Legendary TV Exec Don Ohlmeyer Named ESPN Ombudsman
Don Ohlmeyer, one of television’s most successful and honored innovators as a producer and programmer in both sports and entertainment television, has been appointed as ESPN’s third ombudsman. He will begin an 18-month term in August, offering independent examination, critique and analysis of ESPN.
“Few people on the planet could bring to the role of ESPN ombudsman more credentials, intelligence, a track record of success and the fearlessness to speak his mind than Don Ohlmeyer,” said John A. Walsh, ESPN executive vice president and executive editor. “He is a noted maverick in the industry with a vast understanding of media, and we look forward to his contributions.” Once a month, he will share his thoughts via a column on ESPN.com. Ohlmeyer succeeds Le Anne Schreiber, a former New York Times sports editor-turned author, whose term recently expired. George Solomon, former sports editor of the Washington Post for almost three decades, was ESPN’s first ombudsman, 2005 – 2007.
Ohlmeyer has enjoyed one of the most exciting careers in the history of television. He has served as an executive producer, producer, director and writer for entertainment and sports programming since 1967, culminating in his last network post as president, NBC West Coast prior to his retirement in 1999. Ohlmeyer twice worked at NBC. He first joined NBC in 1977 through 1982 as executive producer of sports. He returned as President in 1993, where he oversaw the activities of all the company’s entertainment-related businesses, including NBC Entertainment, NBC Studios and NBC Enterprises.
Under Ohlmeyer, NBC rose from third to first place in prime-time ratings by developing, promoting and presenting quality programs which received major industry awards and critical acclaim. NBC launched such hits as Friends, ER, Homicide, Frazier, Providence, Will and Grace, and Late Night With Conan O’Brien. Existing shows like Seinfeld, Law and Order, and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno enjoyed growth that led to their becoming bona fide hits.
In addition to creating highly successful prime-time series, NBC under Ohlmeyer became the dominant No. 1 network in longform programming for four consecutive seasons, focusing on high quality mini-series like Gulliver’s Travels, The Odyssey, Merlin, and The Sixties, along with critically acclaimed dramas such as Serving in Silence, Crime and Punishment, and Alice in Wonderland.
Prior to his time at NBC, Ohlmeyer worked at ABC, where he had served as producer and director of three Olympic broadcasts, produced ABC’s Monday Night Football, worked extensively on ABC’s Wide World of Sports and developed The Superstars for television.
Over the next five years, he created the sports anthology series SportsWorld and served as executive producer of NBC coverage of the Super Bowl and the World Series as well as 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 and introducing innovative production techniques.
He installed Bryant Gumbel as the host of NFL Live, hired Bob Costas, Marv Albert, partnered Dick Enberg with Merlin Olsen in football and Enberg, Billy Packer and Al McGuire in what is widely regarded as the best basketball commentary team in history.
In 1982, Ohlmeyer formed Ohlmeyer Communications Company (OCC), a full-service advertising agency and marketing firm, as well as a television consulting operation for clients such as the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball. In the 1980s, he also oversaw partner Nabisco’s 20 percent interest in ESPN, serving as a member of ESPN’s board of directors.
At OCC, he served as executive producer for a variety of creative projects, ranging from sports events to dramatic motion pictures for television. These included Crazy in Love, Cold Sassy Tree, Right to Die, Under Siege and Crimes of Innocence. In addition, he has produced the Emmy Awards show and, in conjunction with Bob Pittman, created and produced the MTV Awards Show. He also was the creator and producer of a magazine format series titled Fast Copy; a series of reality specials for ABC, Crimes of the Century; the critically acclaimed prime-time series Lifestories for NBC; and The Skins Game, the most successful made-for-television golf franchise ever. OCC was sold to ESPN in 1993 and was merged with Creative Sports (purchased by ESPN in 1994) to form Charlotte-based ESPN Regional Television.
In March 2000, Ohlmeyer returned for one season to his first love, sports producing, with ABC’s Monday Night Football, pairing together Al Michaels, Dennis Miller and Dan Fouts.
In his career, Ohlmeyer has been honored with 16 Emmys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, two Peabody Awards, a Cine Golden Eagle Award, Miami Film Festival Award, National Film Board Award, Glaad Media Award, and three Humanitas Prizes. He has been inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Ohlmeyer is a graduate of Notre Dame. He has four sons. Ohlmeyer’s son Christopher is a freelance producer and director whose work includes a variety of golf and college basketball assignments for ESPN. Don and his wife Linda reside in Southern California, where he currently paints, writes and lectures. Ohlmeyer is also an adjunct professor of communications at Pepperdine University, where he teaches directing and documentary filmmaking.