Don Ohlmeyer, iconic sports, entertainment producer, dies at 72

Don Ohlmeyer, one of television's most successful and honored innovators as a producer and programmer in both sports and entertainment and one of the original producers of Monday Night Football, has died at the age of 72.

"It is with heavy hearts we share that Don Ohlmeyer, our beloved husband, father and grandfather, has passed away at age of 72 due to cancer,'' Ohlmeyer's family said in a statement. "Surrounded by loved ones, he died peacefully at his home in Indian Wells [California].''

Ohlmeyer enjoyed one of the most successful careers in the history of television. He served as an executive producer, producer, director and writer for entertainment and sports programming, starting in 1967.

In his time at ABC early in his career, Ohlmeyer served as producer and director of three Olympic broadcasts, produced ABC's Monday Night Football, worked extensively on ABC's Wide World of Sports and developed The Superstars for television.

Ohlmeyer then joined NBC as executive producer of sports from 1977 through 1982. He returned to NBC as president in 1993, overseeing the company's entertainment-related businesses, including NBC Entertainment, NBC Studios and NBC Enterprises.

"Don Ohlmeyer was an unsurpassed creative force in all forms of television as well as a brilliant and visionary executive -- a truly unique combination," ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement. "His involvement with ESPN spans many years, and we are unquestionably better for it in ways that go well beyond his impact on Monday Night Football. He was a believer while sitting on our board in the early days, and as an effective ombudsman, he made us think. He leaves an indelible imprint on how millions consume entertainment to this day."

Under Ohlmeyer, NBC rose from third place to first in prime-time ratings by developing, promoting and presenting quality programs that received industry awards and critical acclaim. NBC launched such hits as "Friends," "ER," "Homicide," "Frasier," "Providence," "Will and Grace" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." Existing shows such as "Seinfeld," "Law & Order" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" enjoyed growth that led to their becoming hits.

"Don Ohlmeyer was a towering figure in sports and entertainment who had an indelible impact both on NBC and our industry,'' NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt said in a statement. "His legacy will live on not only because he is directly responsible for some of the biggest hits in television -- 'Friends,' 'ER' and 'Will & Grace' to name a few -- but also because he brought NBC to a new level of classy, sophisticated programming of the highest quality which we all still aspire to achieve today.''

Ohlmeyer also created the sports anthology series "SportsWorld" and served as executive producer of NBC coverage of the Super Bowl and the World Series as well as the prime-time series "Games People Play" and the made-for-television movie "The Golden Moment: An Olympic Love Story." Ohlmeyer became well-known for expanding the network's sports coverage and introducing innovative production techniques.

In 1982, Ohlmeyer formed Ohlmeyer Communications Company (OCC), a full-service advertising agency and marketing firm, as well as a television consulting operation for clients such as the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball. In the 1980s, he also oversaw partner Nabisco's 20 percent interest in ESPN, serving as a member of ESPN's board of directors. OCC was sold to ESPN in 1993 and was merged with Creative Sports (purchased by ESPN in 1994) to form Charlotte-based ESPN Regional Television.

In March 2000, Ohlmeyer returned for one season to his first love, sports producing, with ABC's Monday Night Football, pairing together Al Michaels, Dennis Miller and Dan Fouts. He later served as ombudsman for ESPN from 2009 to '11.

Ohlmeyer, a graduate of Notre Dame, won 16 Emmys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, two Peabody Awards, a Cine Golden Eagle Award, Miami Film Festival Award, National Film Board Award, Glaad Media Award and three Humanitas Prizes. He was also a member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.