Meredith to help turn out the lights for ABC's 'MNF' finale
Where have you gone, Dandy Don Meredith
? TV's original good old boy sportscaster has been missing in action since leaving the booth of ABC's Monday Night Football
in 1984. Now Meredith is coming out of retirement to help give 36-year-old MNF
a Viking funeral during ABC's final telecast of the series Monday.
Meredith, 67, was one of the original trio, along with Keith Jackson
and the late Howard Cosell
, who called the first MNF
game in 1970. His chemistry with Cosell and Frank Gifford
, who replaced Jackson a year later, helped turn MNF
into a pop culture sensation and TV institution.
During Monday's telecast of the New England Patriots-New York Jets game, Meredith will appear with Gifford and current play-by-play man Al Michaels
in a taped, two-minute opening segment. Then Meredith will close the show with another rendition of The Party's Over
, the song he used to belt out in the booth during blowout games, to Cosell's irritation.
The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback spent 13 seasons (1970 to '74; 1977 to '84) in the MNF
booth. But he has kept a low profile since.
His longtime pal Gifford talked him into returning to the limelight, according to George Bodenheimer
, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, who will shepherd the move of MNF
to ESPN in 2006.
"It shows you the weight this property has," says Bodenheimer, although ABC had to send a crew to Meredith's home in Santa Fe to tape his parts for the finale because Meredith had family commitments. (Gifford's part was taped in Los Angeles.)
, producer of MNF
the last five seasons, says Meredith "closed that chapter on his life." But Dandy Don is as outspoken as ever, according to Gaudelli. "He said, 'Freddy, if I was doing a game where a team was losing 35-0 ... and a running back started dancing after making a 3-yard gain, I'd say get your a— back to the huddle and hug an offensive lineman.' "
Meredith declined through an ABC spokesman to be interviewed.
ABC's final MNF
game also will feature:
• Famous faces who popped into the MNF
booth such as Ronald Reagan and John Lennon.
• A salute to ABC's Roone Arledge and former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
• Clips from the greatest games, including the Miami Dolphins' defeat of the Chicago Bears in 1985, the highest-rated MNF
telecast ever with a 29.6 rating.
is the second longest-running program in prime time behind CBS' 60 Minutes
. While still a top-10 show, its ratings continue to slide. Monday's telecast of the Baltimore Ravens' 48-3 rout of the Green Bay Packers generated an 8.2 rating, the lowest this season and the second-lowest ever. (Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. St. Louis Rams last season posted the lowest, a 7.7.) This season, MNF
is averaging an overall 10.9 rating, down 1% from an 11.0 last season.
It remains to be seen whether the finale, a matchup of the playoff-bound Patriots vs. the eliminated Jets, will attract enough viewers to send MNF
off on a ratings high note. Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts are this season's ratings darlings, drawing the two biggest numbers (a 14.8 for their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 28 and a 14.3 for their game against New England on Nov. 7).
In a bitter pill for ABC, rival NBC was able to land the kind of late-season flexible scheduling for its Sunday night NFL package next season that the network had sought to avoid turkeys such as Monday's contest between two losing teams.
As Willie Nelson sings in The Party's Over
: "Turn out the lights, the party's over, they say all good things must end. Call it tonight, the party's over. And tomorrow starts the same old thing again."
The networks did a great job of catching the agony and ecstasy of NFL coaches as the last few days, as they alternately screamed, stormed and sulked their way through games.
ABC had a great close-up Monday night of Green Bay coach Mike Sherman's 1,000-yard stare as his team absorbed its worst beating since losing 61-7 to the Bears in 1980. "His team is not putting up much of a fight," said ABC's John Madden