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ABC goes low-key on debut of MNF team

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PASADENA, Calif. — Monday's first national telecast of an NFL exhibition game this season may just attract the attention of more football fans than usually tune in to such things. It will certainly attract the attention of more TV sports critics and columnists.

The Hall of Fame game matching New England and San Francisco marks the debut of ABC's new "Monday Night Football" broadcast team — for the first time, Dennis Miller and Dan Fouts will join play-by-play man Al Michaels in the booth. But they, along with executive producer Don Ohlmeyer, are already going out of their way to lower expectations.

"We are looking at the preseason very much like an NFL team would look at the preseason," said Ohlmeyer, who is running his team through "minicamps," having them practice in the studio. "We have a lot of work to do. And we recognize that.

"In Canton . . . you will not see a whole new ballgame. We are going to walk before we can run."

OK, fair enough. Assuming they don't do something heinously awful, I suppose we should expect the announcers — a new set of announcers — to be at the top of their game any more than we should expect the players to be in midseason form. And it certainly wouldn't be fair to draw closed-ended conclusions about the comedian in the bunch, Miller, as he makes his sportscasting debut.

(Not that we won't be watching to get some idea of how he's going to perform.)

And ABC's task involves more than just getting the three guys in the booth to mesh. Ohlmeyer has added two sideline reporters — Eric Dickerson and Melissa Starks — and he's promising that they will be more a part of the team than sideline reporters have been in the past. Plus, in addition to Ohlmeyer, who's returning to the show a quarter of a century after going on to other projects (including a longtime gig as the head of NBC's programming department), the broadcast will have a new director.

But, on the other hand, Ohlmeyer is dreaming if he thinks he and his team are going to get the kind of free pass he's apparently looking for.

"I would say we will probably be a work in progress until sometime in October," he said.

What? We're supposed to wait more than a month into the regular season for these guys to get up to speed? That's a bit much, don't you think?

Going back to the comparison to NFL teams, well, they're expected to win the first week of the regular season. Should we expect less of the broadcasters?

No.

KICKING OFF EARLY: Monday's game is not only early in the year, but it's early in the evening. The 49ers-Patriots contests will kick off at 5 p.m. Utah time on KTVX-Ch. 4.

Originally, ABC had planned a more traditional start time, but the network was criticized for its plans to pretty much completely ignore the Republican National Convention on Monday and moved the game up to get some political coverage in.


E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com