If you caught last night's football game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, save the virtual ticket stub. It was the last Monday Night Football installment to air on Disney's
After 555 shows, the primetime gridiron contests are moving to ESPN next season. The show is being kept in the family, since Disney also owns the leading sports programming network, but there's more to it than that. Disney's ESPN used to carry nightly football games on Sundays, and that slot will now be filled by General Electric's
Don't shed a tear for Disney. One of the biggest reasons that ABC can afford to give up the perennial favorite is that the rest of its programming calendar is no longer the laughingstock of the industry. Two years ago, ABC didn't have Desperate Housewives, Lost, or Grey's Anatomy.
Things looked pretty bleak for ABC at the time. It had ceremoniously passed on The Apprentice, Survivor, and American Idol, which all went on to be huge hits for rival networks. Sometimes it was just bad luck for ABC, such as when it seemed to have a promising hit on its hands with 8 Simple Rules before John Ritter died unexpectedly.
In those lean years, save for the fleeting period when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was a smash, Monday Night Football was a godsend. It allowed ABC to fill the three hours with a Top 10 ratings staple.
However, there had been rumblings of ABC wanting some flexibility with the program, especially late in the season, when some of the matchups just weren't all that attractive. Want proof? Last night's final entry says it all. The Patriots had already clinched a playoff spot, and the Jets had little incentive to improve on one of the league's worst records, since doing so might mean losing out on a shot at college star Reggie Bush to shore up their aging running game in next April's draft.
There's also the fact that Monday Night Football always left ABC in a pickle when January rolled around. All of a sudden, there was a three-hour programming void to fill. It will be interesting to see what ABC's fall schedule will look like now, but at least Disney knows that if it does land a Monday night hit, it will be able to own that slot all year long.
So, yes, pro football is gone from ABC ... for now, anyway, because winning it back is just another bidding war away. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing for ABC. Given the company's recent string of successes, it's probably a blessing in disguise.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is no longer ashamed to be a Miami Dolphins fan. At least his hometown team is assured that it won't have a losing record this season, even if its horrendous showing last year left it without a Monday Night Football appearance this season. He owns shares of Disney.The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.