Broadcast Pioneer Roone Arledge Dies at 71
During his distinguished career spanning four decades, Arledge helped transform the way news and sporting events are covered and watched around the world.
Arledge, who first served as president of ABC Sports and later heading up ABC News, was widely recognized as one of the most influential, innovative and formative leaders in the television industry.
“Roone Arledge revolutionized television and with it the way people see and understand the world,” ABC News President David L. Westin said.
“A true creator, Roone invented many of television’s most enduring and important programs,” Westin said, “all the while fostering the brilliant careers of generations of the most talented men and women to work in front of or behind a television camera.”
As president of ABC Sports from 1968 to 1986, Arledge introduced several highly successful programs, including “Monday Night Football” and “Wide World of Sports.”
Arledge also popularized coverage of the Olympics, developing the event into a highly-watched — and highly-lucrative — television program.
His innovative use of technologies in sports programming, including instant replays, slow motion and advanced graphics, helped build ABC Sports into the network’s strongest division.
“Before Roone Arledge there were no replays. There were no slow-mo machines. … There was absolutely no prime-time sports on any network” Dick Ebersol, an Arledge protégé who later became head of NBC Sports, said.
During his four decades in television, Arledge bolstered the careers of numerous familiar faces in broadcast sports, including Jim McKay, Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell.
Arledge’s influence was just as profound in the news industry.
Arledge took charge of ABC News in 1977 and, by the late 1980s, successfully reengineered the network into a dominant primetime news provider. He created the shows World News Tonight, Nightline, 20/20 — ABC’s first successful news magazine, and lured broadcast veteran David Brinkley from NBC to host the Sunday program This Week.
He worked to boost ABC’s ratings in part by luring widely respected journalists like Brinkley, Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer from other networks and paying them salaries of a size previously uncommon in broadcast news. As in sports, Arledge fostered the careers of talented broadcast journalists, like Peter Jennings, Sam Donaldson and Ted Koppel.
Jennings, ABC’s longtime World News Tonight anchor, remembered Arledge as an inspired and thoughtful leader.
“Those of us who worked for Roone believe we worked with a fascinating, eccentric, challenging, adventurous man through a good part of the golden age in television news,” Jennings said.
Last fall, Arledge was awarded the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, his 37th Emmy overall. Arledge was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1990.
Arledge is survived by his wife, Gigi Shaw Arledge, whom he married in 1994, and four children from his first marriage, Roone Arledge Jr, Susan Weston, Betsey Arledge and Patricia Looney.