A memoir is an act of self-preservation achieved through public vivisection; by laying bare the vital signs, the writer consents to immersion in a kind of hagiographic formaldehyde solution. To document one’s own labors and days is to fix oneself forever behind glass while maintaining the illusion of crude vigor – an operation reminiscent of Damien Hirst’s ferociously dead tiger shark.
With the book just published From Saturday evening to Sunday evening, Dick Ebersol kicks off the shark tank with an almost dizzying array of stories from his more than 40 years on TV. Storytelling is the means by which Ebersol interprets the world around him, serving as a guiding principle throughout his career at NBC, where he virtually reinvented sports broadcasting. (Ebersol’s influence on entertainment is perhaps no less monumental, considering his role in launching a certain late-night comedy program.)
Talk with Sportico From his home in Litchfield, Conn., Ebersol, 75, says he dragged his feet writing the book until his wife Susan and son, Charlie, stepped in over a meal. “I knew I had to spread these stories before I forgot about them, but frankly, I got a little tired from the initial effort,” Ebersol recalled. “I thought we were just going out for a nice lunch until Susie and Charlie said, ‘Listen, you have to do this. “”
As Ebersol began to take inventory of his vast storehouse of anecdotes, a guiding line began to emerge. From the moment the exchange student in high school in Normandy managed to get a go-fer job from the ABC team in Le Mans to the moment the seasoned executive hatched the swashbuckling plot” Sunset Project” which secured the rights to the Sydney and Salt Lake City Olympics, Ebersol’s life has been a lesson in objects in the hustle and bustle.
“If you don’t have the rights, you don’t have the ability to tell the stories,” Ebersol says, thinking back to his 1995 Olympic hug. The deal was something Robert Ludlum, with clandestine flights to Sweden on GE’s Gulfstream IV – Jack Welch approved night raids from his Nantucket hospital suite – and a $1.25 billion deal that was struck with IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch while the Ebersol’s rivals at Fox and ABC were still in bed. Before the end of the year, Ebersol would add three more Olympics to the NBC slate, extending the first deal through 2008 with an additional $2.3 billion.
We’re not doing the story justice here, if only because it’s hard to convey how deadly cool Ebersol is. spy vs spy act was. Outside of his own unbiased telling of the story, perhaps the best way to characterize Ebersol’s masterstroke is to toss around phrases like “cutthroat coldblood” or “casual dress assassination.”
When Ebersol isn’t shy about talking about his past exploits, he really comes alive when he thinks back to the human element. Hearing him talk about his efforts to bring Muhammad Ali on board to light the cauldron at the 1996 Atlanta Games is to feel the same gush of goosebumps that erupted the moment The Greatest hit the screen. with the torch. The fact that Ali’s attendance was shrouded in absolute secrecy – even NBC’s broadcast crew had no idea what was going to happen inside the Centennial Olympic Stadium, which became evident when Dick Enberg was reduced to repeating his trademark “Oh my God!” – is a testament to how Ebersol has made things happen.
When it comes to Ali, however, it has less to do with the sports icon than with the man himself. Ebersol had been rebuffed by Atlanta organizer Billy Payne, who opposed the prospect of Ali’s ceremonial role because many Southern viewers still perceived the champ as a “crook.”
To this day, Ebersol remains passionate about this misperception, saying, “He didn’t run! He was willing to go through the legal process and in doing so, he was exposing himself to the risk of losing everything.
“He was on his way to jail when the very conservative court dismissed the case. Yet because he was willing to fight for what he believed in and live by his principles, he wasted his most lucrative three years,” Ebersol said. In the end, it was Ebersol’s own principles that prevailed, and anyone who watched Ali light the fuse is unlikely to forget that moment.
Ebersol says he retired happily, after parting ways with NBC in 2011, and despite being an investor in fledgling Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy indoor golf series and tech company, TMRW Sports, that’s about the extent of his involvement in the sports world these days. At times he gets pensive, having lost Bill Russell just a few weeks ago, but as soon as he starts telling stories about his great friend, Ebersol’s smile returns to his face. (In one of the many highlights of our conversations, Ebersol recounts how he was passed in his Porsche on I-5 by a VW Bug driven by Russell, who had the little car retrofitted so he could drive seated in the back seat.)
“I miss him so much, but I’ve been blessed with so many really wonderful friends that I can share my memories with,” he says.
Even the moments of melancholy are instructive. When we talk about the plane crash that took the life of his youngest son, Ebersol says that every time he drives half a mile down the road from his house to the burial site, he’ll catch up with Teddy in his tracks. leaning against the tombstone. from another old friend.
“I’m talking to Teddy, but I know he’s not answering. It’s just a sleight of hand,” says Ebersol. “It took me a while to get to this place – and all the credit goes to Susie, who wouldn’t let any of us feel sorry for ourselves – but now I know we need to keep the memory of those who are no longer with us alive, and the way to do that is to talk about them, to tell our stories.