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Miller Time on MNF

When Don Ohlmeyer returned to Monday Night Football as producer earlier this year, he wanted to make the ABC telecast the buzz around the water cooler.

He got his wish, thanks to the addition of comedian Dennis Miller to the Monday Night booth. Even if the ratings were down, the July 31 opener featuring the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots was front-page news and the lead story on sportscasts.

Of course, no one was talking about the game-a meaningless preseason blowout-just about Miller.

"A year ago, people were not talking Monday Night Football, now they are," says Paul Schulman of Schulman Advanswers New York. "People tuned in Monday to see Dennis Miller because it's a different twist. It's show business that Don Ohlmeyer is bringing back to the show, and I think that's what he was hired to do. If they would have brought in one more former jock or one more analyst, I don't think it would have meant anything. There is no doubt that the Monday Night telecasts have been given an additional dimension with Dennis."

Neal Pilson, former CBS Sports president, now a TV sports consultant, says the show needs just that kind of lift.

"The game had slipped into a Sunday- afternoon presentation, which works fine when you are talking to a football audience, but for Monday Night Football to be successful, it has to reach out to the casual sports fan and the viewer who is normally watching entertainment programming," he says. "If I'm an advertiser who has purchased Monday Night Football inventory, I'm real happy with the renewed attention this series is getting, from both ABC and the media."

"I was really pleased with our announcers for the first game,.and the trio in the booth has a chance to be something special," Ohlmeyer says.

The ratings, at least for the kick-off, are another story. Monday's game drew the telecasts' second-worst preseason ratings ever, according to Nielsen Media Research. In its defense, the telecast did start at 4 p.m. PT, was a 20-0 blowout victory by the Patriots and faced competition from the start of the Republican National Convention.

Regardless, Miller, who still hosts his own comedy series on HBO and is a regular in a number of national advertising campaigns, stole the show. The comedian managed to get in lines about NAFTA, the Republican National Convention, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and Ouija boards.

When he talked of Patriots' running back J.R. Redmond's absence from the game because of a minor groin surgery, Miller quipped, "I'm not sure there's such a thing as minor groin surgery. Anyone has a sharp instrument around my genitalia, I'm thinking it's major."