Raise your hand if you remember that moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail with the old fella purported to be dead before his time. Its a familiar scene with a familiar ring. Something deep in the human psyche is obsessed with the finality of death and those that linger tend to bother those of us still kicking healthily.
But lingering certainly doesnt bother the XFL, which has suffered the worst possible fate for a TV show. Exquisitely low ratings, embarrassing moments both on and off field, and one heck of a lot of learning on the part of the television producers (didnt NBC do the NFL once upon a time?). All of it pointed to one major faux pas on the part of NBCs Sports president Dick Ebersol and WWF founder Vince McMahon.
This was compounded the past week by reports by the New York Post which stated that Linda McMahon, WWFE CEO and Vinces wife said that the company would evaluate the status of the XFL on a week by week basis, a report later refuted by league officials as being misinterpreted.
Bring out your dead indeed.
But then the XFL didnt continue to die, not yet at least. After a four week ratings free-fall from a strong 10.5 the first week to an embarrassing 2.6 last week, the show posted very modest gains up to 2.7 this past week on the strength of a marquee match-up between the XFLs two top teams, The Orlando Rage and The Las Vegas Outlaws. Without apology, the XFL also boosted its ratings by promising to go backstage with the Orlando cheerleaders, the result being an amusing fantasy sequence reminding the viewer that there are just some fantasies that dont need the harsh glare of the camera.
The XFL is also showing itself to be remarkably flexible in its ability to change. Recent rule changes (i.e. dropping the bump and run) and a constant re-alignment of broadcasters shows a league fairly determined to continuously search for the right chemistry of on the field play and off the field bluster.
Then theres Vince McMahon, the Titan behind the Titantron, perhaps at least in his own mind. McMahon has remained through the storm characteristically confident, disarmingly honest, and almost surprisingly humble in his bid to win the winter hearts of those coach potatoes he wishes to lure.
I understand it takes a while to build a brand, said McMahon in a recent interview with the Las-Vegas Review Journal. I have to take a long-term view of it. The WWF didn't become what it is overnight. It took forever to build it, though there are some out there now who like to think it was built in a day. The premise of this league is good, and I think with the right adjustments, you're going to see it begin to gain momentum and get to where we thought it could get."
What remains to be seen is whether McMahons momentum materializes or if the league will end up clubbed in the head by an impatient grave worker.
The XFL isnt dead yet. It might even be showing a sign or two of life.