Sports

Chad Finn | Sports Media

ESPN gives ‘Monday Night Football’ a reboot

In this Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, file photo, former NFL player and now analyst Jason Witten, left, and play-by-play commentator Joe Tessitore pose for a photograph before their ESPN telecast of a preseason NFL football game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets in Landover, Md. Witten holds one of the most prominent television jobs in the sport as the lead analyst for Monday Night Football." Witten is approaching his new role in similar fashion as he did his old one when his comprehensive film work made him the second most productive tight end in NFL history. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Alex Brandon/Associated Press/File
ESPN paired play-by-play commentator Joe Tessitore (right) with former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (left) in the booth along with former NFL player Booger McFarland and Lisa Salters on the sidelines in a reboot of “Monday Night Football.”

A few NFL-centric media thoughts now that we’ve completed 1/16th of the schedule . . .

ESPN’s new “Monday Night Football” team of Joe Tessitore , Jason Witten , BoogerMcFarland and sideline reporter Lisa Salters is going to be pretty good — and perhaps better than pretty good if we can finally and forever put away the notion from another time that MNF matters beyond being another prime-time football game. The days of having a cultural impact are long gone — or as Don Meredith famously said in the show’s heyday, “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

I suspect the vast majority of football fans, with so many viewing options these days, already know this. I also suspect television executives, including or perhaps especially those at ESPN, believe prime-time football can be a phenomenon again, if only it had the right mix of personalities. At least they haven’t tried to put another Dennis Miller in the booth, yet.

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Despite what some may bleat on Twitter, NFL ratings are very strong, still — NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was again the most-watched television show last fall, and the top-five most watched programs last week were NFL games. But the days of any regular-season game having an appeal beyond football are about as ancient as the leather helmet.

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Within context of modern and reasonable expectations, it’s pretty good, with the presumption that it will get better since Monday’s Raiders-Rams game was their first real broadcast.

Tessitore, the play-by-play voice who replaces Sean McDonough , has always been easy to listen to, though the image, brought to is-this-for-real? life in Bryan Curtis’s excellent profile in The Ringer, as some combination of Frank Sinatra and Ray Liotta/Henry Hill in “GoodFellas,’’ did him no favors.

Witten, nine months removed from what could be a Hall of Fame playing career, has already shown great progress from the preseason, when he was basically a 6-foot-6-inch, 265-pound block of wood that periodically spouted football clichés. He comes across as down-to-earth and likable, and I’d bet he ends up being well-liked, not a star at the Tony Romo–level, but perhaps similar to Dan Fouts during his days on “Monday Night Football.”

The booth dynamic was a little off in part because one of the analysts was not in the booth. McFarland was situated in a vehicle on the sideline, which disrupts the flow of the conversation since Tessitore always has to queue him up. McFarlane was gregarious and informative (talking about Raiders players hanging their heads, criticizing the Khalil Mack deal as a potential all-time brutal trade for the Raiders).

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He’s a little redundant with Salters also on the sidelines, though. I think ultimately it will be a good team that doesn’t drive many of us nuts, and that’s pretty much the best you can hope for from a football broadcast these days.

A steady, skilled pro

The response to Beth Mowins handling the play-by-play on the early opening-night MNF game – which she did for the second straight year, with Brian Griese as her analyst rather than raw rookie Rex Ryan this time — is always interesting, and usually not in a good way, through no fault of her own.

Twitter on its best days is a digital sports bar where you have a good time with like-minded friends. On its worst days, it’s a cesspool that makes you want to punt your computer or phone Ray Guy -style. Too often, when a female broadcaster is in a role that has traditionally been held by a man, the responses are overwhelmingly idiotic, and usually begin with some disclaimer that the person has nothing against female broadcasters before complaining with some coded language about . . . the broadcaster being female.

There is also a far less vocal corollary to this, which responds to the sexism by overpraising her and hyperbolizing mediocre work as good, good work as great, and great work as worthy of a prime-time No. 1 gig somewhere. I readily admit to subconsciously having fallen somewhere on this scale myself in the past.

What’s the honest assessment of Mowins? She is a steady, skilled pro, and there have been many men who are steady, skilled pros who have had sweet gigs for years; she is more than worthy of this opportunity, as she has proved when she has had it. She’s been saddled with analysts in Griese and Ryan who are just adequate, and last year she had the added variable of having overmatched sideline reporter Sergio Dipp on the broadcast. She does sound a bit like Reba McEntire , which is odd since Mowins is from Syracuse. Based on her ability rather than her gender, Mowins, who is also calling a few games for CBS this year, should not warrant much complaint. I know this: I’d much rather listen to her call a game than Mike Greenberg , who did the secondary MNF thing for a couple of years.

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Reel life

Feels like it wasn’t that long ago that The NFL Network was introducing its “A Football Life” documentary series with a two-parter on Bill Belichick. Those still oft-referenced docs actually premiered in September 2011, and the series begins its eighth season Friday night with an episode on former quarterback Carson Palmer. Other upcoming episodes feature Lawrence Taylor (Sept. 21, and this one is long overdue), Tony Romo (Sept. 28, guess it helps to have a high-profile TV gig), Patriots great Willie McGinest (Oct. 5), and Brian Dawkins (Oct. 12). There will be docs later in the season on Cris Collinsworth, and the late Dwight Clark and The Catch. Still waiting for them to do one on Steve Grogan. Or for that matter, John Hannah.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.M