Don Ohlmeyer

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Donald Winfred Ohlemeyer Jr. (born February 3, 1945 in New Orleans, Louisiana) is a former American television producer and president of the NBC network's west coast division. He is perhaps best known as being the TV executive who fired Norm Macdonald from Saturday Night Live’s "Weekend Update". Currently, he is a professor of television communications at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. He served as ombudsman for for 18 months; that term ended in January 2011.[1]

Early life[edit]

Ohlmeyer grew up in the Chicago area and attended Glenbrook North High School.


ABC Sports[edit]

Ohlmeyer began his career with ABC Sports. A disciple of Roone Arledge, he worked on Wide World of Sports, was the first hired producer of Monday Night Football, created "The Superstars", and also produced and directed three Olympics broadcasts (including the Munich Olympics).

NBC Sports[edit]

He later moved to NBC as executive producer of the network's sports division, a position he held from 1977 to 1982. Over those five years, he created the popular sports anthology series SportsWorld and served as Executive Producer of NBC coverage of the Super Bowl, World Series. He also earned notoriety for the prime-time series 'Games People Play' and the made-for-television movie 'The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story.' Ohlmeyer became well known for expanding the network's sports coverage as well as introducing innovative production techniques. He launched 'NFL Updates,' NCAA Basketball 'Whip-arounds,' and instituted NBC's live coverage of 'Breakfast at Wimbledon.' Ohlmeyer is credited with conceiving the one-time experiment of airing a 1980 NFL telecast without announcers.[2]

Ohlmeyer Communications Company[edit]

Ohlmeyer formed his own production company, Ohlmeyer Communications Company (OCC), in 1982. While there he produced several made-for-television movies, network series, and specials. He won an Emmy for Special Bulletin, a harrowing 1983 depiction of nuclear terrorism. His company was also responsible for producing CART IndyCar World Series race telecasts, and golf, including PGA TOUR events, "The Skins Game", and Senior PGA TOUR broadcasts. While at OCC, Ohlmeyer also oversaw Nabisco's 20% stake in ESPN.[3] Ohlmeyer also gained a 49% controlling interest in Hockey Night in Canada starting in 1986, taking over the Canadian Sports Network that ran the program under the MacLaren Advertising agency. He later sold his interest to Molstar Communications, the company that already possessed the other 51%.

Return to NBC[edit]

Ohlmeyer returned to NBC in 1993 to become president of its West Coast division at a time when the network was in third place in the ratings, following the departure of Cheers and The Cosby Show from its lineup. During his tenure, NBC returned to first place with such hits as Seinfeld, Friends, ER, Homicide, Frasier, Providence, Will & Grace, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien. While Ohlmeyer was at NBC the network was the only profitable national network in America. Ohlmeyer also spearheaded NBC's adoption of an aggressive promotional campaign to brand the network such as superimposing the Peacock logo in the corner of the screen and coining the phrase "Must See TV."[4]

During the 1997 World Series, Ohlmeyer caused a stir when he publicly wished that the World Series would end in a four game sweep so that its low ratings wouldn't derail NBC's primetime leading Thursday "Must See TV" entertainment schedule.[5] Ohlmeyer failed to get his wish since the series went the total seven games.

The Norm Macdonald controversy[edit]

In early 1998, Ohlmeyer had Norm Macdonald removed from his role as anchor of Saturday Night Live's popular "Weekend Update" segment, reportedly because he thought that Macdonald simply was "not funny."[6] Some have speculated that Macdonald was demoted because of his frequent jokes about Ohlmeyer's close friend, O. J. Simpson, but Macdonald has been quoted as saying that he "finds that thesis 'weird' and takes Ohlmeyer's explanation at face value".[7]

Despite the incident, Macdonald reportedly left the show a few months later on relatively good terms with Ohlmeyer, who had originally encouraged Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels to give Macdonald the "Weekend Update" slot in 1994.[8] However, the tension between Macdonald and Ohlmeyer continued when Ohlmeyer banned ads for the actor's first feature film, Dirty Work, from NBC's schedule.[9] He reportedly told the New York Daily News, "'I just don't think it would be appropriate for us to turn around and take a check for a movie that's promoting somebody who has badmouthed Saturday Night Live and NBC.'" The edict was later overruled by Ohlmeyer's bosses.[10]

Shortly after Macdonald was taken off the "Weekend Update" desk, David Letterman, during a taping of his CBS network television program the Late Show, called Don an "idiot" and referred to Ohlmeyer as "Happy Hour Don" (a reference to Ohlmeyer's problems with alcohol[11]). After the taping, Letterman decided that his comment was inappropriate and had the reference edited out of the broadcast, but the comment (which was heard by the entire live studio audience) was publicized shortly thereafter in a report in the New York Post.[12] During a later interview with Macdonald, Letterman claimed that Ohlmeyer "fancies himself creative", and disputed this notion, saying "Here's a man who could not create gas after a bean dinner."

Return to Monday Night Football[edit]

After his time at NBC, Ohlmeyer was lured out of retirement to spark interest and provide some vigor to the MNF broadcast. Besides the on-air talent, Ohlmeyer's changes included clips of players introducing themselves, new graphics, use of a sideline steadycam and music. In another rather irreverent move, the scoring bug was seen to have nicknames for the teams, such as "Skins" and "Fins" (for Redskins and Dolphins, respectively) instead of their common abbreviations, WSH and MIA, respectively. He also made the controversial decision to hire comedian Dennis Miller to join Al Michaels and Dan Fouts in the broadcast booth. He left Monday Night Football after one season.[13]

Awards and honors[edit]

He has been honored with 16 Emmys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, two Peabody Awards, Cine Golden Eagle Award, Miami International Film Festival Award, National Film Board Award, Glaad Media Award, and three Humanitas Prizes. He has also been inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. In 2007, he received the Lifetime Achievement in Sports Broadcasting from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and in 2008 was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Credits (partial)[edit]

Television series[edit]

  • 1972-76 Monday Night Football (producer)
  • 1980 Games People Play
  • 1990 Lifestories (director/executive producer)
  • 2000-01 Monday Night Football (executive producer)

Made-for-television movies[edit]

  • 1980 The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story
  • 1983 Special Bulletin (executive producer)
  • 1986 Under Siege
  • 1987 Right to Die
  • 1989 Cold Sassy Tree (executive producer)
  • 1991 The Heroes of Desert Storm (executive producer/director)
  • 1992 Crazy in Love

Television specials[edit]


  1. ^ Don Ohlmeyer,"Can you hear me now?", January 26, 2011
  2. ^ Julian Rubenstein, "Monday Night Football's Hail Mary," New York Times Magazine, September 3, 2000.
  3. ^ "Ohlmeyer to begin term as ombudsman". July 14, 2009,
  4. ^ "Master of Its Domain",, issue #343, September 6, 1996.
  5. ^ Charles Krauthammer, "Requiem for the Summer Game,", April 3, 2000.
  6. ^ Norm Macdonald - David Letterman - 01-07-1998 (YouTube video). December 20, 2005. 
  7. ^ A.J. Jacobs, "Hardcore Norm,", issue #478, March 26, 1999.
  8. ^ Norm Macdonald Profile, Comedy Zone.
  9. ^ Joal Ryan, "NBC Nixes Norm...Again!" E!Online, June 2, 1998.
  10. ^ Jenny Hontz, "Norm warms to TV, Variety, July 13, 1998.
  11. ^ Richmond, Ray (December 6, 1996). "Ohlmeyer checks into Ford Center". Variety. Archived from the original on April 18, 2007. 
  12. ^ Buckman, Adam (July 28, 1999). "Situation Norm-al: Macdonald show forced to change name". New York Post. 
  13. ^ Gabriel Spitzer, "Ohlmeyer exits Monday Night Football," Media Life.

External links[edit]

Business positions
Preceded by
position established
President, West Coast NBC
Succeeded by
Scott Sassa