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Even More to ABC's Problems at Calgary Than Meets the Eye

February 26, 1988|Larry Stewart

ABC's bumblings have become one of the major stories of these Winter Olympics. Newspapers are running stories about the television coverage on page 1. Angry viewers have called ABC stations across the country, and others have written letters to newspapers.

What has happened? Why is ABC, which drew rave reviews during previous Olympics, now having so many problems?

To find out, Jim Lampley, who has been on the inside, was sought out. Lampley, now with CBS and its Los Angeles station, KCBS, played major roles in ABC's coverage of the Winter and Summer Olympics in 1984.

"There's different personnel now," Lampley said. "There is no Jeff Ruhe. There is no Peter Diamond.

"They are the ones who in 1984 were next to Roone Arledge in the control room."

Diamond is now at NBC, and Ruhe is with a New York-based television syndicate.

"Peter had everything formatted for Roone, who has always been indecisive," Lampley said. "Peter and Jeff weren't intimidated by Roone. They weren't afraid to tap him on the shoulder and tell him what to do next.

"There is no one in Calgary that would dare do that."

Sources in Calgary said there is a lot of in-fighting in the ABC ranks. There are two factions--Arledge's people and those who have been hired by Dennis Swanson.

Swanson took over for Arledge as the president of ABC Sports in early 1986. Arledge has returned to sports just for the Calgary Games, serving as executive producer.

Dennis Lewin and Geoff Mason are working next to Arledge in the control room even though neither is a member of the Arledge faction.

In fact, Lewin, who served under Arledge but was promoted to senior vice president by Swanson, is rumored to be on the way out. And Mason, hired by Swanson and put in charge of Olympic operations, is said to be in line to move into Lewin's position. It all makes for uncomfortable working conditions.

Another problem is that on-air members of the Arledge group, such as Donna de Varano, have been seen more in Calgary, while members of the Swanson group, such as Dan Dierdorf, Jim Hill, Becky Dixon, Cheryl Miller and Tim McCarver, have been almost invisible.

Regarding Hill, readers Richard and Eve Strassner of Garden Grove wrote to ask: "What has happened to Jim Hill? I guess we must have missed it, but we haven't seen anything in the paper about him leaving Channel 7."

Actually, Hill is still with Channel 7, but ABC took him away for two weeks and buried him. He made a brief appearance Tuesday night interviewing ski jumper Eddie the Eagle.

So Rick Lozano, of all people, has become Channel 7's star in Calgary, although Hill was back on the 11 o'clock news Thursday night.

As for Dierdorf, he left Calgary after the third day of the Games after spending four hours at a Calgary bar for two straight nights and never getting on the air. He said the reason he left was because he was ill.

Peggy Fleming, after being criticized for her work on pairs figure skating, was taken off ice dancing. She was back on women's figure skating Thursday night. But David Santee, who drew even heavier criticism, has been dumped altogether.

Arledge has always had a reputation for being sure of himself in the control room, but Lampley says that's just part of the Roone Arledge mystique.

"Roone has been indecisive from day one," Lampley said. "But before, he's always had good people next to him.

"Around ABC, Roone is regarded as some kind of god. And everybody is scared to death of him. No one would ever dare criticize him."

Lampley also places a lot of blame for the problems at Calgary with Swanson.

He said, for one thing, Swanson has caused morale to be at an all-time low.

Lampley said Swanson held a meeting with his announcers, producers and directors two months ago. "I think ABC Sports has some very talented people, but he really blasted them," Lampley said. "He told them the whole organization would be on trial in Calgary, with possible changes coming after the Olympics.

"He created an atmosphere of insecurity."

Swanson has had some legendary blowups. One of his tantrums came years ago when he was at Channel 7 in Los Angeles. As witnesses tell it, Swanson went on the set during a newscast and laid into the crew, Tawny Little in particular, during a commercial break. It's said that Little was nearly in tears.

Lampley also criticized some of Swanson's personnel decisions. "You don't take a play-by-play man such as Keith Jackson and make him a studio host," he said.

In 1984, Lampley and Kathleen Sullivan--remember her colorful Yugoslav sweaters?--were the late-night hosts in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Of this year's matching of Frank Gifford and wife Kathie Lee Gifford, Lampley simply says, "What did they expect?"

Although Lampley's problems with Swanson are fairly well known, his criticism of Arledge comes as somewhat of a surprise.

It was always assumed that Lampley was Arledge's fair-haired boy.

"I was Chuck Howard's fair-haired boy and I was Jim Spence's fair-haired boy," Lampley said. "Roone just went along with them."

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