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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV-RADIO

Miller Is Drawing Love-Hate Reaction

August 25, 2000|MIKE PENNER

This week's "Dennis Miller Live on Monday Night" scorecard:

References to the Miami Dolphins' "chirpy blowhole": 1.

Allusions to the absurdist Samuel Beckett play "Waiting for Godot": 1.

Observations that Miami linebacker Zach Thomas "throws his body around like a Chinese acrobat with an inner ear problem": 1.

Rumpled neckties worn at the same time for uncharacteristic more-slapstick-than-cerebral comedic effect: 2.

Number of times quoted Richard Dreyfuss from the movie "Jaws": 1.

Number of times referred to Miami team as "the Fin Mobile": 1.

And that was just before the kickoff.

ABC's great Monday night experiment--turning HBO's 400-pound professional comedy gorilla loose on the No Fun League--is now three exhibition games old and, as widely expected, polarizing audiences with near-Cosellian panache.

In this corner are those who get Miller's scatter-shot, brain-twisting humor and enjoy his Fran Tarkenton scrambles all over the cultural landscape.

And in the other are those who prefer their football commentary straight and unscripted and duly reverent and are seriously thinking about turning down the volume on their TV sets this season and listening instead to, yes, Boomer Esiason on the radio.

In the middle sits Don Ohlmeyer, back in the "Monday Night Football" production truck, the man responsible for bringing in Miller and Dan Fouts to flank Al Michaels in an overhauled broadcast booth.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that this is really going to be good," Ohlmeyer says of the new "MNF" lineup. "And that's about as excited as I let myself get.

"It's been the kind of reaction I want. I've said to people, 'When was the last time you were quoting a line on Tuesday from a 'Monday Night Football' game? Or when was the last time you were laughing on Tuesday morning about something you heard on 'Monday Night Football'?"

Ohlmeyer says he already likes the chemistry that has developed between the three announcers, noting that Michaels "for the first time in years sounds like he's enjoying himself" and how Michaels, in trying to keep the telecast grounded with Miller and Fouts riffing around him, has had to "flex some muscles he hasn't flexed in a while."

Certainly, the Monday Night booth sounds re-energized after the bored-men-talking tenure of Michaels and Esiason. Contrary to some early fears, Miller hasn't overwhelmed the telecast, pouncing on straight lines served up by the others. Instead, some of the best Monday Night moments so far have resulted in Miller teeing up Fouts with questions posed from a fan's-eye-view perspective.

During Monday's Miami-Green Bay game, Miller asked Fouts about journeyman quarterback Jim Druckenmiller and how a "great organization like the 49ers" could have been so wrong about a first-round draft pick.

Fouts: "There's one word for him. Slow. Slow delivery. Slow decision-making. Slow afoot. Bad combination."

Miller, cracking up: "So you're saying 'not fast' is what I'm getting from you."

Fouts: "Three slows and you're out."

REMOTE CONTROL HERE, ALMANAC THERE

There are also times, however, when you can visualize Miller's smirking, keep-the-Cliff-Notes-handy observations sailing over the audience's heads like a Ryan Leaf out pattern.

Take Miller's one-liner about ex-Ram Coach Dick Vermeil tearing up more frequently than Sylvia Plath after a hit of pepper spray.

"Some people criticized Dennis for that line," Ohlmeyer says. "Two guys who watched the game with their wives told me they didn't get it but their wives were hysterical and had to explain who Sylvia Plath was, because as girls growing up, she was one of their great feminist heroes.

"I said to both of these guys, 'When's the last time your wife had to explain something to you on 'Monday Night Football'? Generally, it's the other way around. We're sitting there and if she's paying attention, she'll say, 'What were they just talking about?'

"That's a nice feeling--when you feel like you're on the inside."

Ohlmeyer acknowledges that "nobody's going to get all of Dennis' references. Some of them go over my head, and I like to think I'm fairly well read. But I'm here watching a game on Sunday afternoon and somebody will be talking about some Xs-and-O's thing that I have no clue about.

"So you're not going to get everything. You need to get most of it."

With the exhibition season winding down, Ohlmeyer says the new MNF team is "about 60% of where I want to get to. There are still mechanical things we have to do, just getting five people [including sideline reporters Melissa Stark and Eric Dickerson] integrated when they need to be integrated, getting replays and graphics integrated.

"There's a lot we have to do. But I like the response I've gotten so far from the fans."

PROFESSIONAL OBSERVATION

And the response from sports broadcasting colleagues?

On a conference call this week, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson, hosts of ESPN's "NFL Primetime" studio show, weighed in with opinions on Miller's preseason performance.

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