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He makes you see things differently. He makes you think differently. He makes you dream that you can do things you didn't know you could do. And he is the first person there when you have done something that honors the profession.
This was Roone Arledge as seen by one of his more illustrious contemporaries, Diane Sawyer. His great career of more than a half century mirrored the history of the television industry he helped create, and now, in Roone, he has left us his pungent, up-close-and-personal account of both stories, of his own rise to fame and power as the head of ABC Sports and News -- Life magazine would call him one of the 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century -- and of the many people, foes as well as friends, whose paths he crossed.
On Howard Cosell: In hindsight, I couldn't say which of them was the more insecure -- Richard Nixon, president of the United States, or Howard Cosell!
On Barbara Walters and the invention of 20/20: I thought the program needed Barbara Walters. I also thought Barbara needed the program.
On Peter Jennings: The whole world was his beat. He roamed the planet on the trail of great stories.
Here are the celebrated figures of Roone's era, the famous and infamous whom he encountered, from Nixon to Boris Yeltsin to Muhammed Ali.
Seen too are the lesser-known figures who made television what it is at the production end, like the man who invented Instant Replay. And the founders themselves who made the networks: the General, David Sarnoff, at NBC; the legendary Bill Paley at CBS; and even the bespectacled lawyer, Leonard Goldenson, who led a struggling distant-third network called ABC but had the nerve to give unknown youngsters their chance at the big time, young producers like . . . Roone Arledge.
But, underlying all the anecdotes and the behind-the-scenes tales from the control room is the often poignant story of a changing industry, of what happened in the boardrooms of the 1980s and '90s when the era of the founders came to a close and corporate interests took over the networks, including ABC, and when the freewheeling, free-spending era of growth gave way to the far less glamorous struggle to make the business profitable. Roone Arledge himself never resorted to the cheap fix of tabloid journalism, and his visionary approach to television programming (which led, among other things, to his receiving more than thirty Emmy Awards), raised him head and shoulders above his competitors, but his assessment of what happened to the industry he loved is as nuanced and fascinating as it is trenchant. Roone Arledge had the keenest sense of story, of color, image, incident, humanity, and of what it took to bring millions of viewers to his programs -- and to hold them riveted to his screen. That same keen sense makes Roone a memorable reading experience.
Roone Arledge lived in New York City until his death on December 5, 2002, at the age of seventy-one.