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COMEDIANS DROP THE BALL IN FOOTBALL PREGAME SHOWS

About a decade ago, networks began scouring the comedy clubs in Manhattan and Los Angeles, looking for funny people who had acts that could translate into television sitcoms.

The result was "Seinfeld," "Roseanne," "The Drew Carey Show," "Everybody Loves Raymond" and shows headlined by John Mendoza and the Mommies.

John who? Well, not every comic worked.

If the 2000 football season is any indication, the networks will be scouring the comedy clubs again this year. Looking for football analysts.

Let's give credit -- or blame -- to where it is due.

Last season, the Fox Network hired a comedian, Jimmy Kimmel, to give predictions on its pregame comedy show, which already featured good old boy Terry Bradshaw and advertising hotshot Howie Long.

Bradshaw ridiculed Kimmel all season but the co-host of something called "The Man Show" got the last laugh. Kimmel is back for a second season.

ABC's hiring of Dennis Miller as an analyst on Monday Night Football further opened the comedy floodgates. Miller hasn't been an overnight success. He has been compared to Howard Cosell for all the wrong reasons. Like Cosell, he didn't play the game and he seems determined to constantly stroke coaches and owners. The two positive things that Cosell added -- a sports background and the ability to get at the heart of an issue -- have been missing from Miller's game.

During Indianapolis' victory over Jacksonville on Monday, Miller again strained to say anything humorous or interesting. If he were an NFL quarterback, he'd be benched after four weeks.

But to see the impact of ABC's hiring of a comedian, all one had to do on a Bills bye week was tune in to last Sunday's pregame shows.

At 11 a.m., actor Jay Mohr ("Action," "Jerry Maguire") made his debut as a contributor to the Fox Sports Network pregame show with Chris Myers, Marv Levy and Chris Spielman. As Myers told us last week, Mohr has one advantage over Miller. At least he's been to more than one NFL game in person. (Fox says he also "occasionally" is a guest host on Jim Rome's radio show).

Mohr passed out books to the Fox team and tried very hard to be funny. Sometimes, too hard. Noting the struggles of the Washington Redskins, Mohr cracked: "I haven't seen a bigger bunch of underachievers like this since the Sweathogs on 'Welcome Back, Kotter.' "

When someone suggested that Levy be hired by a team desperately in need of reorganization, Mohr cracked that Levy was "75 years old."

Levy, 72, wasn't laughing.

Cut to "The NFL Today," the former Tiffany pregame show on CBS that already has hired two coaches turned comedians, Mike Ditka and Jerry Glanville, as experts to join Craig James and host Jim Nantz.

Ditka has been an early season embarrassment. Two weeks ago, he confused Bills quarterback Rob Johnson with Washington quarterback Brad Johnson and San Diego quarterback Moses Moreno with former NBA star Moses Malone.

After trading the entire New Orleans draft to get running back Ricky Williams and practically destroying the Saints, Ditka now is supposed to have some credibility.

After a woeful 4-11 record of picking games during the first three weeks, CBS playfully decided to give Ditka some help on Sunday. Kevin James, the star of "The King of Queens," was brought in to advise Ditka. Hah, hah. (He went 2-3, which at least is higher than Ditka's average alone).

CBS clearly has decided that laughter is the best medicine to cure its pregame show blues. But it also is looking for other medicine. It has added cheerleaders, an outside audience on Fifth Avenue in New York and special guests to ask questions. Last Sunday, it was actor Danny Glover. The week before it was former heavyweight champ Joe Frazier.

It is quite embarrassing to watch and makes you long for the good old days when things were taken somewhat seriously. Those days seem to have been before Marv was born. If this is progress, count me out.

Speaking of progress and comedy, the Buffalo Bills now have taken to making announcements on their Web site, www.buffalobills.com.

You could almost understand why WGR-AM officials believed a caller was joking when he said that the Bills announced on their site that Jonathan Linton was going to start at running back against the Colts.

The announcement had little impact on this newspaper since an afternoon release would be on radio and television several hours before it hit the newspaper, whether it was made on the Web site or by the coach at his afternoon briefing.

But the Bills' decision to make some announcements this way essentially bypasses the media as the conduit to the public. If the Bills keep doing things this way, the local broadcast stations might conclude that staffing practices aren't always necessary.

If so, the Bills would lose the free advertising that they get each night from the local stations.

But I suppose it could be worse. The Bills might have hired a comedian to write the Web site release.

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