EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/SPORTS--Immed. position avail. No. 3 network seeks creative, driving force to run production. Dictator qualities, ability to reduce subordinates to quivering masses of jelly necess. Must be daring innovator. Perks include limos, jets, vacation homes. $750,000/yr. plus extras. Send resume to NBC Sports, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10020.
This mock ad isn't quite the dummy you would think.
It may be written before the year is out, now that Don Ohlmeyer--aka "The Big O," "The Ayatollah" and "King Tut"--has left NBC Sports to its own devices. Ohlmeyer changed the look of sports TV during his five-year reign at 30 Rock; how many months the medium spends in the desert now is any viewer's guess.
The easy way to describe Ohlmeyer, who resigned a few weeks ago and is now being bankrolled by Nabisco Brands to produce unspecified video entertainment shows, is by resorting to caricature.
A 37-year-old Southern California man-child who jets back and forth to work wearing designer jeans, Guccis and open-neck shirts, Ohlmeyer should have been born in 1900. He would have become one of those large-canvas Hollywood types such as Darryl F. Zanuck or Cecil B. De Mille: a wheeler-dealer, flamboyant, sometimes charming, bursting with energy and ideas.
Ohlmeyer is part of TV's "glitterati": hot tubs in California; regular tubs in New York; four homes in all, including one in Connecticut and another in Hawaii; a Danish maid to clean the California home, which is built on both sides of a mountain and takes about 25 minutes to walk through.
It has been said that if he put two fingers to his lips, a pack of Marlboros instantly appeared on his desk. If he silently raised his elbow in drinking fashion, an ice-cold Tab slipped into his hand. Limousines--their uniformed attendants waiting at the fender--stood idling at the curb. He made and broke careers. Considering Ohlmeyer-produced sideshows like "Games People Play," he made well over $1 million a year.
Then there is the Ohlmeyeran wrath--pure and fearsome in its intensity. "Am I tough? Yes!" he said this week."Am I demanding? Yes! Can I be difficult with people? You bet! But I've always tried to temper that with some compassion."
Said Ferdie Pacheco, the former fight doctor whom Ohlmeyer elevated to on-air commentator and boxing consultant:
"When he came over (in 1977, after serving as Roone Arledge's protege at ABC), he set a very high standard and said, 'If you can meet it, I'll leave you alone. If you can't meet it . . . you're going to have trouble with me . . . There are some people who take you apart very quietly and nicely in their office. Or there are guys who can catch you in the hallway and scream so the whole floor can hear you."
While true, the extravagant side of Ohlmeyer does not do justice to the professional side. He will be difficult to replace--if, indeed, the NBC higher-ups eventually decide to pick another executive producer, a move that could jeopardize their own power bases within the company.
Essentially, Ohlmeyer's legacy is this: he changed the "look" and therefore the way television covers sports. He was an image maker--the quintessential TV child of the '80s. He covered sports with slap, dash and dazzle while other producers stayed in the 1960s. He won 10 Emmies. So popular was his approach that CBS Sports now is out-Ohlmeyering NBC. ABC, which taught Ohlmeyer the basics, had to hustle every time he broke new ground.
"He combined show business with sports," said NBC's esteemed baseball director, Harry Coyle. "I think that because of his influence, sports productions today have as much slickness and producing and directing as dramatic shows.
"But he added all these things without hurting the coverage of the game itself. I think that's the secret. You can bring show business into sporting coverage, but you have to be very careful because the basic reason to go out to the ballpark is to bring back the event to the people."
How did The Big O change the look? Players' reactions on replay. . . live cuts to remotes during football Sundays . . . crowd shots off handheld cameras . . . smart tape editing and sound effects . . .shots from blimps, stadium roofs and popcorn stands . . . development of prime-event "hosts" such as Dick Enberg and Bryant Gumbel . . . special sound effects . . . flip-flops, wipes, graphics, revolving pictures.
For five years he had a favorite expression: "If we don't have the right tape, we'll do it with smoke and mirrors."
Despite his honest attempts at sports journalism, was there more sheen than substance these five years? Of course. But there was also a brilliance that brought viewers back for more.
"Success in this business--and it's a very mystical thing--is to be in touch with what people want," Ohlmeyer said from his new office at Nabisco. "I just got to the point where I wasn't excited about what I was doing any more."
There are rumors at NBC that Ohlmeyer was--how shall we put it?--nudged out of the network. His differences with the NBC pooh-bahs were legendary, his friend and patron Fred Silverman had gone the way of Robespierre, and there were reports that NBC Sports President Arthur Watson was breathing calmly for a change last week.
All these whisperings were officially denied. A spokesman for NBC said Watson intends to divide Ohlmeyer's estate into independent duchies run by coordinating producers. Ted Nathanson will have football; Mike Weisman, baseball; George Finkel, basketball; Larry Cirillo, golf; and Linda Jonsson, "SportsWorld."
But the betting here is it's Derby time at NBC. See who emerges from the pack. To the victor goes King Tut's empire.