Don Ohlmeyer

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Don Ohlmeyer
Born Donald Winfred Ohlmeyer Jr.
(1945-02-03)February 3, 1945
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Died September 10, 2017(2017-09-10) (aged 72)
Indian Wells, California, U.S.
Alma mater University of Notre Dame
Occupation Entertainment executive
Spouse(s) Linda Jonsson
Children 4

Donald Winfred "Don" Ohlmeyer Jr. (February 3, 1945 – September 10, 2017) was an American television producer and president of the NBC network's west coast division.

He was 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]

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Ohlmeyer grew up in the Chicago area and attended Glenbrook North High School. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1967.[2]


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 Superstars, and also produced and directed three Olympics broadcasts (including the Munich Olympics).

NBC Sports[edit]

Ohlmeyer 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.[3]

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.[4] 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 which 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."[5]

Several top executives at NBC from this period, including Warren Littlefield, have said that Ohlmeyer was not only not the inspiration behind NBC's hits in this period, but was often a roadblock they had to work around to make them happen.[citation needed] Instances of this included Ohlmeyer's belief that ER would get killed in ratings by CBS's Chicago Hope and his angry approach to working with that show's movie-based superstars like Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton (both of whom ignored Ohlmeyer and worked closely with Littlefield), and his extreme reluctance to greenlight Will & Grace because he incorrectly thought a show with gay characters couldn't reach a large mainstream audience.[citation needed]

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.[6] The series went the full seven games.

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, citing declining ratings and a drop-off in quality. Macdonald and others believed that the real reason for his dismissal was the inclusion of a series of jokes calling O. J. Simpson a murderer during and after the trial (Ohlmeyer was good friends with Simpson).[7] The jokes were written primarily by Macdonald and longtime SNL writer Jim Downey, who was fired from SNL outright at the same time (he was rehired in 2000). Downey pointed out in an interview that Ohlmeyer had thrown a party for the jurors who acquitted Simpson.[8]

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 stated 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 in 2000 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 Steadicam, and music. In another temporary change, the score bug used nicknames of teams, such as "Skins" and "Fins", instead of the teams' actual names or cities (the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins, in this instance). He also made the controversial decision to hire comedian Dennis Miller to join Al Michaels and Dan Fouts in the broadcast booth, an experiment widely regarded, in hindsight, as a failure.[13][14][15][16]

Ohlmeyer left Monday Night Football after one season. Ratings for the program had dropped 7% compared to the previous year.[17]


Ohlmeyer died of cancer in Indian Wells, California, at the age of 72.[18][19]

Awards and honors[edit]

Ohlmeyer was 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. 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. ^ Stewart, Larry (May 28, 1993). "Ohlmeyer, a Big Shot at NBC, Calls Shots for ABC at Indy 500". Los Angeles Times. Times Mirror Company. 
  3. ^ Julian Rubenstein, "Monday Night Football's Hail Mary," New York Times Magazine, September 3, 2000.
  4. ^ "Ohlmeyer to begin term as ombudsman". July 14, 2009,
  5. ^ "Master of Its Domain",, issue #343, September 6, 1996.
  6. ^ Charles Krauthammer, "Requiem for the Summer Game,", April 3, 2000.
  7. ^ Bill Carter (June 3, 1998). "TV Notes; Ohlmeyer Vs. Macdonald". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved December 24, 2015. 
  8. ^ Mike Sacks (June 24, 2014). "'SNL's James Downey on Working with Norm Macdonald and Getting Fired for Making Fun of OJ Simpson". Retrieved December 24, 2015. 
  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. Cahners Business Information. 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. News Corporation. 
  13. ^ Chris Chase (September 15, 2015). "Ranking every 'Monday Night Football' announcer ever". USA Today. Gannett Company. Retrieved December 27, 2015. 
  14. ^ Jaime-Paul Falcon (October 21, 2013). "Dennis Miller Is a Jerk, and Other Lessons Learned in Allen Last Saturday". Dallas Observer. Voice Media Group. Retrieved December 27, 2015. 
  15. ^ Ryan Yoder (January 25, 2012). "Top 10 Sports Media Busts". Awful Announcing. Retrieved December 27, 2015. 
  16. ^ "TV Guide Network's "25 Biggest TV Blunders"". The Futon Critic. March 2, 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2015. 
  17. ^ Gabriel Spitzer, "Ohlmeyer exits Monday Night Football," Archived October 25, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Media Life.
  18. ^ Sandomir, Richard (September 10, 2017). "Don Ohlmeyer, 'Monday Night Football' Producer, Dies at 72". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 
  19. ^ Rahman, Abid (September 10, 2017). "Don Ohlmeyer, Former NBC West Coast President, Dies at 72". The Hollywood Reporter. Eldridge Industries. ISSN 0018-3660. 

External links[edit]

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