Roone Arledge, president of ABC News, had a more profound impact on the development of television news and sports programming and presentation than any other individual. A 1994 Sports Illustrated ranking placed him third behind Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan in a list of 40 individuals who have had the greatest impact on the world of sports in the last four decades. In addition, a 1990 Life magazine poll listed Roone as among the “100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.”
Born in Forest Hills, New York on July 8, 1931, Roone received his B.A. at Columbia College in 1952, and began his broadcasting career as a production assistant at the DuMont Television Network. After serving in the Army, where he made radio public relations spots from 1953–1955, he returned to DuMont as a producer-director in 1955; he then moved to NBC as a stage manager, director, and producer.
In 1960, Roone moved from NBC to ABC, where as vice president of ABC Sports, he created what would become the longest-running and most successful sports program ever, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, where he introduced such techniques as slow motion and instant replays. He was one of the first users of the Atlantic satellite, enabling him to produce live sporting events from around the world. Roone’s “up close and personal” approach to sports features changed the way the world viewed competing athletes.
This success resulted in a promotion to president of the sports division in 1968, where Roone again elevated ABC’s sports prominence with NFL Monday Night Football. This primetime sports blockbuster gave ABC the lock on ratings during its time slot, and helped elevate ABC Sports to the unchallenged leader of network sports programming. Roone’s innovations were also successful for the 10 Olympic Games broadcasts he produced.
Despite his successful transformation of ABC Sports, his 1977 promotion to president of ABC News came as a surprise to many individuals, as Roone had no formal journalistic training.
“Peter Jennings and I were convinced hiring Roone was a big disaster,” Ted Koppel recalled. “We went to see Fred Pierce [in 1977], who was then president of ABC. He listened to us explain why Roone should never become president of ABC News. Then he very politely ushered us out and ignored us.”
Roone functioned as president of both ABC Sports and ABC News for nearly 10 years, and ABC was soon on the top of the network news business.
“Roone created the forum for each of us,” Koppel later said. “Barbara Walters got 20/20, Peter Jennings got World News Tonight, I got Nightline, Sam Donaldson got PrimeTime Live, and ultimately Roone created This Week With David Brinkley.”
His shows received virtually every broadcasting honor possible. In 1995, ABC News was the first-ever news organization to receive the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, given for the network’s overall commitment to excellence.
Don Hewitt, the producer of 60 Minutes at CBS, and the only executive in network news whose longevity and influence rivaled Roone’s, said, ‘‘Just about everything that’s good in television has a Roone Arledge trademark on it.’’
Roone Arledge passed away on December 5, 2002, in New York City.