Don Ohlmeyer, the man who produced Monday Night Football back during the 1970s, died September 10 at the age of 72. His family said in a statement that he died at his home in Indian Wells, California of cancer.
Ohlmeyer started his career working for ABC Sports and was the first-ever producer of Monday Night Football. He worked at the network from 1972-76 and later made the move to NBC Sports to be its executive producer. He was instrumental in raising the NBC’s popularity during his career at the network.
ESPN President John Skipper commented on Ohlmeyer’s passing, saying he will be remembered as a “visionary” that often made people think.
Ohlmeyer tried out his own media company before eventually returning to NBC in 1993 as the president of its West Coast division. His department, with its Olympics coverage and more, was influential in lifting the network to No. 1 in America along with hit shows like Seinfeld, Friends and E.R.
“When I got (to NBC), I used to say there was the smell of death,” he said during a 2004 interview with the Archive of American Television.
But his second stint at NBC didn’t come without controversy. The New York Times reported there was often friction between Ohlmeyer and Warren Littlefield, the president of NBC’s Entertainment division. Littlefield wrote in a book that Ohlmeyer was known to drink heavily and was a chainsmoker.
“Don was clearly sick and needed our help and support,” Littlefield wrote.
Ohlmeye reportedly entered rehab following an intervention and returned to NBC. He made headlines in 1998 when he feuded with comedian Norm McDonald, who hosted “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live. Ohlmeyer, citing declining ratings, said McDonald wasn’t funny and was to blame for the dip in ratings. He removed McDonald as the “Weekend Update” host, and the two feuded afterward.
On an episode of The Late Show with David Letterman, McDonald called Ohlmeyer and “idiot” and made fun of his reported alcoholism. The line was later edited out of the episode because Letterman found the comment inappropriate.
Ohlmeyer stepped down from NBC in 1999. In 2000, he came out of retirement and made a return to Monday Night Football on ABC. During that year, MNF added clips of players introducing themselves, sideline cameras a music. However, he made a decision that was deemed controversial by many when he hired comedian Dennis Miller to join the MNF booth alongside Al Michaels and Dan Fouts. Ratings dropped 7 percent that season.
In his career, Ohlmeyer won 16 Emmy awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award.