ARLEDGE, ROONE

U.S. Media Producer/Executive

Roone Arledge, president of ABC News, has had a more profound impact on the development of television news and sports programming and presentation than any other individual. In fact, a 1994 Sports Illustrated magazine ranking placed Arledge third, behind Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan, in a list of 40 individuals who have had the greatest impact on the world of sports in the last four decades. In addition, a 1990 Life magazine poll listed Arledge as among the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century."

In 1960, Arledge defected from NBC to join a struggling ABC. The next year, in his role as vice president of ABC Sports, Arledge created what would become the longest running and most successful sports program ever, of ABC's Wide World Sports. He brought his production specialty to ABC, and overhauled sports programming, including introduction of such techniques as slow motion and instant replays. These production techniques enabled Arledge to create a more exciting and dramatic sports event. He combined his production skills with "up close and personal" athlete features, which changed the way the world viewed competing athletes. He was one of the first users of the Atlantic satellite, enabling him to produce live sporting events from around the world.

Arledge's success in sports resulted in his promotion to president of the sports division in 1968, where he served until 1986. Shortly after his promotion, he again elevated ABC's sports prominence with NFL Monday Night Football. This prime-time sports program gave ABC the lock on ratings during its time slot, and earned Arledge even greater respect.

Under Arledge's lead, ABC Sports became the unchallenged leader in network sports programming. Arledge's innovations on Wide World were also successful for the ten Olympic games he produced. Inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame for his commitment to excellence Arledge was later bestowed the Medal of Olympic Order by the International Olympic Committee, making him the first television executive and one of a select group of Americans to receive this prestigious award.

Despite his successful transformation of ABC Sports, his promotion to president of ABC News came as a surprise to many individuals because Arledge had no formal journalistic training. He functional as president of ABC Sports and ABC News for nearly ten years.

With the development of shows such as 20/20, World News Tonight, and Nightline, ABC was soon on the top of the network news battle. Among his greatest skills is identification of potential stars. Arledge successfully recruited the strongest and most promising journalists for his news team, including World News Tonight star Peter Jennings. Arledge recognized Jennings' talent and cast this once-defeated ABC Evening News anchor in the spotlight, and it worked. Arledge's team includes David Brinkley, Diane Sawyer, Sam Donaldson, Ted Koppel, Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs.

Arledge put news on the air in non-traditional formats and at non-traditional times, and received high ratings. In its 15 years, Nightline has battled entertainment personalities such as Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno for ratings, and in 1995 was the highest rated late-night program. From its first show with Ali Agah, Iranian affairs leader, and Dorothea Morefield, wife of American hostage Richard Morefield, Nightline has been the leader in international affairs reporting.

Arledge's other news show creations include PrimeTime Live, with Diane Sawyer and Sam Donaldson; This Week With David Brinkley; World News Now, a 2:00-6:00 A.M. Monday through Friday overnight news program; and numerous ABC News Presents specials such as Turning Point and Viewpoint. Arledge also designed inventive news broadcasts such as Capital to Capital, the first satellite news series to promote discussion between U.S. and Soviet legislators.

His shows have received virtually every broadcasting honor possible. In 1995, ABC News was the first-ever news organization to receive the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, given for the network's overall commitment to excellence.

In a speech following his appointment at ABC, Arledge declared, "We (ABC) will be setting the standards that everyone will be talking about and that others in the industry will spend years trying to equal." It is clear, based on the success of ABC Sports and ABC News, that Arledge lived up to his immodest words.

-John Tedesco


Roone Arledge
Photo courtesy of ABC

ROONE ARLEDGE. Born in Forest Hills, New York, U.S., 8 July 1931. Educated at Mepham High School, Merrick, New York; Columbia College, New York, B.A. 1952. Married Joan Heise, 1953 (divorced, 1971); children: Elizabeth Ann, Susan Lee, Patricia Lu, and Roone Pinckney. Served in United States Army, 1953-1955. Started as production assistant, DuMont Television Network, 1952; producer-director, Radio Public Relations Spots for United States Army, 1953-55; stage manager, director, producer, at NBC Television, 1955-60; joined ABC Television, field producer, NCAA Television, 1960; producer, ABC's Wide World of Sports, 1961; vice president, ABC Sports, 1965; president, ABC Sports, 1968; created NFL Monday Night Football, 1969; president ABC News, 1977; group president, ABC News and Sports, 1985-90; president ABC News since 1990. Recipient: 36 Emmy Awards; four George Foster Peabody Awards; two Christopher Awards; Broadcast Pioneers Award; Gold Medal, International Radio and Television Society; Distinguished Service to Journalism Honor Medal, University of Missouri; John Jay Distinguished Professional Service Award, Columbia University; Distinguished Achievement Award, University of Southern California Journalism Association; Founders Award, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; Grand Prix, Montreaux Television Festival; Olympic Order, Medal of the International Olympic Committee; Grand Prize, Cannes Film Festival; Man of the Year, National Association of Television Program Executives; Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, 1990; U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, 1990, du Pont-Columbia Award, 1995.

FURTHER READING

Cosell, Howard. Like It Is. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1974.

Flander, Judy. "Rooneglow." Washington Journalism Review (Washington, D.C.), July-August, 1990.

Goldenson, Leonard. Beating the Odds. New York: Scribners, 1991.

Gunther, Marc. The House That Roone Built: The Inside Story of ABC News. Boston: Little, Brown, 1994.

____________. "Blue Roone." American Journalism Review (College Park, Maryland), April, 1994.

Gunther, Marc, and B. Carter, Monday Night Mayhem: The Inside Story of ABC's Monday Night Football. New York: William Morrow: 1988.

O'Neil, Terry. The Game Behind the Game: High Pressure, High Stakes in Television Sports. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.

Patton, Phil. Razzle Dazzle: The Curious Marriage of Television and Professional Football. Garden City, New York: Dial Press, 1984.

Powers, John. "Roone Arledge." Sport (New York) December, 1986.

Rader, Benjamin G. In Its Own Image: How Television Has Transformed Sports. New York: Free Press, 1984.

Roberts, Randy. "Roone Arledge and the Rise of Televised Sports." USA Today (New York), January, 1992.

"Roone Arledge on ABC's Wide World of News." (interview). Broadcasting & Cable (Washington, D.C.), 10 October 1994.

Rushin, Steve. "Roone Arledge (Forty for the Ages)." Sports Illustrated (New York), 19 September 1994.

Spence, Jim, with Dave Giles. Up Close and Personal: The Inside Story of Network Television Sports. New York: Athaneum, 1988.

Sugar, Bert Randolph. The Thrill of Victory: The Inside Story of ABC Sports. New York: Hawthorne, 1978.

Waters, Harry F. "A Relish for Risks; The Ups and Downs of ABC's Roone Arledge." Newsweek (New York), 15 June 1987.

See also American Broadcasting Company; News; Olympics; Sports on Television; Sportscasters