Roone Arledge of ABC News dies at age 71

Dec. 5, 2002 at 6:22 PM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Roone Arledge, chairman and long-time president of ABC News, died in New York Thursday of complications from cancer, the network announced. He was 71.

As president of ABC Sports (1968-86), Arledge won seven Emmys as executive producer of "ABC's Wide World of Sports" -- where he helped develop a new approach to covering sporting events that went beyond reporting on wins and losses to highlight the personal stories of competitors.

The approach introduced the phrases "up close and personal" and "the thrill of victory ... the agony of defeat" into the American vocabulary.

During his tenure at ABC Sports, Arledge brought NFL football to prime time, introducing "Monday Night Football," which remains on the air as one of the longest-running programs in prime time history. Arledge was nominated for five Emmys for "Monday Night Football," winning in 1976 for outstanding live sports series.

Under Arledge's direction, ABC Sports developed many technological advances that are still being used in televising sports today -- including instant replay and slow motion replay. Dick Ebersol, a protégé of Arledge who went on to become president of NBC Sports, told ABC News that Arledge blazed the trail for sports programming in prime time.

"There was absolutely no prime time sports on any network (before Arledge)," said Ebersol.

Arledge produced all 10 of ABC's Olympic broadcasts, earning five Emmy nominations and winning three times -- for the Winter Olympics in 1968 and the Summer Olympics in 1972 and 1976. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Arledge turned his sports division into a virtual news division, providing the first live TV coverage of the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Olympic village.

Arledge was one of a handful of television executives to receive the Medal of the Olympic Order from the International Olympic Committee. In 1989, he was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame.

Using many of the techniques he applied at ABC Sports, Arledge took over as president of ABC News in 1977, and in short order led the network news division from the bottom to the top in the ratings race. He was credited with creating "ABC World News Tonight," "Nightline," "20/20," "Primetime" and "This Week with David Brinkley."

In addition to the technological advancements, Arledge also instituted a "star system" as ABC News, luring such talents as Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters from their long-time homes at CBS and NBC. Walters made broadcast history by becoming the first women to be given a $1 million contract.

"If you think about news in our time," Walters told ABC Thursday, "it's just synonymous with Roone Arledge."

Arledge was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 1990. He was a four-time winner of the George Foster Peabody Award, and named by Life Magazine as one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.'

A 1952 graduate of Columbia University, Arledge was honored earlier this year by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award for news.

Coincidentally, Arledge's death came two days after the death of producer Edgar J. Scherick, who created "Wide World of Sports" for ABC with the show's long-time anchor Jim McKay in 1961. Scherick -- who served as programming chief for ABC TV from 1963-66 and brought such shows as "Batman," "Bewitched" and "Peyton Place" to the network schedule -- died of leukemia in Los Angeles. He was 78.

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