SI Vault
William Oscar Johnson
February 21, 1977
In a scene evocative of a treaty signing, Robert Howard of NBC (left) and the U.S.S.R.'s Ignati Novikov ended two years of foreign intrigue, concluding an $85 million TV deal for the Moscow Olympics
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February 21, 1977

A Contract With The Kremlin

In a scene evocative of a treaty signing, Robert Howard of NBC (left) and the U.S.S.R.'s Ignati Novikov ended two years of foreign intrigue, concluding an $85 million TV deal for the Moscow Olympics

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Was this a breach of the agreement between the networks? Wussler claims Bock was working on his own. "I told him specifically and in person when we left Moscow that he was not to continue any talks with the Russians on our behalf," Wussler says.

Arledge got disturbing news from Moscow in late December. "I heard that Lothar was negotiating for CBS," he says. "I kept hearing it. Then in mid-January I got word of the terms of a new contract. And I said. This has gone too far.' "

Arledge contacted Wussler and told him, "The Russians believe Bock is speaking in your behalf." Wussler said no, he is not. Arledge said that CBS could verify that by sending the Moscow Olympic Committee a wire stating that Bock had no authorization to bargain for CBS. Later, ABC indicated it would be satisfied if CBS sent a letter to Bock telling him he could not act in its behalf or sent a letter to ABC saying the same thing. CBS pondered this move for several days, then out of the blue it announced it was not only dropping out of the pool but also, because of various "imponderables," would have nothing further to do with the 1980 Olympics.

The shocking decision had been made after a series of CBS senior staff meetings, the last a 24-hour marathon. Bock had indeed brought a letter from Moscow that gave the Olympics to CBS for $81 million; he also brought assurances that a reasonable payment schedule could be worked out. It was a very good deal. Why did CBS quit with the battle at last won? Wussler says, "We saw nothing but trouble ahead. We couldn't see living with their deviousness. Their refusal to stick to the deal they made with Mr. Paley was the most telling point. I figured if they'd go back on a deal with him, how could I ever trust them with anything?"

Some people thought this explanation less than complete—especially after CBS had undertaken such an intense, well-organized two-year campaign to land the Games. It was suggested that perhaps a more compelling reason was that Bock's unauthorized work in Moscow on CBS' behalf would be embarrassing if it got out. As one network man says, "They got caught with their hand in the cooky jar."

Bock was stricken. He pleaded his case with Wussler, then took a Lear jet to the Bahamas to plead with Paley. The answer was no, although the network arranged for Bock to be paid a little extra cash for his trouble. Bock asked to be released from his CBS contract so he could contact NBC. It was done.

With the CBS pullout, the attempts to form a pool had disintegrated, and both NBC and ABC were free to operate unilaterally. Bock and Lindemann met for breakfast at the Edwardian Room of Manhattan's Plaza Hotel. Lindemann recalls, "The conversation was remarkably low key, considering its substance. Lothar started telling me his deal. We ordered something to eat. He kept talking. We drank our orange juice, then it dawned on me what he was saying. He was delivering the Olympics to us. We left without eating." Within hours, NBC signed a contract with Bock to pay him $1 million, to buy 15 programs he would produce, to retain him as a special consultant for four years. It was a dazzling package. Bock then delivered his part. A series of phone calls to Moscow clinched the deal that night. A day later Lindemann, Howard and an NBC lawyer were on their way to Moscow for the final negotiating and the formal signing.

NBC had hoped to complete the entire contract in Moscow before ABC learned it was there. It could not be done, even though the Soviets sent a wire telling Arledge not to come to Moscow. ABC was not dissuaded. Arledge says, "I knew the Russians were panicky. Novikov made a terrible mistake in December. Even his peers were accusing him of having bungled the deal with CBS. He was faced with the prospect of no American network at all. And by that time, he figured all Americans were crazy anyway, so when Bock said he had NBC, Novikov jumped at it. NBC was never in the Russian plans until CBS quit.

"And Novikov never understood what we were doing about the pool and why I had never contacted him after we walked out. When I finally saw him, he said, 'You never phoned, you never wrote. I waited and waited, and you never called.' I suppose if I had it to do over, maybe I'd do things differently. But I really felt relieved when it was over. I hated to lose the Games, but I had been wondering way back last summer whether I really wanted to have them."

ABC's presence at the last minute in Moscow did boost the price some. Lord Killanin, president of the previously somnolent IOC (which shares the rights fees with the host country), had heard ABC would go higher, and he had wired the Soviets to be certain they were getting top dollar. The deal wound up at $85 million—but there was no demand this time for the kind of pro-Soviet propaganda old Ignati Novikov had once seemed so determined to have.

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