The Insider

Sep 16, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Roone Arledge stories continue …
With former ABC Sports and News President Roone Arledge still on many minds-courtesy of his being honored last week with a Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences-The Insider wants to share a story told by NBC Sports and Olympics chairman Dick Ebersol, one of Mr. Arledge’s many TV “kids.” It’s one that can raise the hair on the back of your neck as it reminds you that Mr. Arledge can be eerily prescient.
The scene: the Munich Olympics, the Summer Games that were on track to be the friendliest ever-the baby-blue-clad guards carried no guns, the chain-link fences around the Olympics site were not topped with barbed wire-until Palestinian terrorists took Israeli athletes hostage in the early hours of Sept. 5, 1972. Mr. Arledge was producing Games coverage for ABC Sports but would suddenly find himself producing live spellbinding and star-making coverage of a dramatically different news story that would end fewer than 24 hours later with 11 Olympians and five terrorists dead.
But at the end of a long broadcast day-into-night, in the last moments of a more innocent age, Mr. Arledge and Mr. Ebersol were lingering outside the ABC Sports facilities to savor the Games that were producing some great stories (Gymnast Olga Korbut’s perfect 10 romp and swimmer Mark Spitz’s seven-medal splash) and great reviews. It was after 4:30 a.m.
From their vantagepoint, they could look straight through a chain-link fence at what they would soon learn was the Israeli athletes’ dorm. They could look to their right at “a huge indentation” in their ABC building that held a loading dock and many covered dumpsters. They could look up at “a glorious, close to full moon,” said Mr. Ebersol.
“Roone’s driver that he’d had for years, ever since he’d started `Wide World [of Sports]’ in Europe, was parked out there, the only car there, with the motor running … for 15 or 20 minutes, as Roone waxed poetic about the moon and all good things. Then the driver shouted, `Hey, Roone, I think it’s time that we get the kid back and put him into bed, let him get his sleep. You may not want any.’ We got into the car, we drove about a 100 feet and took a hard left, because that’s where the fence turned to the left, and drove off.
“And about three or four days later, the German police told us that the majority of all of the terrorists were in those dumpsters. That they went over the fence at exactly where Roone’s car had been, and that if we had hung out there any longer, they’re not sure they wouldn’t have taken us out, only because they wouldn’t have been able to really go over that fence in broad daylight.”
… But the check is not in the mail
Of all the famous people-former President Clinton and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev among them-who paid homage to Mr. Arledge in a tape played at Tuesday’s News and Documentary Emmy ceremony, “60 Minutes” correspondent Mike Wallace was the crowd favorite. Mr. Wallace observed that by being willing to pay top dollar, and then some, for talent, Mr. Arledge had “freed the slaves” in television news. He said that while Barbara Walters was making a record $1 million a year at ABC in 1976, Walter Cronkite was making $350,000. Indeed, Mr. Arledge snatched so many people from CBS, Mr. Wallace said, that “finally Dick Salant had to make those of us who stayed rich. Thank you.”
The Emmy crowd laughed so energetically that many missed “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt’s confession that for Mr. Arledge he makes an exception to his rule not to practice hero worship. “Just about everything good about television has a Roone trademark on it,” said Mr. Hewitt.
Cameo casting, Takes 1 and 2
Regis Philbin has a couple of reasons to watch ABC’s time-traveling “That Was Then”: 1. His daughter J.J. is a staff writer for the series and 2. he has taped a cameo (airdate TBA) for the show. Mr. Philbin didn’t have to think about motivation because he played the host of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.” “Somebody won,” said Mr. Philbin, who said he doesn’t know how his cameo, nailed in a couple of takes, fits into the plot. “I didn’t read the whole script, Insider. I did it and I got out.”
Peter Tortorici can thank himself for being seen but not heard in the premiere of “Body & Soul” Monday at 9 on Pax TV. As co-executive producer, he cast himself as one of the doctors assembled in a conference room while Peter Strausss character goes on a rant. Mr. Tortorici also cut his own lone speech (“Helluva surgeon. Best I ever saw.”) during editing.
Mr. Tortorici said that leading by example is part of saving money. In other words, with no previous acting credits, he was cheap scenery, and “I was willing to be humiliated by playing a wooden-Indian actor for AFTRA minimum.” And he never argues with the executive producer.
Baby, baby, bay-y-be-e-e
The birth of Elliott Anastasia Stephanopoulos to “This Week” moderator George Stephanopoulos and his actress wife Alexandra Wentworth early Sept. 9 was well-covered by the media. But on the same morning, agents Richard Leibner and Carole Cooper became grandparents for the fifth time when Ellie Isabel was born to Mimi and Jon Leibner. “The third grandchild in 25 months. Isn’t that something?” said the senior Mr. Liebner.