UPDATE with statement from NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt: Don Ohlmeyer, former NBC West Coast president and the man who transformed Monday Night Football into a pop culture phenomenon, died today at age 72. Sportscaster Al Michaels announced the news during the telecast of the Giants-Cowboys game on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
Ohlmeyer was born in New Orleans on February 3, 1945 and grew up in Chicago. He began his career with ABC Sports, working on Wide World Of Sports, and was the first producer of Monday Night Football. He also produced Olympics broadcasts.
In 1977, he went to NBC where he worked as the executive producer of the network’s sports division through 1982. He served as EP of NBC’s coverage of the Super Bowl and World Series and created many series including SportsWorld, Games People Play, and produced the made-for-television movie The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story. He expanded sports coverage, introduced innovative production techniques including a 1980 NFL telecast with no announcers.
In 1982, he created the Ohlmeyer Communications Company, a production company that produced several made-for-TV movies, network series, and specials. In 1983, he won an Emmy for Special Bulletin, which depicted nuclear terrorism.
He returned to NBC in 1994 to become the West Coast division president. The network was saying goodbye to popular TV shows Cheers and The Cosby Show and was third place in the ratings. During his time there, the entertainment division, then run by Warren Littlefield, developed series such as Seinfeld, ER, Friends, Will & Grace, Frasier and other shows that would later become “Must-See TV” staples.
One of the most notable moments in Ohlmeyer’s time at NBC was in 1998 when Norm Macdonald was removed from the coveted anchor seat of Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment. One side of the story said that the reason for Macdonald’s removal was because of a decline in ratings, while others believed the dismissal was because of a series of O.J. Simpson jokes during and after the controversial headline-making trial.
In 2000, Ohlmeyer returned to and reinvigorated Monday Night Football by making numerous changes to on-air talent, music, graphics, clips of players introducing themselves, and the use of a sideline Steadicam.
“Don Ohlmeyer was a towering figure in sports and entertainment who had an indelible impact both on NBC and our industry,” said Bob Greenblatt, Chairman, NBC Entertainment, in a statement. “His legacy will live on not only because he is directly responsible for some of the biggest hits in television – ‘Friends,’ ‘ER’ and ‘Will & Grace’ to name a few – but also because he brought NBC to a new level of classy, sophisticated programming of the highest quality which we all still aspire to achieve today.”
Ohlmeyer was the recipient of many accolades including two Peabody Awards, 16 Emmys as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2007 Sports Emmys.
Ohlmeyer is survived by his wife, Linda Jonsson; his sons Drew, Chris, Todd and Kemper; and nine grandchildren.
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