As president of ABC Sports from 1968 to 1986, he matched larger-than-life sports personalities such as Muhammad Ali with colorful commentators such as Howard Cosell. As executive producer of most major sports broadcasts for ABC, Mr. Arledge devised new ways of packaging live sporting events, interviews, commentary and background reports as well as livelier production techniques—such as mobile cameras—in what became sports TV staples such as "Wide World of Sports" (1960) and "Monday Night Football" (1970).
Mr. Arledge is credited with transforming televised sports, sports marketing, TV sports economics and competitive events such as the Olympic Games, which he acquired for ABC beginning with the 1964 Games in Innsbruck, Austria. He single handedly raised the price broadcast networks would pay for on-air sports talent and events by bidding up their prices.
He also helped create a prestigious new image for advertisers willing to pay more for larger numbers of targeted viewers. He developed a video haven for automobile manufacturers, beer marketers and high-tech firms seeking an otherwise-hard-to-find affluent, young male audience.
One of his biggest gambles came in 1969 when ABC agreed to pay owners of the 26 National Football League teams $25.5 million to televise Monday night games in prime time during the 1970, 1971 and 1972 seasons—after both CBS and NBC rejected a similar proposition. "Monday Night Football" became a launching pad for new talent.
In 1972, Mr. Arledge oversaw ABC Sports' coverage of the Munich Olympic Games when the network elected to broadcast live for 17 hours during the hostage crisis after Arab terrorists seized and later killed Israeli athletes.
Corporate executives often were frustrated when trying to rein in Mr. Arledge's free-spending ways, but his strong ties to the on-air personalities he had recruited kept him secure.
When he turned his attention to news, he transformed ABC's also-ran operations into the most watched and most admired of the three major broadcast networks, while making TV news a major, premium-price venue for advertisers.
In what some journalists at the time considered a heretical move, Mr. Arledge in 1977 brought his showman's sensibilities to the post of president of ABC News. He immediately set out to reshape the routine world of TV news by developing the late-night, half-hour TV program "Nightline" out of the Iranian hostage crisis. "America Held Hostage," which aired in a 30-minute window each weeknight, chronicled the daily events of the protracted crisis in Iran. Eventually, the program branched out to include coverage of other major news events of the day and was rebranded "Nightline."
Mr. Arledge also is widely credited with reinventing ABC's news division with the creation of other program staples, such as "World News Tonight," "This Week With David Brinkley," "20/20," "Prime Time Live" and "Good Morning America." He made stars out of on-camera newspeople, including Ted Koppel, Diane Sawyer, Barbara Walters and Peter Jennings..
Mr. Arledge added snazzy graphics and packaged features—such as "Person of the Week"—to news programs to attract non-news viewers. Among his more controversial moves was the use of hidden cameras in a "Prime Time Live" investigation of Food Lion supermarkets, which led to an embarrassing and costly legal setback for ABC News.
In 1986, Mr. Arledge was named group president of ABC News and Sports, making him the only TV executive ever to oversee both sports and news for a major broadcast network. (He had been responsible for day-to-day operations of both since 1977.) In that capacity, he relinquished daily operational control of sports, but remained ABC News president until David Westin succeeded him in 1998. By that time, ABC News' dominant position in the ratings was under assault, putting millions of TV advertising dollars and Mr. Arledge's reputation on the line.
The move coincided with the acquisition by Capital Cities of ABC and with a move to make ABC Sports more fiscally prudent. Accounting for about $430 million, or 15% of ABC's overall annual broadcast revenue, ABC Sports had posted a loss in 1985 for the first time in recent memory. Mr. Arledge had just signed a new five-year, $2.1 billion contract for NFL broadcasts that was nearly triple that of the previous licensing deal, while maintaining costly licensing deals for Major League Baseball and the Olympic Games.
In the 1990s, Mr. Arledge lost more battles than he won. He was unable to convince ABC's new owner, Walt Disney Co., which acquired Capital Cities/ABC in 1995, to launch a 24-hour cable news effort. He also began to suffer from health problems. In March 1997, ABC President Bob Iger named Mr. Arledge chairman of ABC News, an emeritus role, and senior VP of ABC Inc.
Mr. Arledge, 71, died in Manhattan Dec. 5, 2002.
Born in Forest Hills, N.Y., July 8, 1931; graduated with a B.A. from Columbia College, New York, 1952; joined ABC, 1960; named VP-sports, 1964; promoted to president of ABC Sports, 1968; added position of president, ABC News, 1977; became group president of ABC News and Sports, the only TV executive ever to oversee both sports and news for a major broadcast network, 1986; named chairman of ABC News, an emeritus role, and a senior VP of ABC Inc., 1997; died in New York, Dec. 5, 2002.