A sports producer who rose to become an influential network television executive, Don Ohlmeyer, the former president of NBC’s West Coast division and the first producer hired by ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” has died. The New York Times reports that Ohlmeyer died Sunday in Indian Wells, Calif., of cancer. He was 72.
Ohlmeyer guided NBC to No. 1 in prime time in the 1990s on the strength of “Seinfeld,” “ER” and other programs, The Times reports.
“Mr. Ohlmeyer, a cocksure, creative personality, was well known to NBC when it hired him in 1993 to resurrect its once-dominant entertainment division,” The Times reports. “After a decade as a disciple to Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports, Mr. Ohlmeyer had left to be executive producer of NBC Sports, then formed his own company, Ohlmeyer Communications, to produce sports and entertainment programs.
“Promised autonomy by Bob Wright, the president of NBC, Mr. Ohlmeyer evaluated the network’s prime-time assets: ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Law & Order’ were not yet hits, ‘Cheers’ was in its final season, and ‘L.A. Law’ was no longer a powerhouse.”
Reflecting on that period, Ohlmeyer told the Archive of American Television in 2004: “When I got there, I used to say, there was the smell of death.”
“That did not last long,” The Times reports. “Carried along by new series like ‘ER,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘Frasier,’ and the emergence of ‘Seinfeld,’ NBC rose to No. 1 in prime time during the 1995-6 season. And in late-night programming, the decision to help Jay Leno thrive as the host of ‘The Tonight Show’ paid off. Mr. Leno had been chosen over David Letterman to succeed Johnny Carson, and Mr. Letterman’s new show on CBS eventually succumbed to Mr. Leno in the ratings race.”
Ohlmeyer’s tenure at NBC was characterized by difficult relationships with some of the other brass at the network, notably Warren Littlefield. Ohlmeyer stepped down from the NBC job in 1999.