Don Ohlmeyer

Sports Executive / Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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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."

Highlights
Don Ohlmeyer on Jay Leno overtaking David Letterman in the ratings
03:18
Don Ohlmeyer on what you can learn from sports when you're young
00:40
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics
02:01
Don Ohlmeyer on the core of ABC Sports - storytelling
00:45
Don Ohlmeyer on "Must See TV"
01:32
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

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Don Ohlmeyer on Roone Arledge's influence on Wide World of Sports  and on pushing the industry forward on Monday Night Football
05:16
Don Ohlmeyer on the format of Wide World of Sports  and how it evolved
06:03

American Idol

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Don Ohlmeyer on the appeal of American Idol
00:32

Battle of the Network Stars

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Don Ohlmeyer on Battle of the Network Stars
07:09

Bluffing It

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing Bluffing It
01:37

Cheers

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Don Ohlmeyer on overseeing Cheers and Seinfeld
01:47
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Cheers
01:52

Chicago Hope

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Don Ohlmeyer on ER and Chicago Hope
03:19

ER

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Don Ohlmeyer on ER and Chicago Hope
03:19
Don Ohlmeyer on the slow start of ER
01:08
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the costly negotiations to keep ER at NBC
02:28

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing the 1977 Emmy Awards
03:20

Friends

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Don Ohlmeyer on Friends
03:36
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the costly negotiations to keep ER at NBC
02:28

Indianapolis 500

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing the Indianapolis 500
03:49

John Denver Specials

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing John Denver's Christmas in Aspen
01:00

Late Night with Conan O'Brien

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Don Ohlmeyer on Conan O'Brien filling Letterman's spot on NBC Late Night
04:24

Law & Order

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Don Ohlmeyer on loving Law & Order
01:06

Monday Night Football

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing Monday Night Football with Chet Forte, who he had beaten in a pool game years earlier
00:47
Don Ohlmeyer on Roone Arledge's influence on Wide World of Sports  and on pushing the industry forward on Monday Night Football
03:18
Don Ohlmeyer on pushing the industry forward on Monday Night Football
11:52
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football (contd.)
20:10
Don Ohlmeyer on going back to Monday Night Football
03:53

Olympics

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Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics
03:06
Don Ohlmeyer on The 1968 Olympics
06:38
Don Ohlmeyer on the 1972 Munich Olympics
05:24
Don Ohlmeyer on the 1980 Olympics in Moscow
04:33

Saturday Night Live

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Don Ohlmeyer on removing Norm MacDonald from SNL's "Weekend Update"
01:48
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"
08:05

Seinfeld

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Don Ohlmeyer on overseeing Cheers and Seinfeld
01:47
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on NBC's hit show Seinfeld
05:24
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Seinfeld
02:32

Seinfeld: "The Finale"

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Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Seinfeld
02:32

Something About Amelia

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie, Something About Amelia
00:16

Special Bulletin

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie Special Bulletin
08:34

Superstars, The

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Don Ohlmeyer on The Superstars, precursor to Battle of the Network Stars
07:09

Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The

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Executive Don Ohlmeyer on Jay Leno's work ethic and connection with the audience
00:52

Under Siege

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing Under Siege
01:29

World Series

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Don Ohlmeyer on the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow
02:02
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on NBC's coverage of the 1997 World Series interfering with the launch of the Fall schedule
02:50
Topics

Comedy

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Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Seinfeld
02:32
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Cheers
01:52

Coverage

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Don Ohlmeyer on pushing the industry forward on Monday Night Football
11:52

Emmy Awards

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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
06:50
Don Ohlmeyer on producing the 1977 Emmy Awards
03:20

Jimmy Carter

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Don Ohlmeyer on the U.S. boycotting the 1980 Olympics in Moscow
01:44

Olympic Games

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Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics
03:06

Pop Culture

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Don Ohlmeyer on "Must See TV"
03:43

Sports

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Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics
03:06

We Cried

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Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics
02:01

World Series

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing the World Series
02:02
Professions

Directors

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Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics
03:06

Representatives

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Don Ohlmeyer on becoming producer of Monday Night Football
00:45

Television Executive

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Don Ohlmeyer on what it means to be a good Program Executive
02:15
Genres

Comedy Series

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Don Ohlmeyer on "Must See TV"
03:43
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on NBC's hit show Seinfeld
05:24

Late Night

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Don Ohlmeyer on the Late Night battles - Leno v. Letterman
09:35

Sports

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Don Ohlmeyer on becoming an associate director on The 1968 Olympics
03:06
Don Ohlmeyer on the format of Wide World of Sports  and how it evolved
06:03
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football  
11:52
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics
02:01
Don Ohlmeyer on going back to Monday Night Football
03:53

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

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Don Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie Special Bulletin on
08:34
People

Roone Arledge

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Don Ohlmeyer on mentor Roone Arledge telling him he respected how Ohlmeyer reacted under pressure
06:42
Don Ohlmeyer on Roone Arledge at The 1968 Olympics, Arledge's move from sports to news, and what he taught his mentees
11:54
Don Ohlmeyer on the format of Wide World of Sports  and how it evolved
01:30
Don Ohlmeyer on negotiation lessons learned from Roone Arledge
05:34
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics
02:01
Don Ohlmeyer on Battle of the Network Stars
07:09
Don Ohlmeyer on leaving ABC in 1977 - mentor Roone Arledge was taking over news
02:52

James Burrows

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Don Ohlmeyer on Friends  and "Must See TV"
03:17
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Cheers
00:33

Dick Button

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Don Ohlmeyer on Battle of the Network Stars
07:09

Howard Cosell

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Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football  announcers Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell
04:01
Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football announcer Howard Cosell
09:47
Don Ohlmeyer on Howard Cosell announcing Battle of the Network Stars
07:09

Larry David

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Executive Don Ohlmeyer on Larry David leaving Seinfeld
05:24

John Denver

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing John Denver's Christmas in Aspen
01:00

Chet Forte

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing Monday Night Football with Chet Forte, who he had beaten in a pool game years earlier
00:47
Don Ohlmeyer on what he and colleague Chet Forte learned from mentor Roone Arledge
08:03
Don Ohlmeyer on becoming producer of Monday Night Football  and working with director Chet Forte
04:29

John Frankenheimer

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Don Ohlmeyer on admiring John Frankeneheimer's directing style 
02:33

Frank Gifford

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Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football  announcers Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell
04:01
Don Ohlmeyer on sports announcer Frank Gifford
01:29

Bryant Gumbel

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Don Ohlmeyer on hiring Bryant Gumbel
00:40

Marshall Herskovitz

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie Special Bulletin
08:34

Gabe Kaplan

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Don Ohlmeyer on Battle of the Network Stars
07:09

Howard Katz

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Don Ohlmeyer on going back to Monday Night Football
03:53

Jay Leno

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Don Ohlmeyer on the Late Night battles - Leno v. Letterman
09:35

David Letterman

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Don Ohlmeyer on the Late Night battles - Leno v. Letterman
09:35

Warren Littlefield

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Don Ohlmeyer on Warren Littlefield
01:41
Don Ohlmeyer on Warren Littlefield wanting Leno to replace Johnny Carson
09:35

Vince Lombardi

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Don Ohlmeyer on shooting an interview with Vince Lombardi and announcer Howard Cosell
01:52

Norm MacDonald

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Don Ohlmeyer on removing Norm MacDonald from SNL's "Weekend Update"
01:48
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"
08:05

Jim McKay

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Don Ohlmeyer on the format of Wide World of Sports  and how it evolved
01:30
Don Ohlmeyer on Jim McKay's amazing job covering the 1972 Munich Olympics
02:01

Don Meredith

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Don Ohlmeyer on Monday Night Football  announcers Frank Gifford, Don Meredith and Howard Cosell
04:01

Lorne Michaels

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Don Ohlmeyer on Lorne Michaels wanting to produce a late night talk show with Conan O'Brien
06:12
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"
08:05
Don Ohlmeyer on Lorne Michaels
00:57

Dennis Miller

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Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the decision to pull Norm MacDonald from Saturday Night Live 's "Weekend Update"
08:05

John Miller

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Don Ohlmeyer on John Miller and Vince Mansey and "Must See TV"
03:43

Conan O'Brien

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Don Ohlmeyer on Conan O'Brien filling Letterman's spot on NBC Late Night
04:24

Pete Rozelle

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Don Ohlmeyer on Pete Rozelle getting ABC to pick up Monday Night Football
02:45

Jerry Seinfeld

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Executive Don Ohlmeyer on Larry David leaving Seinfeld
05:24

Brandon Tartikoff

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Don Ohlmeyer on Brandon Tartikoff
02:46

Dennis Weaver

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing Bluffing It
01:37

John Williams

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Don Ohlmeyer on directing Season's Greetings   - an evening with John Williams and the Boston Pops
01:12

Dick Wolf

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Don Ohlmeyer on loving Law & Order
01:06

Edward Zwick

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Don Ohlmeyer on producing the television movie Special Bulletin
08:34

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