About Dick Ebersol
Born Duncan Ebersol on July 28, 1947 in Torrington, CT, he was the son of Charles D. Ebersol, a former chairman of the American Cancer Society, and his wife, Mary. His long and storied television career began in 1963, when he first saw a broadcast of the long-running "ABC's Wide World of Sports" (1961-2006). When the show came to Connecticut to cover events, he found worked as an errand runner. In 1967, he dropped out of Yale University to work as television's first Olympic researcher at ABC Sports for the Winter Games in Grenoble, France. After returning to Yale to complete his studies in 1971, he began a lengthy tutelage under Roone Arledge at ABC Sports. There, he served as Arledge's executive assistant and producer on "Wide World of Sports" before producing the network's coverage of the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, Germany. In 1974, he joined NBC as Director of Weekend Late Night Programming, where he helped to launch a weekly late night variety program called "The Midnight Special" (NBC, 1973-1981).
The following year, Ebersol and NBC president Herb Schlosser teamed with Canadian comedian and television writer Lorne Michaels to conceive and develop a late night variety show for the network. The result was "NBC's Saturday Night," which changed its name to "Saturday Night Live." The cutting-edge comedy and music show was an immediate success, which boosted Ebersol to NBC's Vice President of Late Night Programming. Just 28 years old at the time, he became the network's first vice president under the age of 30. By 1977, he had graduated to Vice President of Comedy, Variety and Event Programming, but departed the network after a confrontation with programming director Fred Silverman.
In 1981, Michaels left "SNL" to pursue other options. The show's original cast, which included such major stars as John Belushi, Dan Akyroyd, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, had either departed the show prior to Michaels or left in his wake, and it was widely assumed that NBC would cancel the show. However, the network promoted associate producer Jean Doumanian to show runner, which launched one of the most disastrous periods in the show's history. Critical assaults on the new cast and writing led to Doumanian being replaced by Ebersol, who fired most of the new cast save for two up-and-coming comics: Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo. He also brought back Michael O'Donoghue, the show's original head writer, to boost the show's scripts, but O'Donoghue's combative nature cost him his job in the seventh season. By 1981, Ebersol had formatted the show around the talents of its two breakout players, Murphy and Piscopo, much to the consternation of its writing staff and other cast members. He also alienated the writers by pressing for more sketches involving recurring characters, rather than new and untried material. Though longtime fans and insiders bemoaned the shift in tone, Ebersol's decisions helped to keep "Saturday Night Live" afloat. During this period, Ebersol also launched his own independent production company, No Sleep Productions, which would briefly become the focus of his career in the late '80s. In 1983, he launched "Friday Night Videos" (NBC, 1983-2000), the first network program devoted to the emerging phenomenon of music videos.
When Murphy and Piscopo left the show in 1984, Ebersol brought together what was generally considered to be one of its "All-Star" casts. In addition to Second City comics like Jim Belushi, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall, all of whom he hired in 1982, Ebersol brought aboard such established and respected talents as comic and actor Billy Crystal, "SCTV" (Global/CBC/NBC/Superchannel, 1976-1984) star Martin Short, and improv talents Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer. Crystal and Short would become the show's new breakout stars, and would use "SNL" as the launching pad for their subsequent movie careers. Bolstered by this second round of success, Ebersol suggested a complete revamp of the program, which would depend on pre-recorded segments and a rotating series of hosts, including Crystal, Piscopo and budding NBC player David Letterman. Most of the show's ensemble, including Short, Guest and Hall, departed the series in the wake of these proposals, leaving only Crystal at the head of the cast. NBC programming head Brandon Tartikoff, who had been hired by Ebersol, responded to the turmoil by briefly cancelling the series, then reversing the decision on the condition that Michaels return as producer. Ebersol and his team vacated "SNL" at the end of the tenth season.
Now an independent producer, Ebersol busied himself with "Friday Night Videos," as well as "Saturday Night's Main Event" (NBC, 1984-1992; Fox, 2006-08), a joint effort with the World Wrestling Federation that brought the league's colorful athletes to the timeslot immediately following "SNL." It was a huge success, as was "Later" (NBC, 1988-2001), a talk show initially hosted by sports commentator Bob Costas that emulated the one-on-one interview format of Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" (NBC, 1973-1982). In 1993, "Later" won the Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series.
The success of Ebersol's independent programming brought him back to the NBC fold in 1989. He was named President of NBC Sports and later President of NBC News, titles held at one time by his mentor, Roone Arledge. As with his previous tenure with the network, Ebersol's efforts were met with both exceptional success and miserable failure. The latter included his decision, as executive producer of "The Today Show" (NBC, 1952- ), to replace Jane Pauley with a younger Deborah Norville as its news anchor, which cost him his position with the program. But the bad publicity was soon overwhelmed by a series of lucrative and popular acquisitions for NBC Sports, including the 1992 Summer Olympics, which helped him secure the rights to the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. He also brought the National Basketball League (NBA) back to television, and was pivotal in the launch of the Baseball Network, a joint venture between NBC, ABC and Major League Baseball that shared broadcasts of major league games between all three entities and local affiliates. Though highly touted, the network was cut short in 1994 due to the player's strike, and the fact that both NBC and ABC soon left the project.
By 1995, he had acquired the 2000 Summer Olympics, the 2002 Winter Olympics, and soon added the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics and 2006 Winter games, which marked the first time that the same network had the rights to five consecutive Olympics. That same year, NBC was the first network to broadcast the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and the Summer Olympics, which prompted The Sporting News to name Ebersol the most powerful person in sports. He was also briefly considered to be Major League Baseball's commissioner, but preferred to stay at his post at NBC.
The high points of the mid-1990s gave way to a lengthy period of loss for NBC Sports, including the coveted rights to the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. In 2001, Ebersol stumbled mightily with the XFL, a joint venture with the World Wrestling Federation that attempted to meld professional football with the cartoonish bombast of pro wrestling. The franchise lasted just a single season before perishing due to low ratings. However, Ebersol bounced back by ensuring the rights to the 2010 Winter Games and 2012 Summer Games in 2003, and then reviving NBC's contract with the NFL in 2005. In the midst of his career revival, Ebersol suffered a tremendous personal loss on Nov. 8, 2004, when he was involved in a private plane crash in Montrose County, CO following a family vacation with his children and wife, actress Susan St. James, whom he had married in 1981. Among the victims of the crash were Ebersol's 14-year-old son, Edward "Teddy" Ebersol, as well as the pilot and flight attendant. Both Ebersol and his son Charles were injured in the crash, which witnesses said was due to improper de-icing prior to takeoff.
Though no career achievement could compensate for the loss of a child, Ebersol produced an extraordinary string of successes in the years that followed Teddy's death. Among the highlights were the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, which became the most-watched event in U.S. television history up until that time with 215 million viewers; Super Bowl XLIII, which scored the largest single audience in television history in 2009, and the Vancouver Winter Olympics, which was the second most-watched Winter Olympics in history with 190 million viewers. For his efforts, Ebersol was inducted into both the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and the Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2005. He received the Peabody Award for his coverage of the Beijing Opening Ceremony with Chinese director Zhang Yimou. In 2009, he received the SportsBusiness Journal's Sportsman of the Year Award, and was feted by the commissioners of six major sports, including the NBA, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and NASCAR, along with boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who presented him with the Emmy for Lifetime Achievement.
In May 2011, Ebersol's contract negotiations with Stephen B. Burke, president of NBC Universal, broke down, and he abruptly announced that he was resigning as head of NBC Sports. Despite a healthy portfolio that included control of the Versus cable network and The Golf Channel, Ebersol did not agree to the terms of the deal, and left the division that he had helped to build for over two decades. However, in August of that year, NBC Sports announced that Ebersol would return to the fold in an advisory capacity, primarily with the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
|Susan Saint James. She met Ebersol while guest hosting "SNL" 1981; married six weeks later on Nov. 21, 1981; Saint James filed for divorce from Ebersol in March 2002, but the couple reconciled later that summer|
|Susan Stafford. married in 1976; divorced in 1978; appeared on game show "Wheel of Fortune"|
|Susan Saint James. married on November 21, 1981; met on set of "Saturday Night Live" in October 1981|
|Yale University, New Haven , Connecticut|
|Took on additional title of senior vice president, NBC News (including a role as senior production executive for the "Today" show)|
|Named president of NBC Sports in April|
|Executive produced "Later with Bob Costas"; show continued with other producers|
|Co-executive produced the semi-regular wrestling/variety program, "Saturday Night's Main Event"|
|Launched "Friday Night Videos" on NBC|
|Returned to "Saturday Night Live"; served as its executive producer|
|Relocated to California to head up NBC's event specials, variety and comedy departments|
|Co-created (also produced) "Saturday Night Live"; became a vice president at NBC at the age of 28|
|Promoted in December to the newly created post of director, late night programming|
|First produced the music and variety program, "The Midnight Special"|
|Joined NBC in September as director of weekend late night programming|
|Named director of all sports-program development for ABC Sports|
|Became executive assistant to then ABC Sports president, Roone Arledge|
|Began career as researcher for ABC Sports coverage of the 1968 Winter and Summer Olympics (held in Grenoble, France and Mexico City, respectively)|
|Worked as gofer at ABC during high school|
|Raised in Connecticut|