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Ohlmeyer no stranger to NBC

Don Ohlmeyer, exec producer of NBC Sports from 1977 until 1982, gets the opportunity to return to the network in a somewhat different capacity: as president of NBC, West Coast, a newly created title and position putting him in charge of all operations reporting to network chief Robert C. Wright.

Ohlmeyer, an occasional golf partner of General Electric chairman Jack Welch and buddy of NBC Sports prez Dick Ebersol and ex-entertainment chief Brandon Tartikoff, since leaving NBC has been active as a producer of sports and entertainment programs.

There have been highlights and lowlights during that period. The latter category includes his stint exec producing the 1987 Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox Broadcasting Co.–a four-hour marathon that drew an 8.8 rating, 14 share, equaling the worst share in the event’s history; producing the pet Tartikoff prime time NBC series “Lifestories,” which was gone after one season; and the ABC quickie movie “Heroes of Desert Storm,” which reportedly contributed to the web’s decision to fire longform exec VP Allen Sabinson.

On the plus side, Ohlmeyer has been involved in several prominent TV movie productions as a producer, including the Emmy winner “Special Bulletin.” Fans call him a visionary and entrepreneur.

“This is NBC’s best conceivable move,” said one friendly producer.

Despite its entertainment credentials, Ohlmeyer Communications Co. has principally been known for sports events, including such valuable franchises as the Skins Game golf tournament and the Indianapolis 500.

His production outfit will continue to operate under president Howard Katz, producing ongoing events and other projects–among them a series of movies on Native Americans for TNT. Ohlmeyer said he’ll remain at “arm’s length” from his company.

Ohlmeyer, 48, started at ABC Sports as a gofer in the late ’60s and went on to be associated with such successes as the Olympics and “Monday Night Football, ” becoming a producer on the gridcast at the age of 28.

A protege of then-ABC Sports president Roone Arledge, he also produced and directed for ABC’s Olympic coverage in 1972 and ’76 and spurred various innovations at NBC, including the “silent game” (sans announcers) and creation of anthology series “SportsWorld.”

While at NBC Sports he also masterminded the short-lived prime time series “Games People Play” and more recently dabbled in the reality genre with “Crimes of the Century” for syndication and last year’s ABC special “America’s Best-Kept Secrets.”

Although he has remained active on a variety of fronts through his production company–formed in 1982 with backing from RJR Nabisco–Ohlmeyer is said to have pursued a more leisurely pace over the past few years than he’ll face in his new job.

During a teleconference yesterday he said he’d debated whether he “was prepared to jump back into (that) kind of grind” but ultimately “felt like I needed a challenge.”

Like Arledge, Ohlmeyer hasn’t shied away from controversy. In 1981, for example, he engaged in a public war of words with then-CBS Sports president Van Gordon Sauter, who had accused NBC of overpaying for broadcast rights to the Rose Bowl. “Maybe we should have a Sour Grapes Bowl and (Sauter) could play in it,” Ohlmeyer said at a press conference.

Asked that same year about then-fledgling cable web ESPN, Ohlmeyer said the cabler was “no competition” and “not even in the same business,” adding that the real threat lay in pay-per-view enterprises.

Sure enough, shortly after leaving NBC in 1982, Ohlmeyer teamed with Jerry Weintraub to form Intercontinental Broadcasting Systems Inc. to develop pay-per-view and basic-cable programming, becoming one of the largest suppliers to ESPN and, through his ties to Nabisco, eventually a consultant to the cabler and one of its directors.

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