SBD/Issue 222/Sports Media

ESPN’s “MNF” Booth Gets Mixed Reviews In Preseason Debut

Kornheiser (l), Tirico (c) And Theismann Make “MNF” Debut On ESPN
Tony Kornheiser, in his debut on ESPN’s “MNF” last night, “left the game-calling to Mike Tirico and the analysis to [Joe] Theismann while carving out his natural territory as a snarky, but not irritating, commentator who will keep track of story lines and ask Theismann to explain term,” according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. Kornheiser’s “wit showed often but he had plenty of openings in a ho-hum preseason game” (N.Y. TIMES, 8/15). In L.A., Larry Stewart calls Kornheiser the “one star” of the ESPN crew. He “came across as less obnoxious than Howard Cosell, and funnier than Dennis Miller” (L.A. TIMES, 8/15). USA TODAY’s Michael Hiestand writes Kornheiser “wasn’t funny. ... But he wasn’t annoying.” He “sounded like he’d done enough prep work to reasonably comment on what amounts to a glorified NFL practice” (USA TODAY, 8/15).

THUMBS DOWN: Kornheiser’s WASHINGTON POST colleague Paul Farhi writes Kornheiser’s performance “was enough to make one yearn for Dennis Miller.” Kornheiser “played it safe,” making “few missteps but offering little for the highlight reel. It wasn’t exactly clear at times why he was there at all.” He “wasn’t especially witty, provocative or insightful. ... Kornheiser mostly spluttered, typically emphasizing the obvious and playing third fiddle” (WASHINGTON POST, 8/15). In Phoenix, Bob Young writes the broadcast “left us wondering why ESPN didn’t just stick” with its old Sunday night team. Tirico is “fine as a play-by-play guy but certainly no better than Mike Patrick, who had terrific chemistry with Theismann and Paul Maguire” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 8/15). In West Palm Beach, Charles Elmore writes Theismann “plays the straight man a little too straight, instead of coming back with sharp humor” to Kornheiser’s comments (PALM BEACH POST, 8/15). The AP’s Douglas Rowe writes Tirico “sustained the [‘MNF’] tradition of solid, straightforward play-by-play men.” But Theismann “sometimes sounded too empathetic with the players,” and he also “came across as a little too self-serious, especially when he and Kornheiser clashed about how far removed from football new Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh was.” Walsh ran a bed and breakfast for seven years (AP, 8/15).

FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE: The Mighty MJD writes, “I really think ESPN’s on the right track with the team they’ve assembled.” But the song for the “Tony Tony Tony” segment “has to go” (, 8/15). The Sports Hookup writes if last night “was any indication, ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth crew has already developed a level of comfort and familiarity with one another, providing crisp commentary and entertaining banter and analysis”, 8/15). But Hurkin’ Off wrote Kornheiser “is an even bigger nightmare than I expected.” And “if ESPN’s hiring practices aren’t bad enough, now it’s butchering the football graphics” (, 8/14).

HE SAID IT: Here are some select quotes from Kornheiser’s “MNF” debut.

On broadcasting “MNF”: “I’ve made it to it. But will I make it through it?”

On the Vikings making personnel changes in response to several off-the-field incidents last year: “The ‘Sex Boat’ thing was a showstopper. As they say on ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘That’s gold, Jerry, that’s gold.’”

On Raiders offensive coordinator Tom Walsh running a bed and breakfast while he was of football for seven years: “Does that look like a guy who’s staying in football? It’s a B&B. He’s preparing menus and making beds. How is he back in football? Are you comfortable with that, Joe?”
Theismann responded, “Actually, I am,” to which Kornheiser said, “Would you be comfortable if Bob Newhart were also hired?”

Theismann mentioned the strong arm of Raiders QB Andrew Walter seconds before Walter threw a 67-yard TD pass, to which Kornheiser said, “Don’t you sound like a genius, Theismann, on that one play. People are going to say that we’re on tape delay and you knew it.”

On Raiders DT Warren Sapp saying he took a “backseat” when he first arrived with the Raiders because there was already veteran leadership: “At his size, he’s the whole seat.”

On Raiders S Michael Huff’s comments about the first time he walked onto an NFL field: “I liked hearing him say that he couldn’t breathe his first time out there. That’s how I feel tonight.”

In the fourth quarter with the Vikings in range to kick a field goal that would have tied the game and sent it into overtime, Kornheiser said, “This is just a disaster for me. I am way past my bedtime. I assumed in the preseason that you didn’t have overtime.”

Kornheiser also answered viewers’ e-mail questions, including one asking which team in today’s NFL deserved a “fun nickname”? Kornheiser: “I think ‘Snakes on a Plane’ would be a great nickname for some team out there.”

Another e-mailer asked about the referee’s new uniforms and whether they looked like penguins instead of zebras. Kornheiser: “I love penguins having created the ‘Penguin Dance,’ which is sweeping the country, which I would do if there was a camera on me. Penguins look great. Zebras are done.”

Another e-mailer asked Kornheiser, “Have you ever thought of filling your bald spot with advertisements as many boxers and poker players do?” Kornheiser: “I’d like to get stitched on the top of my head for about $80,000 a week or something like that.”
Theismann: “I’m very happy with what I have.”
Kornheiser: “Yours is fake, though. That’s not real hair.”
Theismann: “People are going to believe that now.”

AD SALES: MULTICHANNEL NEWS’ Mike Reynolds cites ad agency execs as saying that ESPN “is selling an 8.8 cable rating” for “MNF.” Last season, ESPN averaged a 7.1 on Sunday nights. NBC Universal Sports & Olympics Chair Dick Ebersol said Sunday nights on NBC “will be a double-digit-rated show without any doubt. It will be in the top 10.” Former Clear Channel TV Chair Mike Trager said “MNF” is “ingrained in viewers’ NFL experience, so ESPN will do well. NBC’s over the air package will benefit from more viewers on Sunday night. It’s a win-win for the league with both packages” (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 8/14 issue).

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