Jim O'Donnell: Manning brothers 'man cave' flashes potential in spotty 'Monday Night' premiere

  • Peyton and Eli Manning, here playing in a golf tournament last year, did a credible job on the debut of their ESPN simulcast Monday night.

    Peyton and Eli Manning, here playing in a golf tournament last year, did a credible job on the debut of their ESPN simulcast Monday night. Associated Press

Updated 9/17/2021 5:43 PM


Apparently, not for the whole family.


Unless you played quarterback at Eastern Illinois or at least the Jimmy Clausen level.

The ESPN "alternative" to its regular "MNF" telecast -- featuring Peyton and Eli Manning in a somewhat casual, uber-chatty Zoomer on ESPN2 and ESPN+ -- drew only 880,000 viewers in its debut this week.

That was roughly 5% of the total 15.4M that tuned in on all ESPN/ABC platforms to watch Lamar Jackson and Baltimore hand the Las Vegas Raiders a properly intrigued 33-27 OT win.

Still, for fans of the sort of live organicness early TV performers like Steve Allen and Jack Ruby once wrought, "The Manning Man Caver" was filled with an odd sort of potential.

Peyton started out far too gabby and techno-QB. Eli came across as the calming brother, the kind you would take home to mother.

Lee Fitting -- ESPN's Sr. VP / production -- initially muffed from kickoff. That included mid-chatter cuts to commercials, an indecisiveness on how much screen to use to show the live game frame and the idea that Peyton would somehow suddenly summon the "Rawhide" yee-haw! of Terry Bradshaw.

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A very ragged opening got legs when Charles Barkley -- America's guest -- Zoomed in during the first quarter.

Barkley did Barkley and seemed to settle Peyton down. Fitting and staff wisely ditched widehots of the senior M-bro' standing in front of a whiteboard trying to diagram plays.

Zoom guests Ray Lewis, Travis Kelce and Russell Wilson dropped in during the final three quarters. Wilson even stayed for the overtime.

Kelce dropped an s-bomb -- not even warranting a video stream warning ticket these days -- and called enabling Kansas City teammate Patrick Mahomes, "Patty."

For ambition, dice rolling and fresh-to-table, "Megacast No. 1" gets a B-.

Nine more are to follow, with the Monday nighter between the Lions and Packers next up (ESPN2 and ESPN+, 7:15 p.m.).

Watch it while you can, because some very smart NFL people are insisting that sometime next year, Peyton Manning will be front and center in the new ownership group of the Denver Broncos.


In the meantime, it's all about "Omaha!" and evolution in the Monday night Manning Man Cave.

STREET-BEATIN': One debacle in and the Bears are already getting no respect: Kevin Kugler and Mark Sanchez will call the Nagpies-Bengals to 10 percent of the nation Sunday (Fox, noon). Maybe "Madcap Matt" Nagy can introduce kookier ways to demolish Andy Dalton's quarterback rhythms. ...

Speaking of Dalton, faithful reader Kenny Callahan notes that from the right angle, the interim burnt-orange hot-footer bears a marked resemblance to young Andy Griffith of pre-Mayberry, "A Face in the Crowd" days. (The latter a brilliant 1957 Elia Kazan film with Griffith cast against type.) ...

Jay Mariotti has departed Barrett Sports Media for substack.com with a telling comment: "It's still fun to write about events and athletes, but I won't continue to elevate media people into the gods they are not." (Geez, Jay -- even Rick Morrissey?) ...

The passing of Jerry Kuc -- age 82 -- reminded when he was a late add-on to the old WMAQ-AM (670) "Good Morning Guys." Kuc technically replaced Tim Weigel, who had followed the money from the Merchandise Mart to struggling WLS-Channel 7. Other "Good Guys" country-fried by station boss Burt Sherwood: Pat Cassidy, Jerry Taft, Lee Sherwood and Bob Tracy. ...

Thom Brennaman -- who lost his Reds p-b-p perch over a hot-mic gay slur -- is telling media "over 90%" of fans he talks to want him back on the air. (A Northwest suburban sports & media insouciant is telling all who will listen "well over 53%" of his friends like some of his columns.) ...

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones -- who many wish was running the Bears as the stacked Arlington Park "shareholders opera" plays out -- pops up on the NFL Network's "GameDay" Sunday at 8 a.m. ...

Independent Mark Giangreco left sharper colleagues howling with his blowoff of the local chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and its ditzy Silver Circle Awards. (Since Giangreco left WLS-Channel 7, much of the station's prime news programming falls under the heading "Low-Budget Junior Varsity Swill.") ...

And Bruce Wolf -- still singed because his 1987-2012 work in Chicago TV sports didn't quite meet the Silver Circle's quarter-century requirement: "Yes, but if you add fill-in work to the time I was in a crowd shot at Wrigley Field, it's very close to 25 years."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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