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Dennis Miller Takes "Monday Night" Pigskin

by Mark Armstrong
Jun 22, 2000, 5:30 PM PT

Looks like ABC's picked the one guy who could've sent even Howard Cosell running for a dictionary.

Dennis Miller, the sharp-tongued funnyguy whose verbose rants and obscure cultural references made him a hipster hit on Saturday Night Live and HBO, will join NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts and play-by-play man Al Michaels for the upcoming season of Monday Night Football, the network announced today.

Miller's selection is an unlikely turn from the thick-necked ex-jocks who recently dominated the broadcast booth. But it's no secret that network execs were nostalgic for the playful days of Cosell and "Dandy" Don Meredith.

Ratings sagged to their lowest levels in the show's 30-year history, leading ABC Sports to do some major housecleaning. The network sacked veteran NFL-er Boomer Esiason in March, not to mention the show's producer and director. And it brought back Don Ohlmeyer, the man who produced the football extravaganza during its '70s heyday. Only Michaels survived the coup.

Since then, Ohlmeyer had been searching for big names to light a fire under the broadcast booth. Even right-wing radio man Rush Limbaugh auditioned for the gig in Los Angeles last month.

"Our goal is to provide a more enjoyable program for the viewers, and this combination of talent is the start," Ohlmeyer says. "What we want to accomplish is to have a team with distinctive voices, distinctive personalities and distinctive points of view."

That would definitely be Miller, whose career has been one live gig after another. The 46-year-old comedian first gained popularity as the hilariously smug newsman for Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," before moving into his current home hosting HBO's Dennis Miller Live, which finishes its seventh season in August. (Miller says he will work double duty on both shows.)

Miller told KABC-TV he plans to approach his role as "a football fan," not an expert. "And most of the guys watching it haven't played, either. So maybe I can hook up with them."

But so far, no word on whether Miller will be allowed to go off on one of his trademark rants during a timeout--or better yet, whether ABC will provide viewers with online glossaries giving detailed explanations of his jokes.

Joining Miller and Michaels is Fouts, the former All-Pro quarterback from the San Diego Chargers who's been a college pigskin analyst for ABC since 1997. Taking over on the sidelines will be another Hall of Famer, former running back Eric Dickerson, and former ESPN reporter Melissa Stark. The pair will replace Leslie Visser, who was canned by the show this week.

Monday Night Football's 31st season will debut September 4 with the Denver Broncos facing the St. Louis Rams.

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