by TED S. McGREGOR & r & & r & Football Night in America & r & (Sundays, 4pm, NBC) & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hen NBC got the rights to pro football for the first time since 1998, they weren't going to screw it up. Instead they rebuilt the broadcast from the ground up. The result is Football Night in America, and it's a thing of beauty.
Now in its second season, and after a few tweaks (Pink is out and Faith Hill is in as the opening act), the show is stronger than ever -- it finished in the top 10 every week in November, according to Nielsen.
The secret is simple: NBC forked out the big bucks to pull together a dream team, starting at the top with creator Dick Ebersol, who helped launch Saturday Night Live and revolutionized the way the Olympics are broadcast.
In the booth you've got living legend John Madden offering nuggets of wisdom as best-in-the-biz play-by-play man Al Michaels calls the game. Madden, an icon to a whole new generation thanks to the videogame Madden '08, has a light but incisive touch. He's the Warren Buffett of football: When he talks, everybody listens. Patriots QB Tom Brady is having some kind of crazy year, but until Madden said he might be the best he's ever seen, you didn't know just how crazy a year he's really having.
But the game isn't everything, as the show rolls for a full 75 minutes before kickoff. One thing Ebersol learned from the glory days of Monday Night Football was that everybody loved halftime highlights. Now we get the longest highlight show on TV (yes, the NFL mandates how many minutes of highlights you can air). With a highlight show like this, there's no need to waste your entire Sunday in front of the tube. Ebersol also negotiated flex scheduling, meaning he can swap out late season stinkers (like the Jets vs. Chiefs on Dec. 30).
And the pre-game and halftime gang is great, too, with Cris Collinsworth and Bob Costas -- with 27 Emmys between them -- joined by newcomers for 2007 Tiki Barber and Keith Olbermann. These guys can be brutal at times, as when Olbermann mocked Denver Broncos punter Todd Sauerbrun, who said he was going to go ahead and punt to Chicago Bears phenom Devin Hester anyway. (Hester ran back two for touchdowns.) And Barber has been hard on New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin -- his former coach -- as the Giants are doing their annual late-season fade.
Hey, it's a rough sport -- and it's never looked so good.
The 1969 classic cartoon (narrated by the great Jimmy Durante) based on the 1950 Gene Autry song makes its annual holiday appearance, followed immediately by the lame sequel, with John Goodman as the voice of Frosty. Kids, however, will love them both. (Friday, 12/7, 8 pm, CBS)
Tin Man marathon
If you missed its debut, you can catch all six hours of the three-part Tin Man this week. But if you're thinking this is an update of the 1939 classic, forget it. This is all dark side in the land of O.Z., where tough cookie Zooey Deschanel takes on the role of Dorothy. The yellow brick road only seems to be a marketing ploy. (Sunday, 12/9, 5 pm, Sci-Fi)
Everest: Beyond the Limit
The team enters the final phase of summiting in the "Breaking Point" episode, the season's second-to-last. "Breaking" in the title refers to a bone, so the drama on top of the world is building. Just after the show, you can watch After the Climb at 11 pm, with renowned mountaineers breaking down the episode. (Tuesday, 12/11, 10 pm, Discovery)