Is Miller the man? Don't rush to judge

Cornerstone of life is the snap judgment. The traffic light changes to yellow so should we stop or go? As we leave the movie, discussion centers immediately on whether the film was good or bad. Halibut or red snapper? Yin or yang? Often instant decisions are the driving force in selecting a spouse or a house.

Frankly, as is often clear in hindsight, most snap judgments should be avoided. Still, we seem incapable of delaying our opinions, primarily because we have so little practice at it.

This brings us to Dennis Miller, who debuted as a Monday Night Football announcer this week on ABC.

Since all journeys, according to most reports, must start with a single step, let's take just one step in appraising the work of Miller, which is: Let's avoid any snap judgment.

Miller's appearance on the San Francisco-New England game, the NFL's first preseason contest of the year, had been widely anticipated. In either a demonstration of genius or of incomprehensible brain lock, ABC's hierarchy decided to hire Miller, the clever albeit foul-mouthed cable comedian.

Because Monday Night Football (MFN) has been slipping in popularity, the thinking clearly was to move even further away from football and even further into entertainment in an effort to lure women and a generally younger audience.

Miller is so hip that having an idea - mercy, any idea - what he was talking about at times was impossible. Fellow announcers Al Michaels and Dan Fouts seemed routinely flummoxed.

The New York Times has said Miller is "exquisitely attuned to contemporary foibles." OK, maybe the foibles to which Miller is exquisitely attuned are so contemporary we don't even know we have them.

Wait, wait. This is sounding suspiciously like criticism of Miller. Stop it.

It's way too early.

We need to give Miller a chance. After all, symphonies cannot be judged on one note, books on one word, the heavens on one star.

Miller was obviously nervous, as anyone would be. But he was wonderfully enthusiastic. He had prepared many of his one-liner attempts and written them down. When he read them, they sounded written down. But if he hadn't, he would have been scored for lack of preparation. He jumped in when he shouldn't have. But if he had laid back, we would have wondered why he was so reticent. He made many jokes that weren't especially funny. But if he hadn't made jokes, the response would have been: "He's a comedian. Where are the jokes?"

Indeed, the joke aspect of Miller is trickiest. We expect him to be funny and such hopes are not easily met. Steve Zipay writes in Newsday, "I had higher expectations." But be fair. Miller has to be funny in four or five seconds, far different from his rambling performances on HBO.

Funny to one is not funny to another. One person's wit is another's silliness. "What's the upside?" whines Kansas City Star writer Jason Whitlock. "On Monday he [Miller] did more to kill 'MNF' than save it."

No, no. Let's delay judgment.

Conversely, Bob Raissman writes in the New York Daily News, "The man was likable. Very likable." Mark Kiszla writes in The Denver Post that "ABC has found its most unlikely network star since Regis Philbin."

No, no. Let's delay judgment.

It's a rare person who doesn't fail the first time a new task is attempted, whether it be riding a bicycle or multiplying by 7. So if Miller failed - which we're not saying he did, of course - then it was natural and he'll get better.

It's also possible he'll get worse. We'll be watching.

One issue that Miller has nothing to do with also comes into play. Legions of fans who made MNF a star for three decades now are in their 50s.

The show no longer is aimed at them. That's why they don't play Glenn Miller (no relation) music at the opening. Dennis might not be their cup of football.

Additionally open to question is whether viewers want to hear Miller and his I'm-just-a-fan approach. We're the fans, and we can supply our own fan wisdom when we gather on Monday nights, sans Miller's input. What may be needed more are experts who can point out what our untrained eyes can't see.

Said Miller, "The Republicans and the Democrats. There's a couple of 4-12 teams." Funny? Is that what we want to hear on MNF?

Miller will next appear Aug. 14. We'll be watching - but definitely not snapping off any one-line judgments.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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