By ROB MERRILL
From Saturday Night to Sunday Night: My Forty Years of Laughter, Tears and Touchdowns in TV, by Dick Ebersol (Simon & Schuster)
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 this memoir’s most likely audience, 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, Connecticut in 1947, was involved in many 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 at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France. 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.
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 a few 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 the offices of “SNL” (including the now-famous 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 supplements the memoir 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 on a plane that crashed shortly after takeoff on a snowy day in Colorado crashed. 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.