Roone Arledge dead at 71
TV pioneer was creative force behind Monday Night FootballPosted: Thursday December 05, 2002 4:53 PM
Updated: Friday December 06, 2002 10:02 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Roone Arledge, a pioneering television executive at ABC News and Sports responsible for creating shows from Monday Night Football to Nightline, died Thursday. He was 71.
Arledge died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said. The cause of death was complications from cancer, ABC News reported.
"Roone changed the face of television sports coverage with Wide World of Sports in the early 1960s and the production of the Olympic games," said longtime broadcaster Jim McKay.
Although he retired in 1998, Arledge's far-reaching influence can still be seen on TV: when a slow-motion replay is shown at a sporting event, when Peter Jennings reads the news or when a sportscaster criticizes a player.
Arledge was single-handedly credited with bringing modern production techniques to sports coverage, then building ABC News into a power during the 1980s. For a decade, he was president of the sports and news divisions at ABC.
The 36-time Emmy winner was cited as one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century by Life magazine in 1990.
"Roone Arledge revolutionized television and with it the way people see and understand the world," ABC News President David Westin said in a statement. "He was our leader and our friend, and we will miss his passion and his will to make us all better than we were."
Roone Pinckney Arledge was born July 8, 1931, and reared on Long Island. The Columbia College graduate joined ABC Sports as a producer in 1960 after a five-year stint at NBC.
Appealing to his bosses to bring showbiz to sports, the 29-year-old was given control of ABC's NCAA football broadcasts. Through the 1960s, he introduced innovations taken for granted today: slow-motion and freeze- frame views, instant replays, hand-held cameras and the placement of microphones to bring the sound of the game into living rooms.
In addition to all the technical innovations, McKay said Arledge would also be remembered for "putting the focus on the human being involved in sports."
In 1961, Arledge created "ABC's Wide World of Sports," one of the most popular sports series ever, and coined its tag line -- "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."
Arledge, who became president of ABC Sports in 1968, supervised coverage of 10 Olympics from 1964 to 1988, including the memorable 1972 games in Munich disrupted by a terrorist attack in which a somber McKay delivered the news of the deaths of the Israeli athletes. Arledge expanded Olympics broadcasts beyond the competition by including personal profiles of athletes, a style echoed today since his protege, Dick Ebersol, runs NBC Sports.
He was the first to demand that networks, not sports leagues, approve announcers -- a philosophy that led to his hiring of Howard Cosell, the abrasive New Yorker who was probably the most famous sportscaster ever.
"His intuitive genius, that sixth sense that told him what would or wouldn't play on television, was never more apparent than when we first worked together in the 1960s," Cosell wrote in his autobiography "I Never Played the Game."
Monday Night Football, still a staple on ABC's prime-time schedule, was brought to the air by Arledge in 1970.
When Sports Illustrated in 1994 selected 40 individuals with the greatest impact on sports over the previous 40 years, Arledge was third behind Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan.
The reaction was harsh, though, when Arledge was selected in 1977 to resuscitate ABC's struggling news division -- while still running sports.
"People in news were outraged that I hadn't been a reporter or worked my way up. The newspaper articles were brutal," he later recalled.
Critics thought he would turn the division into ABC's Wide World of News.
ABC created, after disastrous starts, the newsmagazines 20/20 and Prime Time Live under his watch. He lured David Brinkley to ABC and installed him on This Week, reviving the Sunday political talk genre.
When terrorists seized Americans hostages in Iran in 1979, Arledge seized an 11:30 p.m. time slot from ABC's affiliates for young correspondent Ted Koppel to deliver nightly updates. He never gave it back, and the updates evolved into Nightline, which is still on the air today.
He wooed correspondents like Diane Sawyer to ABC and was largely credited -- or blamed -- for making newscasters rich stars on a par with Hollywood royalty. Arguably, all three network evening newscasters owed their positions to him: He installed Jennings on ABC's World News Tonight, while CBS' Dan Rather and NBC's Tom Brokaw earned their slots at least partly because Arledge launched bidding wars for their services.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, ABC was generally considered the top network news division.
"I took two divisions whose reputations were lower than low -- ABC Sports wasn't even paying its bills, and ABC News was so far behind NBC and CBS they weren't even taken seriously -- and I built them into the best in the world," he said.
Arledge could be prickly and elusive -- he was notorious for rarely returning phone calls -- and his inattention to the grunt work of management was a factor in his being gradually eased out of the news presidency. When Westin took over in 1998, ABC News had slipped to No. 2 and was faced with tough budget decisions.
Still, not only do his innovations remain alive in TV today, so
too are network executive ranks sprinkled with his proteges.