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Detroit, Dallas Traditions Are Turkeys

In democratic efforts to lure more TV viewers, every sport tinkers with its scheduling and TV time slots.

The NFL - whose TV ratings are its biggest business as it pockets about $3.7 billion annually in network rights fees - is as flexible as a yoga master. It moved season openers to Thursday, expanded the season with bye weeks, plays games in London and added regular Thursday and Saturday prime-time games.

Even its flexible scheduling - originally intended mainly to ensure NBC's Sunday prime-time slot wasn't stuck with lame matchups - in itself seems relentlessly flexible. Tuesday, the NFL announced Brett Favre's Minnesota Vikings (vs. the Arizona Cardinals) will replace the originally scheduled mediagenic New England Patriots vs. the very respectable Miami Dolphins in prime time Dec. 6 - hardly a move that simply saves NBC from a dud.

So what's up with this: unrelenting Thanksgiving Day games in Detroit (since 1934) and Dallas (since 1966) - as if TV menus can't change over centuries. This tradition makes as much sense as putting teams back in leather helmets every third Thursday in November. Actually, that would make more sense - who wouldn't watch?

Not that Fox's and CBS' Turkey Day ratings are bad. They're averaging 11.5% of U.S. households over the last three Thanksgivings - above even the 10.5% ratings that the NFL is averaging in banner ratings so far this year.

Howard Katz, NFL senior vice president, says the NFL "hasn't discussed a (Turkey Day) change in years." And, whether that's intentional or not, the league is getting a sort of payoff from Fox's Green Bay Packers-Detroit Lions and CBS' Oakland Raiders-Dallas Cowboys on Thursday: They make the NFL Network's prime-time New York Giants-Denver Broncos look like the day's best game - helping a league-owned channel so far distributed only in about half of U.S. households.

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