Dick Ebersole remembers his huge TV role in the memoir

From Saturday Night to Sunday Night: Forty Years of Laughter, Tears, and Downfalls in Television, by Dick Ebersole (Simon & Schuster)

Anyone who has followed the television industry since it became broadcast color will know the name Dick Ebersole. And while insiders and fanatics are the most likely audience for this memoir, it’s an enjoyable read for anyone curious about the stories behind some of the biggest shows on TV of the past half century. It turns out that Duncan Dickey Ebersole, born in 1947 in Torrington, Connecticut, had a hand in a lot of them.

Ebersol’s career began as the first-ever Olympic researcher for ABC Sports, traveling the world collecting stories about the athletes who would compete in the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France. He wasn’t even twenty when legendary producer Ron Arledge hired him. It sounds a little weird now, but there was a time when fans watching the Olympics couldn’t Google the name of an athlete and read his bio in seconds. Ebersol’s job was to find those stories, and then make sure that ABC’s on-air talent and production teams stood out to attract and retain viewers. It’s a model that was transferred from Ebersol from ABC to NBC Sports when he took over the Olympics’ top position there in 1989, helping make NBC the “Olympic Network” – a lucrative contract that is still in place today.

Before becoming the man on NBC Sports, Ebersol played a key role in launching another popular television organization, “Saturday Night Live”. Producer Lorne Michaels is now more synonymous with the stand-up comedy show, but it was Ebersol who hired him and ensured that NBC’s executives and sponsors gave him the space he needed to make television history. “SNL” fans will enjoy a few behind-the-scenes stories, including Ebersol’s solution to keeping NBC executives away from meteoric (and often drunk) talent like Jim Belushi — he made sure SNL offices (including the now famous 8H studio ) on the eighth and ninth floors, and can be accessed via a different bank of elevators at 30 Rockefeller Plaza than the executive offices on the sixth floor.

There isn’t much on these pages that isn’t really reported, but Ebersol treats readers honestly. His hatred of Fred Silverman, who ran NBC from 1978 to 1981 and, in Ebersol’s opinion, often pushed shows on the air that weren’t yet ready in prime times, is palpable. He even remembers 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 it doesn’t pay off.

Ebersol keeps the diary by recounting his personal tragedy, the death of his son Teddy at the age of 14 in 2004. Teddy and his brother Charlie were with their father in a plane that crashed shortly after take-off on a snowy day in Colorado. It was a private jet, made possible by Ebersol’s powerful job, and he lived each day with sadness that most of us, thankfully, would never know. “I learned to be more grateful for all the wonderful things our family had in our lives, and how to be thankful for the 14 years we spent with Teddy, even if we wanted to, and deserve so much more,” he writes.