Don Ohlmeyer passed Sunday. If you have been following my posts on the history of scheduling Must-See TV, you know that Don was running NBC West Coast during the 1990s and played a pivotal role in the network’s success during that decade.
In addition to his time at the Peacock, Don was influential in the creation of “Monday Night Football” on ABC and went back to the show after his time at NBC. Don also created “The Skins Game,” and his company, Ohlmeyer Communications, produced the first MTV Video Music Awards. He also directed the Indianapolis 500 and later in his career was ESPN’s first ombudsman.
I was honored when Don called me after we were both gone from NBC and asked if I would mentor some of his graduate students at Pepperdine University. It meant a lot to me that he would trust me with his students.
I learned so much from Don Ohlmeyer, especially how to work that fine line between being a creative executive (yes, scheduling was creative) and a businessman. He instilled in all of us in his inner circle the need for attention to detail and how our decisions impacted all the NBC employees.
I still remember and live by several of Don’s words of wisdom:
“No good deed goes unpunished.”
“We’re all too stupid to be in this business.”
“Some days you’re the windshield. Some days you’re the bug.”
It was never dull.
Don’s loyalty to his friends and his inner circle of executives was both his greatest asset and his greatest flaw. Working for him was always a challenge, and I felt that if I could survive and succeed under Don Ohlmeyer, I could do anything in this business.
Don, you changed my life forever. One Love to a larger-than-life figure in the television industry.
I posted this on Facebook last night:
“I had the privilege of working with Don Ohlmeyer for seven years at NBC. They were the most exciting and historic years of my career, and Don played a major role in making them that way.
Don was an extremely competitive person and that influenced many of us. He drove us to be the best at what we did and to be driven to be No. 1. I brought that attitude over with me when I joined FOX, so the success we had over there had a lot to do with Don.
“Don was a populist programmer and believed in the big tent approach to television. He encouraged showmanship in everything we did, from theme nights to big event miniseries. He always believed that the viewer was a lot smarter than all of us executives. He valued research. In May when we set the schedule, the final meeting would generally end with Don asking, “So, who should I fire if this schedule doesn’t work?” I would raise my hand, he would nod and off we would all go to the upfront in NYC.
“I could regale you all with hours of Don stories, but one of the highlights of my career in broadcasting was bringing together Don Ohlmeyer and Mike Darnell for a lunch in the FOX executive dining room. Don accused Mike and FOX of making snuff television. I encouraged him to sit down with Mike. It was like bringing peace to the Middle East and I wish that you all could have experienced that conversation.
“Thank you for everything Don. I hope that you are at peace on One Love to your family.”