01/14/2002 at 01:00 AM EST
TNT (Mon., Jan. 14, 9 p.m. ET)
"I am the success of this show," Howard Cosell (John Turturro) declares in this TV movie about the conflicts behind the scenes on ABC's Monday Night Football. The same goes for Monday Night Mayhem: Without Cosell in the booth, it would be no more exciting than a three-yard run.
New York Times TV reporter Bill Carter (The Late Shift) based his script on a 1988 book he cowrote with FORTUNE senior writer Marc Gunther. The film follows the ABC franchise from before its 1970 kickoff to the 1984 season—the first without Cosell (who died in 1995) on the telecast team. We see that Frank Gifford (Kevin Anderson) was a fumble-prone play-by-play announcer, colorman Don Meredith (Brad Beyer) longed to shed his folksy-cowpoke image, and director Chet Forte (Nicholas Turturro, John's brother) gambled compulsively. But these secondary characterizations are as superficial as Cosell's hairpiece. John Turturro is the most valuable player, skillfully mimicking the Mouth That Roared and going beyond caricature to convey the contradictions that made the sharp-tongued, thin-skinned Cosell a fascinating personality. The sportscaster's need for approbation from boss Roone Arledge (reliable John Heard) is so painfully evident that he stirs our sympathy—until his next ego eruption.
Bottom Line: Gridiron-clad entertainment