NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer, confronting his apparently chronic abuse of alcohol, checked himself into the Betty Ford Treatment Center in Rancho Mirage Thursday morning to undergo dependency treatment in the center’s 28-day in-patient program.
Ohlmeyer’s decision to be admitted was reportedly entirely his own, both NBC and other sources confirmed.
NBC took the unusual step of releasing a statement on the matter Thursday morning. It noted that Ohlmeyer went “voluntarily” and quoted NBC prexy and CEO Bob Wright as saying, “We commend Don and support him in this decision. Don is an invaluable leader and we all have the highest regard and respect for him. We look forward to having him back as soon as possible.”
According to sources, Wright flew out to Burbank to talk over the matter with Ohlmeyer at Ohlmeyer’s request. After meeting with Ohlmeyer, Wright briefed department heads on the situation before returning to New York.
Littlefield steps in
In Ohlmeyer’s absence, NBC Entertainment prexy Warren Littlefield will oversee network interests in Burbank.
While Ohlmeyer is not necessarily obligated to remain in the center for the entire 28-day course of treatment, insiders at NBC suspected that he would, particularly with November sweeps concluded and network business slowing to a crawl as the year winds down over the next 3-1/2 weeks.
Insiders insisted Thursday that there was no precipitating event or incident that persuaded Ohlmeyer to seek help, other than the party-rich festivities and the opportunities for overindulgence provided by Thanksgiving and the holiday season.
Many inside NBC were stunned by the Ohlmeyer announcement and certainly had seen nothing first-hand to indicate the executive had a problem with liquor.
On the other hand, Ohlmeyer is hardly a button-down shrinking violet but a brash, hulking, opinionated free spirit with a taste for the good life. He has remained O.J. Simpson’s most loyal friend and supporter in the entertainment industry, a stance that has drawn criticism from many quarters.
Ohlmeyer has also never been afraid to speak his mind, which has gotten him in trouble. He has referred to Disney’s Michael Ovitz as “the antichrist” and shot back at TV watchdogs that it is “not the job of television to be the nation’s babysitter.”
Yet on the issue of alcohol, while it was no secret that Ohlmeyer imbibed, there is little to suggest a chronic history of public drunkenness. However, Ohlmeyer failed to show for a dinner for the National Hispanic Media Coalition Nov. 22, for which he was skedded to make the keynote speech.
“He’s not a guy who goes to a lot of big dinners or heads out on the town,” one NBC network staffer said, “so it was really pretty hard to see this coming.”
Ohlmeyer’s seeking treatment comes just five weeks after one of his network’s most valuable series stars, “Frasier’s” Kelsey Grammer, checked into the Betty Ford Center for problems with substance abuse.
(Jenny Hontz contributed to this story.)