Don Ohlmeyer

Sports Executive / Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tab

About
About this interview

In his four-hour Archive interview, Don Ohlmeyer (2945-2017) talks about his early years in television as an associate director for ABC sports. He shares memorable moments from his experiences directing the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and the 1972 Olympics in Munich. He describes producing the popular series of specials Battle of the Network Stars, his transition to NBC sports and the creation of Ohlmeyer Communications, under which he produced the Emmy-winning television movie Special Bulletin. He details his move back to NBC, where he served as President of West Coast Operations and reinvigorated the network with "Must See TV" and post-Johnny Carson late-night television. Finally, he chronicles his departure from NBC, his brief return to Monday Night Football and his current passions: painting, teaching, and writing. Dan Pasternack conducted the interview on November 17, 2004 in Malibu, CA.

"Network television's role is to put asses in the seats to watch commercials. Anybody who doesn't want to admit that shouldn't be in the business. That doesn't mean that the programming that you do can't be uplifting, or challenging, or inspiring. But it's not initially about the programming. It is about coming up with programs that enough people want to see, that advertisers want to advertise in. That's just the way the game is."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Don Ohlmeyer on Jay Leno overtaking David Letterman in the ratings
Don Ohlmeyer on what you can learn from sports when you're young
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics
Don Ohlmeyer on the core of ABC Sports - storytelling
Don Ohlmeyer on "Must See TV"
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on his early interest in sports; on attending college at the University of Notre Dame; on watching sports on television with his father; on how television viewing habits have changed over the years
On working for ABC Sports out of college; on hustling pool; on The 1968 Olympics; on mentor Roone Arledge

Chapter 2

On The 1968 Olympics (contd.); on mentor Roone Arledge; on Wide World of Sports; on the core of ABC Sports - great storytelling; on creative innovations pushing technology forward
On Monday Night Football; on Pete Rozelle getting ABC to pick up Monday Night Football; on working with director Chet Forte; on Monday Night Football  announcers Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell

Chapter 3

On Monday Night Football (contd.); on negotiating contracts; on Monday Night Football announcer Howard Cosell
On winning an Emmy in 1975 for Monday Night Football;  on the 1972 Munich Olympics
On Battle of the Network Stars and The Superstars, precursor to Battle of the Network Stars

Chapter 4

On leaving ABC for NBC Sports in 1977; on mentoring a new generation of sports executives; on producing the World Series; on the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow
On leaving NBC in 1982; on producing the 1977 Emmy Awards; on creating his own company and producing the television movie Special Bulletin

Chapter 5

On producing the television movie, Under Siege; on the power of made-for-TV movies; on producing the Indianapolis 500
On heading West Coast Operations at NBC in 1993; on creating "Must See TV" on Thursday nights; on the "Walk the Dog" Theory

Chapter 6

On Warren Littlefield; on executives staying in touch with audience interests; on the importance of research
On the importance of the 18-49 demographic; on the biggest misconception about television
On the Late Night battles - Leno v. Letterman; on supporting Conan O'Brien to take over The Late Show; on removing Norm MacDonald from SNL's "Weekend Update"

Chapter 7

On the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"; on making NBC the number one network; on the costly negotiations to keep ER at NBC
On the business model for NBC; on Seinfeld and Cheers
On NBC's coverage of the 1997 World Series interfering with the launch of the Fall schedule; on leaving NBC, recovering from addiction and alcoholism, and changing his outlook on life

Chapter 8

On returning to Monday Night Football  and how it had changed; on leaving Monday Night Football and his next three projects: painting, writing and teaching
On Frank Gifford, Brandon Tartikoff and Lorne Michaels; on how television has changed and where it's headed; on advice to aspiring producers, his proudest career achievement, and how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

ABC's Wide World of Sports

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Roone Arledge's influence on Wide World of Sports  and on pushing the industry forward on Monday Night Football
Don Ohlmeyer on the format of Wide World of Sports  and how it evolved

American Idol

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on the appeal of American Idol

Battle of the Network Stars

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Battle of the Network Stars

Bluffing It

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing Bluffing It

Cheers

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on overseeing Cheers and Seinfeld
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Cheers

Chicago Hope

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on ER and Chicago Hope

ER

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on ER and Chicago Hope
Don Ohlmeyer on the slow start of ER
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the costly negotiations to keep ER at NBC

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the 1977 Emmy Awards

Friends

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Friends
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the costly negotiations to keep ER at NBC

Indianapolis 500

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the Indianapolis 500

John Denver Specials

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing John Denver's Christmas in Aspen

Late Night with Conan O'Brien

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Conan O'Brien filling Letterman's spot on NBC Late Night

Law & Order

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on loving Law & Order

Monday Night Football

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing Monday Night Football with Chet Forte, who he had beaten in a pool game years earlier
Don Ohlmeyer on Roone Arledge's influence on Wide World of Sports  and on pushing the industry forward on Monday Night Football
Don Ohlmeyer on pushing the industry forward on Monday Night Football
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football (contd.)
Don Ohlmeyer on going back to Monday Night Football

Olympics

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics
Don Ohlmeyer on The 1968 Olympics
Don Ohlmeyer on the 1972 Munich Olympics
Don Ohlmeyer on the 1980 Olympics in Moscow

Saturday Night Live

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on removing Norm MacDonald from SNL's "Weekend Update"
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"

Seinfeld

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on overseeing Cheers and Seinfeld
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on NBC's hit show Seinfeld
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Seinfeld

Seinfeld: "The Finale"

View Show Page
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Seinfeld

Something About Amelia

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie, Something About Amelia

Special Bulletin

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie Special Bulletin

Superstars, The

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on The Superstars, precursor to Battle of the Network Stars

Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The

View Show Page
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on Jay Leno's work ethic and connection with the audience

Under Siege

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing Under Siege

World Series

View Show Page
Don Ohlmeyer on the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on NBC's coverage of the 1997 World Series interfering with the launch of the Fall schedule
Topics

Comedy

View Topic
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Seinfeld
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Cheers

Coverage

View Topic
Don Ohlmeyer on pushing the industry forward on Monday Night Football

Emmy Awards

View Topic
Don Ohlmeyer on winning an Emmy in 1975 for Monday Night Football and on winning an Emmy for the recap of the 1972 Munich Olympics
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the 1977 Emmy Awards

Jimmy Carter

View Topic
Don Ohlmeyer on the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow

Olympic Games

View Topic
Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics

Pop Culture

View Topic
Don Ohlmeyer on "Must See TV"

Sports

View Topic
Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics

We Cried

View Topic
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics

World Series

View Topic
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the World Series
Professions

Directors

View Profession
Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics

Representatives

View Profession
Don Ohlmeyer on becoming producer of Monday Night Football

Television Executive

View Profession
Don Ohlmeyer on what it means to be a good Program Executive
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Don Ohlmeyer on "Must See TV"
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on NBC's hit show Seinfeld

Late Night

View Genre
Don Ohlmeyer on the Late Night battles - Leno v. Letterman

Sports

View Genre
Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics
Don Ohlmeyer on the format of Wide World of Sports  and how it evolved
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football  
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics
Don Ohlmeyer on going back to Monday Night Football

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

View Genre
Don Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie Special Bulletin on
People

Roone Arledge

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on mentor Roone Arledge telling him he respected how Ohlmeyer reacted under pressure
Don Ohlmeyer on Roone Arledge at The 1968 Olympics, Arledge's move from sports to news, and what he taught his mentees
Don Ohlmeyer on the format of Wide World of Sports  and how it evolved
Don Ohlmeyer on negotiation lessons learned from Roone Arledge
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics
Don Ohlmeyer on Battle of the Network Stars
Don Ohlmeyer on leaving ABC in 1977 - mentor Roone Arledge was taking over news

James Burrows

View Interview Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Friends  and "Must See TV"
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Cheers

Dick Button

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Battle of the Network Stars

Howard Cosell

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football  announcers Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football announcer Howard Cosell
Don Ohlmeyer on Howard Cosell announcing Battle of the Network Stars

Larry David

View Person Page
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on Larry David leaving Seinfeld

John Denver

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing John Denver's Christmas in Aspen

Chet Forte

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing Monday Night Football with Chet Forte, who he had beaten in a pool game years earlier
Don Ohlmeyer on what he and colleague Chet Forte learned from mentor Roone Arledge
Don Ohlmeyer on becoming producer of Monday Night Football  and working with director Chet Forte

John Frankenheimer

View Interview Page
Don Ohlmeyer on admiring John Frankeneheimer's directing style 

Frank Gifford

View Interview Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football  announcers Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell
Don Ohlmeyer on sports announcer Frank Gifford

Bryant Gumbel

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on hiring Bryant Gumbel

Marshall Herskovitz

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie Special Bulletin

Gabe Kaplan

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Battle of the Network Stars

Howard Katz

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on going back to Monday Night Football

Jay Leno

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on the Late Night battles - Leno v. Letterman

David Letterman

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on the Late Night battles - Leno v. Letterman

Warren Littlefield

View Interview Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Warren Littlefield
Don Ohlmeyer on Warren Littlefield wanting Leno to replace Johnny Carson

Vince Lombardi

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on shooting an interview with Vince Lombardi and announcer Howard Cosell

Norm MacDonald

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on removing Norm MacDonald from SNL's "Weekend Update"
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"

Jim McKay

View Interview Page
Don Ohlmeyer on the format of Wide World of Sports  and how it evolved
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics

Don Meredith

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football  announcers Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell

Lorne Michaels

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Lorne Michaels wanting to produce a late night talk show with Conan O'Brien
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"
Don Ohlmeyer on Lorne Michaels

Dennis Miller

View Person Page
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"

John Miller

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on John Miller and Vince Mansey and "Must See TV"

Conan O'Brien

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Conan O'Brien filling Letterman's spot on NBC Late Night

Pete Rozelle

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Pete Rozelle getting ABC to pick up Monday Night Football

Jerry Seinfeld

View Person Page
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on Larry David leaving Seinfeld

Brandon Tartikoff

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on Brandon Tartikoff

Dennis Weaver

View Interview Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing Bluffing It

John Williams

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on directing Season's Greetings   - an evening with John Williams and the Boston Pops

Dick Wolf

View Interview Page
Don Ohlmeyer on loving Law & Order

Edward Zwick

View Person Page
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie Special Bulletin

All Interviews

Q
S