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Are you ready for some Pepsi Vanilla?

You can't tell the shows without a scorecard

By Todd Leopold
CNN

Mall
The National Mall, brought to you by the NFL.

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ON CNN TV
"Eye on Entertainment" talks about the weekend's happenings on CNN's "Live Today,"  between 10 a.m. and noon EDT Thursday.
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(CNN) -- On Thursday, the new season of "Monday Night Football" begins.

If that doesn't make any sense, consider the pregame show: Britney Spears, Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige and Aretha Franklin in "NFL Kickoff Live from the National Mall Presented by Pepsi Vanilla."

Let me repeat: "Monday Night Football" is on Thursday, the pregame show features Britney Spears, Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige and Aretha Franklin, and the full title is "NFL Kickoff Live from the National Mall Presented by Pepsi Vanilla."

To borrow from Andy Griffith: What it was, was football?

Now, "MNF" has been on Thursday many times (not to mention pretty much every other day of the week), and Super Bowl half time shows -- the pinnacle of NFL entertainment -- have featured everybody from U2 to Up With People. In fact, Spears, Blige and Aerosmith are no strangers to entertaining at and around football games, having all performed at Super Bowls before.

And the NFL has been willing to slap a sponsor's name on most anything.

But why do I think John Facenda is looking down from heaven -- where he's now literally the Voice of God -- and frowning?

Well, entertainment is entertainment, and in early September -- before the TV season is fully under way and with the World Series still a month off -- you take what you can get. Eye on Entertainment goes offsides to assess the weekend ahead.

Eye-opener

ABC is like an American automaker.

The Big Three car manufacturers have been criticized for leaning too heavily on SUV profits at the expense of innovations and new products; ABC once drove "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" into the ground with endless gimmicks and constant broadcasts. When the smoke cleared, the network had no successful shows in the cupboard and was finishing behind Fox in the ratings.

Now it's airing "Monday Night Football," always a top 15 hit, twice on football's opening weekend. If the NFL didn't have rules about scheduling and a contract with other networks, no doubt ABC would have football every night of the week and extend the Little League baseball season into November for good measure.

The network should take heart. The fall TV season is also getting under way -- NBC is premiering "Whoopi" and "Happy Family" Tuesday night -- and the summer has strengthened ABC's hand. Indeed, "According to Jim" was starting to beat "Frasier" in key demographics.

But "MNF" is a sure thing, and the network will enjoy its halo through December.

The team of Al Michaels and John Madden is back in the broadcast booth, and the pair's season (and everybody else's) kicks off with the New York Jets at the Washington Redskins, 9 p.m. Thursday. There's that Britney-Aerosmith-Blige thing, too, but it'll probably be less entertaining than watching Redskins coach Steve Spurrier blow a gasket.

On screen

• The best thing about "Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star" may be a clever set piece: Roberts, played by David Spade, has a regular poker game with other former child stars, including Barry Williams (Greg Brady from "The Brady Bunch"), Danny Bonaduce (Danny Partridge from "The Partridge Family") and Dustin Diamond (Screech from "Saved by the Bell"). Other than that, early notices indicate the movie is rather hit or miss.

• "The Order," formerly "Sin Eaters," was not screened for critics -- almost always a bad sign. The movie, written and directed by "L.A. Confidential" screenwriter Brian Helgeland, stars Heath Ledger in a story about a priest's mysterious death.

On the tube

• Antonio Banderas stars as Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa in "And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself." The movie chronicles the true story of Villa's partnership with a Hollywood crew, which was allowed to film him in battle. Sunday, 9:30 p.m., HBO (a division of AOL Time Warner, as is CNN).

• Whoopi Goldberg has been an Oscar-winning actress and flop talk show host. She tries the lead in a sitcom with the new NBC series, "Whoopi." Tuesday, 8 p.m., NBC.

Sound waves

• John Mayer, who hit it big with "Room for Squares," is back with "Heavier Things" (Sony), due Tuesday.

• Of Seal's four albums, three -- including the new one, due Tuesday -- have been called "Seal." But it's been five years since the last one, "Human Being," and the British singer usually has some good hooks up his sleeve -- and the name is about the only thing that's remained the same.

Paging readers

• John Grisham goes the low-key route with his new novel, "Bleachers" (Doubleday). The slim volume -- 176 pages -- concerns a football play who returns to his hometown after the death of his coach.

• Nicholas Sparks' first novel, "The Notebook," concerned the couple Allie and Noah Calhoun and sold a zillion copies. Now he's written a sequel, "The Wedding" (Warner, also a division of AOL Time Warner). Will lightning strike twice? Due Tuesday.

Video center

• The first season of "24" was tightly plotted and as tense as a writer on deadline who can't get his calls returned. The second season, if anything, was even more intricate. The DVD of Season 2 is due Tuesday.

• George Clooney tried directing with "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," based on Chuck Barris' strange memoir. He also appears as a mysterious spy (is there any other kind?). Due Tuesday.


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