The proliferation of football on television has made Labor Day weekend viewing very palatable.
This was not always the case.
On the Labor Day weekends when the NFL season opened, at least there were three games on Sunday, except if the Saints played at home, which limited New Orleans to two, since no game can go up head-to-head against the local team in that team’s market. Kansas City is under the same limitations when the Chiefs are at home.
However, if the NFL did not start its season until after Labor Day, it meant there was hardly anything on television worth a darn, and it was made worse by two things I had, or still have, no earthly interest in viewing.
One is the U.S. Open tennis tournament. CBS devoted nearly all of Saturday and Monday to coverage of the event through the 1980s and 1990s, and would have a full day on Sunday as well if there were no NFL games on Labor Day weekend. If there were NFL games that Sunday, CBS would televise all of them at noon Central and then switch to tennis at 3:30.
CBS now only televises the singles championship matches on the Saturday and Sunday after Labor Day, and that ends this year. Starting next year, the entire tournament will air on ESPN, meaning tennis’ four Grand Slam tournaments–Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open–will now air exclusively on the cable sports giant in the United States.
The other event which used to be a staple of Labor Day weekend was the Jerry Lewis telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Lews and the thousands of celebrities who appeared on the telethon through the decades, but i didn’t think it needed to be televised to the point where it would wipe out 24 hours of regularly scheduled programming.
At least New Orleans, the telethon aired on independent station WGNO through 1995, which meant no network programming was preempted. However, on January 1, 1996, WGNO became an ABC affiliate, and that meant a lot of soap opera fans were angry on Labor Day when All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital were knocked off the air. The telethon usually ran from 8;30 p.m. to 6 p.m., which meant it was off the air in time for Monday Night Football if there was a game that night at 8 p.m. Labor Day night.
The long telethon ran through 2010, the last year Jerry Lewis hosted it. In 2011, with Lewis’ health failing, Nancy O’Dell assumed hosting duties, and the telethon was shortened considerably to six hours. In 2012, the telethon ended, and it became a two-hour telecast on Sunday night. With online donating, there’s no need for a telethon today.
With the NFL waiting to start its season, there are now college football games for five straight days, Thursday through Monday. Not always the best games, but it beats the alternatives.