Broadcasting Pioneer Roone Arledge Dies
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Roone Arledge, a broadcasting pioneer whose shows like NFL “Monday Night Football” and “Nightline” revolutionized television news and sports, died on Thursday, the ABC television network said.
Arledge, the chairman of ABC News and a 37-time Emmy Award-winner, died in New York of complications from cancer, the network said. He was 71.
“Roone Arledge revolutionized television and with it the way people see and understand the world,” ABC News President David Westin said in a statement. “A true creator, Roone invented many of television’s most enduring and important programs.”
The programs Arledge created, including “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” and primetime news program “20/20,” helped make ABC the dominant network in news and sports coverage for many years.
“Monday Night Football” and “Nightline,” a late night news program, changed the television viewing habits of many Americans. “Nightline,” which began as a short nightly update on the Iran hostage crisis called “America Held Hostage,” helped usher in the country’s demand for round-the-clock news.
Arledge poached top talent from other television networks and created a star system in which he cultivated on-air journalists such as Barbara Walters, David Brinkley, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel and Diane Sawyer.
“Roone believed in being involved in every aspect, but he could be unbelievably difficult and there were times when we wanted to wring his neck,” Jennings said in a statement. “Especially for people like Koppel and me, he had been a godfather, our patron, almost like a father in some ways. He made our careers possible.”
“His impact on American television news was, and I hope will always remain, indelible,” “Nightline” anchor and managing editor Koppel said in a statement.
Arledge, born in Queens, New York, joined ABC from rival NBC in 1960. He became chairman of ABC News in 1997, after nearly 20 years as the division’s president. He was president of ABC Sports from 1968 to 1986.
Robert Thompson, head of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television, credited Arledge with setting standards in TV sports and news coverage that persist today.
“A lot of people may not know his name, but they are certainly seeing his legacy when they turn on their television sets,” Thompson said.
At ABC Sports, Arledge’s innovations included new technologies such as instant replays, slow motion and advanced graphics. He also broadcast more personal profiles of athletes.
Arledge produced all 10 ABC broadcasts of the Olympic Games. He oversaw the broadcast of the 1972 Munich Olympics, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian gunmen.
In 1994, Sports Illustrated magazine ranked Arledge third, behind boxer Muhammad Ali and basketball star Michael Jordan, in a list of 40 people who had the biggest impact on the world of sports in the past four decades.
Arledge also was listed in a 1990 Life magazine poll as one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.”
After dominating other networks for many years, ABC News has struggled recently. Earlier this year, ABC was the center of debate about the value of news versus entertainment, when the network unsuccessfully tried to lure late-night comedian David Letterman away from CBS to replace the venerable “Nightline.”
Arledge is survived by his wife, Gigi Shaw Arledge, and his four children from a previous marriage.