For the 40th-anniversary season of Monday Night Football, ESPN has plenty of changes in store, but the musical fixtures will bring viewers back to the show’s roots.
“We decided, because of the 40th anniversary, we’re going to use the thematic music more than the commercial music, to play off 40 years of Monday Night Football,” explains Chip Dean, director of Monday Night Football for ESPN. “We did reshoot Hank [Williams Jr.], and we’re doing a 40th-anniversary presentation [of the opening song], which is super cool.”
The most visible change is a new dashboard bottom-screen graphics package, but new production elements will be apparent as well.
“We’ve tweaked some production elements a little bit, also,” Dean says. “Elements like how we do lineups, we’re doing some new photo shoots, and things like that. We’re also changing our virtual down-and-distance.”
ESPN Axis will be back for this season, but the network is also looking for additional access.
“We’re testing with the NFL to see if we can get a little bit more access on the field,” Dean says. “We’ve done a test in Pittsburgh, and we’re finishing up [in New York]. I’ve got a DVD of it that we’re hoping the NFL can pass along to the competition committee. It’s something that we can hopefully use every week.”
Something the network will certainly use every week is the expertise of Jon Gruden, the newest member of ESPN’s Monday Night Football announce team.
“In the first two games, there have been a lot of things to examine and change because of Jon Gruden,” Dean explains. “We spent a lot of time training him, rehearsing with him, tweaking, and we still have a long ways to go.”
Putting new talent in the booth is nothing new for Monday Night Football, but Dean was surprised — and inspired — by the amount of preparation Gruden puts into every game.
“After hearing the way he challenges himself, he’s fired me up to look at the way we do things,” Dean says. “When he did his first game, I think he went back and watched it six times to chart how many times he said ‘great.’ When I see that kind of detail, he challenges us to be better in micro things.”
Putting a film-oriented coach in the booth is sure to change the chemistry among the three announcers, but, for ESPN, change is good.
“I think we’re really going to push the envelope in the world of football,” Dean says. “Jon is such a good coach, and he sees things that we’d never even thought of before, so I’m excited about the talent in the booth and the chemistry.”
It may be the 40th anniversary of Monday Night Football, but ESPN is celebrating its fourth year broadcasting the show — and perhaps the first year of giving the production team free rein.
“The first year, you had all the heads of state working on it,” Dean laughs. “Every year, it becomes more our project. We try to involve as many different departments and creative people as possible, so that it’s not just our vision, it’s everybody’s vision. Ultimately,” he adds, “it’s the viewers that matter the most, so we try to get a wide variety of viewers involved.”