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Dec 5, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Thursday, Dec. 5

Legendary ABC News Chairman Roone Arledge dies

ABC News Chairman Roone Arledge, who built powerhouse star-filled and ground-breaking sports and news divisions for ABC, died Thursday afternoon after a long battle with cancer and other health complications. He was 71.

Mr. Arledge was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1992 and in the past had been treated with success. There was a recurrence in 2000, and a number of health complications since then had kept him largely out of the public eye.

He was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in September but was unable to accept in person. Instead, he made his comments by videotape in which he appeared almost serene, not showing the increasing discomfort only a close circle of friends and family knew about.

What had earned the oft-honored Mr. Arledge the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award was the unparalleled career that brought him in 1960 to also-ran ABC as an independent producer of sports programming. His most significant credit at that point was a stint as a producer on Shari Lewis’ children’s show “Hi, Mom,” which aired on WNBC-TV in New York. He won an Emmy for his work with that show.

ABC was desperately hoping that sports could make it a TV player, and Mr. Arledge was determined to make viewers feel as if they were there on the 50-yard line or the 18th green or even hunting rattlesnakes — one of the offbeat segments that contributed to the long-lasting appeal of “Wide World of Sports,” the anthology that debuted in 1961 and would push the envelope of live television.

He was named president of ABC Sports in 1968 and proceeded to prove that with the right storytelling and packaging, there was almost no sport with which he could not attract avid audiences. After jazzing up coverage of college football –“In short, we are going to add show business to sports,” he said in the summation of a legendary memo he wrote outlining how he planned to “take the viewer to the game!” — he created “Monday Night Football” in 1969. Football on TV would never be the same. Stodgy was out; technical razzle-dazzle and booth repartee were in. The network had its first enduring prime-time hit and a breakout character in commentator Howard Cosell, the man America loved to hate.

Over the course of 10 Olympics, Mr. Arledge redefined Olympics coverage and turned it into blockbuster programming for which networks would make multibillion-dollar bids. He redefined himself and the articulate sports crew, which included sportscaster Jim McKay, with stunning and confident live coverage of the dramatic turn of events at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team.

In 1977, to the outright horror of many news traditionalists inside and outside the network, Mr. Arledge was named president of ABC News in 1977 (he would continue to function as president of sports as well until 1986).

Once again, he was taking over a division that got no respect. Once again, he would gather around him producers and on-air talent that cost a lot (Barbara Walters broke the salary barrier in 1976, when she left NBC for a million-dollar-a-year contract at ABC).

Well-read and intuitive, Mr. Arledge capitalized on America’s interest in the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and 1980, with a late-night newscap that became “Nightline.” He staged live diplomatic TV events with world leaders.

“Roone Arledge revolutionized television and with it the way people see and understand the world,” said ABC News President David Westin. “A true creator, Roone invented many of television’s most enduring and important programs, all the while fostering the brilliant careers of generations of the most talented men and women to work in front of or behind a television camera. His ability to broadcast the essential and unfolding drama in all human situations — from the gridiron to the world’s stage –transformed not only sports and news but all of us who watched. He was our leader and our friend and we will miss his passion and his will to make us all better than we were.”

“Nightline” Thursday night is scheduled to devote its broadcast to a look at the legacy of Mr. Arledge. Halftime of “Monday Night Football” on Dec. 9, when the matchup will be Chicago vs. Miami, will be a tribute to Mr. Arledge. Mr. Arledge is survived by his wife, Gigi Shaw Arledge, and his children from a previous marriage, Roone Arledge Jr., Susan Weston, Betsey Arledge and Patricia Looney.

‘PrimeTime Live’ a ratings powerhouse for ABC: Powered by a “PrimeTime Live” special featuring an interview with Whitney Houston, ABC won last night in adults 18 to 49 by a 36 percent margin over second-place NBC, according to Nielsen Media Research fast nationals.

“PrimeTime Live” won its 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. time period with a 9 rating and 22 share in adults 18 to 49, 150 percent ahead of CBS’s second-place “Amazing Race,” which had a 3.6 rating/9 share. “PrimeTime Live” also won in total viewers (21.3 million) and households (13.8/21).

A special second hour of “Amazing Race” from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. finished second in its time slot in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.2/10. For the night, ABC finished first in adults 18 to 49 with a 5.7/14, followed by NBC (4.2/11), Fox (3.4/9) and CBS (3.3/8).

More digital TV stations operating: The National Association of Broadcasters today said 44 additional digital TV stations have gone on air, bringing to 665 the number of DTV stations nationwide. NAB also said that DTV signals are now being transmitted in 171 markets serving 94.94 percent of U.S. TV households. In addition, the association said more than 62 percent of households are now located in markets where broadcasters are delivering five or more DTV signals.

Caputo moves to Chicago’s WGN-TV: Greg Caputo will be joining WB affiliate WGN-TV in Chicago as news director effective Dec. 30, it was announced by John Vitanovec, VP and general manager of WGN-TV. “Greg’s a seasoned and accomplished news director,” Mr. Vitanovec said. “His depth of experience in Chicago, as well as other large markets, combined with a strong journalistic background and solid business acumen, make him the ideal news veteran to lead WGN-TV’s news operation.”

Mr. Caputo joins WGN-TV from Tribune WB affiliate WLVI-TV in Boston, where he has served as news director for seven years. During his tenure, WLVI News remained a consistent market leader at 10 p.m., earning multiple local Emmys.