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Unlikely Mnf Would Start Earlier

For football fans on the East Coast, Monday night football often means Tuesday morning yawns.

Games don’t end until after midnight, sometimes close to 1 a.m., forcing many fans to either tune out before the finish or face a jarring wakeup the next morning.

With the NFL television contract up at the end of this season, there is speculation the starting time might be pushed back an hour to 8 p.m. EDT, 5 on the West Coast.

The Monday night deal, at $950 million for four years, is the most underpriced package in the current contract, costing less than what TNT and ESPN pay for the Sunday night cable deal, $1.01 billion.

One network executive said that if ABC does not ante up the right price to renew “Monday Night Football,” the NFL may force a new network to move to 8 p.m. But the NFL said the starting time is up to the network, and ABC is not about to change a good thing for 28 years.

Jon Mandel of Grey Advertising said the chances are remote the starting time will change.

“The problem with changing the start time is what you gain on one side of the country, you lose on the other,” Mandel said.

A closer look at the A.C. Nielsen ratings for the last three weeks shows the audience growing from kickoff until the 10-10:30 p.m. half hour. The audience then falls for the next hour and then rises at 11:30 in the case of a close game or continues to fall if the game has been decided.

In the Steelers-Jaguars game on Sept. 22, which went down to the final play, the rating grew from 13.7 in the first half hour to a peak of 16.4, a gain of 2,619,000 viewers.

For ABC, the dilemma is bigger than football. The network makes $1.5 million a week showing “Timecop” in the 8 p.m. hour and has a West Coast audience and affiliates to worry about.

West Coast affiliates, who already have 1 hour of prime time programming to fill on Monday, would balk at a 5 p.m. local start, which would take the entire game out of prime time and eliminate the lucrative early evening newscast.

“It would be a tremendous revenue hit for us because the network would take back a money-making hour at 5 p.m. and force us to fill an hour of programming in prime time,” said Mike Biltucci, the operations manager at KGTV in San Diego.

Around the dial

NBC is in no rush to name Marv Albert’s successor as basketball play-by-play man. NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol “has not even begun to think about a replacement,” said spokesman Ed Markey. Initial speculation on Albert’s replacement has focused on Tom Hammond, Greg Gumbel and Mike Breen, who already do NBA play-by-play for NBC, and Dick Enberg and Bob Costas, who have announced games for the network in the past. … On its first broadcast, the McDonald’s Classic from Paris on Oct. 18, TNT’s Bob Neal and Hubie Brown will join NBC’s Bill Walton. … For the second straight Monday night, ABC and Fox could go head-to-head in a baseball-football showdown. ABC won the first ratings battle, with Denver-New England earning a 13.9 national rating vs. a 9.8 for Game 5 of the Yankees-Indians series. This week, ABC’s CowboysRedskins clash could go up against Game 5 of Indians-Orioles… . HBO will replay Lennox Lewis’ 95-second knockout of Andrew Golota and Arturo Gatti’s KO of Gabriel Ruelas on Saturday at 11 p.m.

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