Anyone who has followed the TV industry since shows went in color will know the name Dick Ebersol. And while those insiders and diehards are the likeliest audience for his new memoir, it’s an entertaining read for anyone curious about the stories behind some of the biggest television shows of the last half century. It turned out that Duncan Dickie Ebersol, born in Torrington in 1947, was involved in many of them.
Ebersol, who has long lived in Litchfield with his wife, actress Susan Saint James, started out as the first Olympic researcher for ABC Sports and has traveled the world collecting stories about the athletes competing at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France. would compete. He wasn’t even 20 years old when legendary producer Roone Arledge hired him.
It seems pretty odd now, but there was a time when fans watching the Olympics couldn’t google an athlete’s name and read his/her bio in a matter of seconds. It was Ebersol’s job to find those stories and then make sure ABC’s on-air talent and production teams featured them to attract and retain viewers. It’s a template that Ebersol transferred from ABC to NBC Sports when he took the top job at the Olympics there in 1989 and helped build NBC into the “Olympics Network” – a lucrative contract it still holds today.
Before becoming The Man at NBC Sports, Ebersol played a key role in the founding of another iconic TV institution, Saturday Night Live. Producer Lorne Michaels is now more synonymous with the groundbreaking sketch comedy show, but it was Ebersol who hired him and ensured NBC executives and sponsors gave him the space he needed to make TV history .
“SNL” fans will enjoy some behind-the-scenes stories, including Ebersol’s solution to keeping NBC execs away from meteoric (and often drunk) talent like Jim Belushi – he made sure that “SNL’s” offices (including the now famed Studio 8H) were located on the eighth and ninth floors and were accessed by a different set of elevators at 30 Rockefeller Plaza than the executive offices on the sixth.
There isn’t much on these pages that hasn’t already been reported, but Ebersol treats its readers honestly. His dislike of Fred Silverman, who ran NBC from 1978 to 1981 and, in Ebersol’s opinion, often aired shows that weren’t ready for primetime, is evident. He even recalls the failed XFL experiment with pride, recalling how GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt cited it as an example of the importance of taking risks, even when they don’t pay off.
Ebersol ends the memoir by recounting his personal tragedy, the death of his son Teddy at age 14 in 2004. Teddy and his brother Charlie were with their father on a plane that crashed shortly after takeoff on a snowy day in Colorado . It was a private plane, made possible by Ebersol’s powerful job, and ever since he’s lived each day with a sadness that most of us will thankfully never know.
“I learned to be even more grateful for all the wonderful things our family had in our lives and how to be grateful for the 14 years we had with Teddy, even if we wanted and he so much more deserved.” he writes.
There’s a lot more to these pages worth reliving – from the Michael Jordan years, which spanned NBC’s contract tenure with the NBA, to the personal role Ebersol played, when he made sure Michael Phelps’ gold medal win at the Beijing Olympics was broadcast live in the US in 2008, to the landmark deal with the NFL that resulted in the best game of the week being mostly televised on Sunday Night Football .
Ebersol was the invisible hand behind them all, giving readers an additional glimpse into how the moments that made them laugh, cry and cheer in front of their TVs came about.