Roone Arledge

From Academic Kids

Roone Arledge (July 8, 1931December 5, 2002) was a sports broadcasting pioneer and chairman of ABC News from 1977 until his death.



Arledge was born the son of a North Carolina lawyer who moved to New York City in search of opportunity. He grew up a smart, but sheltered upper middle class kid. In school on Long Island, he wrestled, and played baseball. Upon graduation, he decided that sportswriting was what he wanted to do in life, and applied to Columbia University.

There, he discovered that Columbia's journalism program was a graduate program -- not an undergraduate one. Even so, Arledge liked what he saw, and enrolled in a liberal-arts program. His classmates included Max Frankel, who would eventually win a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his work as editorial page editor of the New York Times; Larry Grossman, who became president of the Public Broadcasting System in 1976, and later went on to head NBC News; and Richard Wald, another president of NBC News that Arledge would later persuade to come over to ABC News as a senior vice-president.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in 1952, Arledge enrolled in graduated studies at Columbia's School of International Affairs. Restless with graduate studies, he went looking for a job where he could use his college degree, and obtained an entry-level job at the DuMont Television Network. Military service intervened, and after Arledge's discharge, he learned the network had folded and he had no job to return to.

Contacts he made at DuMont paid off with a stage manager's job at NBC's New York City station, WRCA (later WNBC). One of his assignments there was to help produce a children's puppet show hosted by Shari Lewis. In 1958, the program won a New York City Emmy award.

Even with that success, Arledge wanted to tinker with programming ideas. With what was then the avante-garde magazine Playboy as his model, Arledge convinced his superiors at WRCA to let him film a pilot of a show he called, "For Men Only." While his superiors liked the pilot, they told him WRCA couldn't find a place in the programming schedule for it. But the WRCA weatherman, Pat Hernon, who hosted the pilot episode of "For Men Only", began showing the kinescope to people around New York City who might want the program. One of them was a former account executive at the ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald & Sample, Edgar J. Scherick, who as far as Hernon knew, was doing something at ABC.

Assistant Producer

Scherick, had joined the fledgling ABC television network when he persuaded it to purchase Sports Programming Inc. Scherick had formed this company after leaving CBS when the network would not make him the head of sports programming, choosing instead William C. McPhail, a former baseball public-relations agent. Before ABC Sports even became a formal division of the network, Scherick and ABC programming chief Tom Moore pulled off spectacular programming deals involving the most popular American sporting events.

While Scherick wasn't interested in "For Men Only," he recognized the talent Arledge had. Arledge realized ABC was the organization he was looking to join. The lack of a formal organization would offer him the opportunity to claim real power when the network matured. So, he signed on with Scherick as an assistant producer.

Several months before ABC began broadcasting NCAA college football games, Arledge sent Scherick a remarkable memo, filled with youthful exuberance, and television production concepts which sports broadcasts have adhered to since. Previously, network sporting broadcasts had consisted of simple set-ups and focused on the game itself The genius of Arledge in this memo was not that he offered another way to broadcast the game to the sports fan. The genius was to recognize television had to take the sports fan to the game. In addition, Arledge was intelligent enough to realize that the broadcasts needed to attract, and hold the attention of women viewers. At age 29 on September 17, 1960 put his vision into reality with ABC's first NCAA college football broadcast from Birmingham, Alabama, between Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs. Sports broadcasting has not been the same since.

Flying high

Arledge had demolished the barrier between television cameras and subject material with his NCAA college football production values. And Ed Scherick had a problem. Scherick wanted a low-budget (as in inexpensive broadcasting rights) sports program that could attract and retain an audience. He hit upon the idea of broadcasting track and field events sponsored by the Amateur Athletic Union. While Americans were not exactly fans of track and field events, Scherick figured Americans understood games.

So in January 1961, Scherick called Arledge into his office, and asked him to attend the annual AAU board of governors meeting. While he was shaking hands, Scherick said, if the mood seemed right, might he cut a deal to broadcast AAU events on ABC? It seemed a tall assignment, but as Scherick said years later, "Roone was a gentile and I was not." Arledge came back with a deal for ABC to broadcast all AAU events for $50,000 a year.

Next, Scherick and Arledge divided up their NCAA college football sponsor list. They then telephoned their sponsors and said in so many words, "Advertise on our new sports show coming up in April, or forget about buying commercials on NCAA college football this fall." The two persuaded enough sponsors to advertise, though it took them to the last day of a deadline imposed by ABC programming to do it.

Wide World of Sports suited Scherick's plans exactly. By exploiting the speed of jet transportation and flexibility of videotape, Scherick was able to undercut NBC and CBS's advantages in broadcasting live sporting events. In that era, with communications nowhere nearly universal as they are today, ABC was able to safely record events on videotape for later broadcast without worrying about an audience finding out the results. Scherick only had one individual in mind to produce the show: Roone Arledge. Scherick stole host Jim McKay away from CBS.

Arledge, his colleague Chuck Howard, and McKay made up the show on a week-by-week basis the first year it was broadcast. In that era, the mere fact that an event was being covered on television gave Arledge and McKay breathing space television producers today can only dream about. Arledge had a genius for the dramatic story line that unfolded in the course of a game or event. McKay's honest curiosity and reporter's bluntness gave the show an emotional appeal which attracted viewers who might not otherwise watch a sporting event.

He personally produced all ten ABC Olympic broadcasts, as well as creating the primetime Monday Night Football and coined ABC's famous "Thrill of victory, agony of defeat" tagline — although ABC insiders of that era attribute the authorship to legendary sports broadcaster Jim McKay.

But more importantly from Arledge's perspective, Wide World of Sports allowed him to demonstrate his ability as an administrator as well as producer. Arledge did not gain a formal title as president of ABC Sports until 1968, even though Scherick left his position to assume a position of vice president for programming at ABC in 1964.

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Earlier entry, left while rewrite in progress

He created Nightline, anchored by Ted Koppel; 20/20, the newsmagazine co-anchored by Barbara Walters; PrimeTime Live with Diane Sawyer; and the Sunday news show This Week, which won the George Foster Peabody Award.


Arledge was selected by Life magazine as one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century". Sports Illustrated ranked him number three in a list of "the 40 individuals who have most significantly altered or elevated the world of sports in the last four decades".

He was the winner of 37 Emmy Awards and in 1990 was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.


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