taken" since Arledge hired Cosell in '70 (N.Y. TIMES, 6/23). Theismann says of Miller, “When people watch football, they don’t want to look up words to figure out what they mean. Our game is about guys running into each other.”

Madden And Michaels Become First Two-
Man Booth To Last More Than One Season
2001: 3/6: Exec Producer DON OHLMEYER announces he will not return the following season. Ohlmeyer: “Twenty-two weeks on the road is not what God intended for my life.” ESPN NFL “Sunday Night Football” Producer FRED GAUDELLI is tapped as Ohlmeyer’s replacement.

2002: ABC’s “MNF” begins the season with JOHN MADDEN and Michaels forming a two-man booth. Madden and Michaels become the first “MNF” two-man team to last more than a year. 10/14: Eagles WR TERRELL OWENS autographs a game ball with a Sharpie pulled out of his sock, after scoring a TD against the Seahawks. 11/11: ABC celebrates the 500th telecast of “MNF.”

2003: “Monday Night at the Mic” pairs NFLers with recording artists performing tunes at halftime. 12/22: Packers QB BRETT FAVRE throws for 399 yards and four touchdowns against the Raiders, just one day after his father dies of a heart attack. Madden: “Anything that he threw up, his receivers were going to catch.”

2004: 9/27: AD AGE reports “MNF” is ABC’s most-expensive show, with 30-second spots in its second hour costing $323,000. 11/15: Owens and “Desperate Housewives” star NICOLLETTE SHERIDAN’s towel-dropping “MNF” intro runs. The segment is the target of an onslaught of negative media attention. Both NFL and ABC release statements about the inappropriateness of the skit....“MNF” runs “You’ve Been Sacked” halftime skits, which play off MTV’s “Punk’d.”

ABC, ESPN Team Up For Special “MNF”
Doubleheader For Hurricane Relief Efforts
2005: 4/18: ABC and the NFL announce the end of their 36-year “MNF” partnership. ESPN inks “MNF” contract from ’06-13 for $8.8B, an average of $1.1B per year. The Sunday night package goes to NBC with a deal from '06-11 for $3.613B, an average of $600M. Broncos Owner and NFL Broadcast Committee Chair PAT BOWLEN: “The Monday-night product we had with ABC was dwindling. It was broken in a way. ... Monday night isn’t Monday night anymore.” 9/8: The final season of “MNF” opens and halftime features TIM MCGRAW singing highlights of Sunday NFL action to the tune of “I like it, I love it”. JIMMY KIMMEL provides one-minute comedic halftime monologues throughout the season. 9/19: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, ABC and ESPN feature a special “MNF” doubleheader, featuring Giants-Saints and Redskins-Cowboys. The NFL runs a telethon during the game to raise money for relief efforts. ESPN’s CHRIS BERMAN and ABC’s ROBIN ROBERTS host the telethon, with NFL celebrities manning the phones.
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"MNF" On ABC: 1970-2005

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