Monday Night Football is an American institution. This first primetime sports series saved ABC and made created a new genre in television. For the first time, fans tuned in to be entertained by the sportscasters just as much as the athletes. Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford made Monday Night Football great. Tonight, TNT brings the story of Monday Night Football to life in “Monday Night Mayhem,” as it chronicles the successes and failures of this groundbreaking program.
“Monday Night Mayhem” focuses on the injustices done to Howard Cosell during his career. Cosell was born with a gift in vocabulary and used it to catapult himself into television. With his controversial friendship with Muhammad Ali, he championed black athletes and their accomplishments. For all this accreditations, his most famous work came in the booth of Monday Night Football.
The movie begins as the National Football League searches for a network to broadcast their Monday night games. ABC picks up the show and puts together a team that breaks all the rules of sports commentary. Two staples in the booth are Howard Cosell (John Turturro, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) and Don Meredith (Brad Beyer, “The General”s Daughter”). The third member of the team rotates throughout the movie and finally settles on Frank Gifford (Kevin Anderson, “Sleeping with the Enemy”). ABC decides to make the broadcast about entertainment instead of just the game itself. They revolutionize the way sports are broadcast on television by using the maximum number of cameras and angles. These three beloved personalities constantly fight and bicker as they achieve unprecedented success. The sorest point for Cosell is the repeat attacks from Meredith that he never played the game and could never know as much about football as former players. This three men in a booth system switches periodically but the program never suffers low ratings until Cosell leaves. As the years slip by, the changing tastes of network executives and viewers finally force Cosell out of the booth.
The movie moves more like a documentary because all the characters are real individuals. The producers help identify who each actor is by scrolling their name across the screen when each new person arrives in the narrative. This is helpful for those not familiar with the story and the famous personalities involved. Even though the plot concentrates on Monday night football, knowledge about football is not required to enjoy the movie. The actual games are not important at all because the series is about the entertainment and not the competition on the field.
John Turturro portraying Cosell brings the most beloved and hated sportscaster to life in an unforgettable performance. He recreates his unique voice and mannerisms that will make the audience forget they are not watching the actual Cosell perform. Cosell”s conflicting emotions of loyalty and frustration come across the screen well as Turturro adds the right blend of drama to the role.
“Monday Night Mayhem” stays true to the people involved and does not portray anyone too over the top. The portrayal of Don Meredith makes him seem too stupid to have won an Emmy award for the program. On the other hand, Patti LuPone”s (“Life Goes On”) subtle depiction of Cosell”s wife Emmy brings her supportive nature to the forefront as her husband struggles with his place on the show.
This dramatic behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of “Monday Night Football” shows how one man made and kept the revolutionary show on top of its game for fifteen years. “Monday Night Mayhem” deals with issues that will provoke new ideas about the way sports are viewed on television.