Roone Pinckney Arledge, Jr. revolutionized news and sports on American television.
Born in Queens, New York on this date in 1931, he wrestled and played baseball at Wellington C. Mepham High School on Long Island. He attended Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in 1952 before enrolling in graduate courses in the School of International Affairs with thoughts of becoming a foreign journalism correspondent. Needing money, he found a job with the Dumont Television Network and quickly developed an interest in live television. He left school to serve in the U.S. Army for two years, requesting assignment to a military broadcasting unit where he mastered the basics of radio, film and television production. He left the army in 1955 and went to work for NBC in midtown Manhattan.
He won an Emmy Award in 1958 for his work on a children’s series but saw no future for himself at NBC after having many of his ideas rejected or ignored by network executives. Arledge then took a position producing college football games for less prestigious ABC. He developed a weekly sports anthology series entitled Wide World of Sports that quickly won a regular Saturday afternoon time slot and remained on the air for 36 years. He was amongst the first to use Atlantic satellite in order to broadcast live sports from around the world ABC lacked the financial means of rivals NBC and CBS and could not compete for blue chip sports events like NFL or MLB games, so Arledge focused on bringing track and field, skiing, swimming and gymnastics to the American public. He created the American Sportsman in 1965 which focused on fishing, hunting and outdoor photography and brought isolated hand held cameras and instant replay to college football telecasts.
Mr. Arledge was promoted to president of ABC Sports in 1968 and approached NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle with an idea to broadcast a single game to the entire nation in primetime, something that was considered radical and unheard of at the time. He vowed to “add show business to sports”, put three broadcasters in the booth and unveiled Monday Night Football in 1970. It quickly became a fixture of the network’s schedule and a social occasion in American sports culture. More importantly, it paved the way for sports events to be moved into prime time, evidenced by MLB’s decision to broadcast the first-ever night game in the history of the World Series in 1971. ABC Sports prospered under Arledge, who had captured broadcast rights to the Olympic games in 1968. The network’s live news coverage of Palestinian terrorists killing eleven Israeli athletes during the 1972 summer games in Munich earned Arledge, his colleagues and the network 29 Emmy Awards. He also pioneered the introduction of “junk sports” to network television, including the Superstars series, Evel Knievel’s motorcycle jumping spectacles and the “battle of the sexes” tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
Arledge was promoted to president of ABC News in 1977 and introduced World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. The dinnertime news telecast went from last to first in the ratings. He created Nightline with Ted Koppel and 20/20 with Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs, programs that continue to endure today.
Roone Arledge received the first lifetime-achievement Emmy Award, the 37th of his career, in September of 2000 and was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1990. He was voted one of the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century” in a Life magazine poll in 1990. In 1994, he was listed third, behind Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, on Sports Ilustrated’s list of 40 individuals that have had the greatest impact on the world of sports in the last four decades.