Donald Winfred "Don" Ohlmeyer Jr. (born February 3, 1945) is a former American television producer and president of the NBC network's west coast division. He is best known for firing Norm Macdonald from Saturday Night Live’s "Weekend Update", after Macdonald made a series of jokes centered on O.J. Simpson's murder acquittal. Ohlmeyer was good friends with Simpson, and publicly proclaimed his belief that Simpson was innocent.
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).
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.
Ohlmeyer Communications Company
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. 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
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."
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. The series went the full seven games.
The Norm Macdonald controversy
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). 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 that had acquitted Simpson.
The tension between Macdonald and Ohlmeyer continued when Ohlmeyer banned ads for the actor's first feature film, Dirty Work, from NBC's schedule. 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.
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). 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. 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
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 (Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins, in this case). 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.
Awards and honors
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.
- 1972–76 Monday Night Football (producer)
- 1980 Games People Play
- 1990 Lifestories (director/executive producer)
- 2000–01 Monday Night Football (executive producer)
- 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
- 1972 XX Summer Olympic Games (director)
- 1976 XXI Summer Olympic Games (director)
- 1976 XII Winter Olympic Games (director)
- 1977 The 29th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (producer)
- 1977 Us Against the World (also director)
- 1980 XXII Summer Olympic Games (executive producer)
- 1988 Crimes of the Century
- 1988 The 72nd Indianapolis 500 (director)
- 1989 Walt Disney World's 4th of July Spectacular (also director)
- 1990 Disney's Christmas on Ice
- Brian Lowry (1999-06-01). "Don Ohlmeyer Leaves NBC in Typical Brutally Honest Form". Retrieved 2015-12-24.
- Don Ohlmeyer,"Can you hear me now?",ESPN.com January 26, 2011
- Julian Rubenstein, "Monday Night Football's Hail Mary," New York Times Magazine, September 3, 2000.
- "Ohlmeyer to begin term as ombudsman". July 14, 2009, ESPN.com.
- "Master of Its Domain", EW.com, issue #343, September 6, 1996.
- Charles Krauthammer, "Requiem for the Summer Game," Time.com, April 3, 2000.
- Bill Carter (1998-06-03). "TV Notes; Ohlmeyer Vs. Macdonald". NY Times. Retrieved 2015-12-24.
- Mike Sacks (2014-06-24). "'SNL's James Downey on Working with Norm Macdonald and Getting Fired for Making Fun of OJ Simpson". Retrieved 2015-12-24.
- Joal Ryan, "NBC Nixes Norm...Again!" E!Online, June 2, 1998.
- Jenny Hontz, "Norm warms to TV, Variety, July 13, 1998.
- Richmond, Ray (December 6, 1996). "Ohlmeyer checks into Ford Center". Variety. Archived from the original on April 18, 2007.
- Buckman, Adam (July 28, 1999). "Situation Norm-al: Macdonald show forced to change name". New York Post.
- Chris Chase (2015-09-15). "Ranking every 'Monday Night Football' announcer ever". USA Today. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Jaime-Paul Falcon (2013-10-21). "Dennis Miller Is a Jerk, and Other Lessons Learned in Allen Last Saturday". Dallas Observer. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Ryan Yoder (2012-01-25). "Top 10 Sports Media Busts". Awful Announcing. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- "TV Guide Network's "25 Biggest TV Blunders"". thefutoncritic.com. 2010-03-02. Retrieved 2015-12-27.
- Gabriel Spitzer, "Ohlmeyer exits Monday Night Football," Media Life.
- The Museum of Broadcast Communications Profile
- Jen Clay, " 'Don' of a New Era," Pepperdine University Graphic, March 25, 2004.
- Don Ohlmeyer interview video at the Archive of American Television
- Don Ohlmeyer Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
- Don Ohlmeyer hired as ESPN Ombudsman
- Don Ohlmeyer inducted into Sports Broadcasting HOF
- Don Ohlmeyer's ESPN Biography
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