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Son's Advice Was a Key for Ohlmeyer

September 08, 2000|LARRY STEWART

Don Ohlmeyer was leading the good life. He had retired in his 50s, leaving behind a legacy in both sports and entertainment television. He lived in a Beverly Hills mansion, had more money than he needed and played golf almost daily at Bel-Air Country Club.

Then in March he decided to go back to work.

So there he was on Sunday in St. Louis, eating a cold room-service cheeseburger, complaining about the poor reception on the hotel television, worrying about all the details that a producer of "Monday Night Football" has to worry about.

Why did he come back? Did he really need all this aggravation?

He pointed at Kemper, his 16-year-old son who had accompanied him on the trip to St. Louis.

"I told Kemper after I retired that I might still want to take on a five- to six-month movie project, if it was a script I really liked," Ohlmeyer said.

"When this opportunity came up, Kemper said, 'Dad, what's the difference between this and a five- or six-month movie project?' He was right."

And, you might say, Ohlmeyer liked this script.

"I wouldn't have taken the job if it wasn't 'Monday Night Football' and it wasn't Howard Katz," he said.

Katz, the president of ABC Sports, and Ohlmeyer are longtime best friends and colleagues. They worked together at ABC in the '70s, during Ohlmeyer's first stint as the producer of "Monday Night Football," and Ohlmeyer later made Katz president of Ohlmeyer Communications. It was Katz who talked Ohlmeyer into returning to ABC.

As for Ohlmeyer's coming back after this season, he said, "I don't know. We'll see."

Don't bet on it.


Ohlmeyer's reputation is of a gruff, hard-driving, hard-talking, chain-smoking TV executive who isn't hesitant to bat off a nasty memo if he sees something he doesn't like. But there is another side to Ohlmeyer that comes out whenever he's around Kemper.

That's when he becomes a softy. The affection between the two is obvious, and Wilson Pollock, Kemper's best friend at Harvard-Westlake High in Studio City, is among those who say it is always there.

Kemper, as a sophomore, went out for the junior varsity football team. He had never played football but soon became the starting quarterback. His father attended every game, often watching from under the bleachers while he smoked.


Ohlmeyer has made a lot of changes in "Monday Night Football," but the big one was in June with the hiring of comedian Dennis Miller. That created not only a buzz but a roar. Miller has gotten almost as much media coverage as the presidential campaign.

"We didn't expect a 'so what?' reaction, but we didn't expect as much coverage as what we got," Ohlmeyer said.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, at a pregame party in St. Louis Monday, said he's glad to see people talking about "Monday Night Football" again.

"Ohlmeyer came to our owners' meetings at the end of May and told us some of the things he was planning to do," Tagliabue said. "And we liked them. I think Don is tremendous."

Dennis Lewin, the NFL's senior vice president in charge of broadcasting, also said he likes what Ohlmeyer has done.

That doesn't come as a surprise. Lewin and Ohlmeyer worked together for 10 years at ABC, and Lewin was the producer of "Monday Night Football" before and after Ohlmeyer.


It has been written that there is not enough room in one booth for the egos of Al Michaels and Miller, and that Michaels isn't pleased.

"I just don't get it," Michaels said during an interview Sunday in St. Louis. "I like Dennis. I want this to work.

"People who have never talked to me or Dennis are making wild assumptions.

"And what's this about me having a big ego? I don't think anyone who knows me would say I have an ego. Perfectionist, yes, I'm guilty. But ego? I don't think so."

Michaels believes the hiring of Miller could prove revolutionary and trend-setting, although there might not be many Dennis Millers out there in the entertainment world.

"What you need is someone who has a facile mind, is hysterically funny, brilliant, loves sports, understands the art of communication, is contractually free and wants to do this," he said. "Who besides Dennis Miller fits that bill?"

That should tell you something about Michaels' opinion of Miller.


The Tiger Woods influence got ESPN to make some last-minute changes in its coverage of the Bell Canadian Open. A 3 1/2-hour morning block was added to Thursday's coverage on ESPN, and for today, a five-hour block, 5 to 8 a.m., has been added to ESPN2 to supplement the 1-3 p.m. block on ESPN. Woods tees off at 4:57 a.m. PDT. On Saturday, ESPN will televise the third round live, 1-3 p.m., and will show the Senior Comfort Classic, delayed, at 3 p.m.

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