As the time approached for the Montreal Games, there was a constant shuttling of network people to Moscow to wine and dine with Soviet Olympic officials. East and West became palsy-walsy, even kidding each other about whether it was the KGB or the CIA that was bugging their conversations. Mostly it was social, but in Montreal the plot at last thickened.
The U.S.S.R.'s Olympic Organizing Committee glittered with Kremlin stars. The leader was a hulking, dark-haired Ignati Novikov, 70. He had started his career as a laborer in the Ukraine, rising through the ranks until he became one of the top half dozen men in the U.S.S.R., the deputy premier in charge of all power construction projects. Second in command was Sergei Lapin, 64, a stern and polished diplomat who had been Ambassador to Austria and China and general director of Tass. Now, as Minister of the State Committee for Television and Radio, Lapin became the Soviet Union's head propagandist. They were invariably accompanied by a battery of deputy chairmen, vice-commissars, translators and stenographers. The Americans quickly noted a difference between two factions: Novikov, an old Kremlin hand, came on in the intransigent shoe-rapping manner of Nikita Khrushchev, while Lapin and others on the TV-radio committee seemed more subtle.
On a Saturday afternoon in Montreal, the Soviets gave a lavish party on the good ship Alexander Pushkin, which was moored in the St. Lawrence. The decks were awash with gallons of Stolichnaya vodka and Armenian cognac. The tables groaned beneath platters of cracked lobster, sliced sturgeon, caviar. The event was purely social, even jolly. But Novikov & Co. were in town to do some serious shoe-rapping. They contacted the networks one by one and made their demand: they wanted $210 million. In cash. The networks laughed. An NBC man said to a Russian, "210 million dollars? We were thinking of 210 million pennies." The Soviet representative stalked off in anger, but one of his comrades confided to a CBS representative that no one in Moscow expected more than $65 million.
In fact, none of the numbers meant much of anything. NBC's Lindemann says, "We all knew the price would be between $70 and $100 million. I think all three of us would have gone to $100 million." Perhaps so. But the real numbers would come later. The most troubling aspect of the Russian demands in Montreal had to do with the sensitive issue of just how much selling of the Soviet Union a U.S. network would have to do to buy into the Olympics. The fine line between propaganda and news seemed particularly fuzzy to Novikov. Wussler recalls, "He made it clear to us he expected some kind of favorable political coverage. We said we could not compromise CBS News. We might do something like the Mary Tyler Moore show, ice shows, circuses, sports."
Arledge says, "I wanted a clause in the contract that said ABC would have total control over our telecast of the Olympics. Novikov had said to me earlier in the year, 'If you show things we don't like, we will pull the plug.' I doubt they would do that, but the problem of even seeming like a propaganda arm for the Russians is delicate. For example, if you show the subways of Moscow—and they are superb—some people in the U.S. are going to see it as a selling job for the Soviets just because it isn't something negative."
The Soviets did not demand specific schedules of pro- U.S.S.R. programming, but the prospect of having to do such shows hung heavy over the networks throughout the negotiations.
As the Montreal Games ended, the Soviets said they would like to see some preliminary money bids in Moscow that fall. They would be secret, of course. NBC was particularly careful about security. It wrote a two-sentence bid on a page of company stationery, sealed it in a film can, sent it by courier to New York's Kennedy Airport where it was given to an airline pilot, who carried it in the cockpit to Moscow. There he gave it to the driver for NBC News, who took it straight to the committee. An hour later in New York Wussler knew NBC's bid.
The early bids received by the Soviets were: NBC $70 million, CBS $71 million and ABC a surprising $33.3 million for non-exclusive rights, meaning that it was already thinking of the possibility of pool coverage in which all three networks would participate. Arledge later bid $73 million for exclusive rights.
The autumn of 1976 arrived in New York, but in Moscow it suddenly seemed to be the season of CBS. Almost two years earlier Wussler had gotten enthusiastic encouragement in his Olympic quest from William Paley, the venerable CBS board chairman. Paley said, "I'm delighted you boys want to go after this, just delighted!" Thus blessed, Wussler and Arthur Taylor, then president of the network's parent company ( CBS Inc.), had begun a series of trips between Manhattan and Moscow where they established warm friendships with important committee members. However, nothing they did was as important as the signing of Bock to be CBS' representative in Moscow.
Wussler had first met Bock, 38, in the spring of '75 as the result of a phone call from film producer Bud Greenspan. "Bob, if CBS is really serious about the Olympics, the man to get them for you is sitting here in my office," Greenspan said. Wussler met Bock and invited him to dinner. Later Taylor met Bock in Moscow, and a consulting contract was arranged for him.