NFL pre-game show's approach a bit ostentatious for Esiason


Though he spent three hours in the "Monday Night Football" booth last night, ABC analyst Boomer Esiason's most astute observations yesterday came during his appearance on Don Imus' morning radio show.

Esiason, on the phone from Dallas, the site of last night's game, chuckled at the thought of the overwrought Sunday NFL pre-game shows, and wondered aloud, "What's going on?"

Esiason spoke specifically of Terry Bradshaw's tear-filled chat with Green Bay's Brett Favre and his wife, Deanna, over the quarterback's problems with drinking and prescription drugs.

But Boomer could just as well have been talking about the whole pre-game genre, which, these days, is just this side of professional wrestling in terms of its carnival atmosphere.

There's no fake blood and garish costumes and the like, but there's plenty of staged drama, hoked-up comedy and testosterone to go around on virtually all the Sunday pre-game shows.

To wit, CBS jettisoned last year's reasonably thoughtful, if relatively low-rated, show for this year's program, where game show sound effects accompany the prognostications of the participants and Jerry Glanville bops the otherwise dignified Randy Cross about the head and shoulders with a foam dog bone.

On the Fox set, the emotion of the Favre conversation -- a page right out of the Barbara Walters interviews -- is deftly mixed in with the constant and wearying joshing between Bradshaw, Howie Long and Cris Collinsworth. The network's promotional staff finally gave up this year and admitted, through their claymation promos, what we've suspected all along: The show is a cartoon.

Meanwhile, on cable, ESPN does a football-heavy broadcast, but the emphasis on strategy and in-jokes, the stilted patter between the participants and the ridiculous two-hour length makes getting through "NFL Countdown" a chore.

Fox Sports Net's new entrant, "NFL This Morning" has some promise, but any show that makes 74-year-old former Buffalo coach Marv Levy toss in Dixie Chicks references to try to seem hip should rethink its purpose.

About the only NFL pre-game show that is worth the effort is CNN's "NFL Preview." The panel -- host Bob Lorenz and analysts Trev Alberts and Ron Meyer, flanked by Peter King, the best NFL television reporter in the business -- is solid, if not perfect.

Compared to the rest of the field, "NFL Preview" shines brightly for what it has, reliable information, and for what it doesn't have, namely, phony entertainment. And, on Sundays before the kickoffs, those are prized commodities to be sure.

On deck

The baseball pennant race is long over around these parts, but the white-hot Braves-Mets race gets solid coverage this week, what with TBS and ESPN double-teaming the telecast tonight and ESPN going solo tomorrow night, with both games airing at 7: 30 p.m.

Tomorrow's game is the opener of a juicy ESPN doubleheader, with the second game emanating from San Diego, where the defending National League champion Padres try to put a hurt to the Cincinnati Reds' postseason hopes.

On ESPN2, the host Red Sox play Toronto at 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow, followed by the Giants visiting the Dodgers.

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