INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Don Ohlmeyer, the “Monday Night Football” producer who came up with the phrase “Must See TV” in leading NBC to the No. 1 prime-time spot, died Sunday. He was 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.”
Longtime friend Al Michaels announced Ohlmeyer’s death while broadcasting NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
Ohlmeyer won 16 Emmys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and two Peabody Awards.
“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 became producer of “MNF” in 1972, teaming with director Chet Forte and the on-air crew of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford. In 2000 in his second “MNF” stint, Ohlmeyer put comedian Dennis Miller in the booth.
Ohlmeyer first worked for ABC Sports as a gofer while studying at Notre Dame and became a full-time production assistant in 1967 under Roone Arledge, working on “Wide World of Sports.” Along with his “Monday Night Football” work, he directed the network’s Olympic coverage and created “The Superstars.” Later at NBC Sports, he produced World Series and Super Bowl broadcasts.
After running his own Ohlmeyer Communications Company, he returned to NBC in 1993 as president of its entertainment division. He came up with “Must See TV” in the 1990s, when NBC’s rating soared with such hits as “Seinfeld,” ”Friends,” ”ER” and “Frasier.”
ESPN, now the home of “MNF” said it planned to acknowledge Ohlmeyer on Monday night. Ohlmeyer Communications once was a part-owner of ESPN, and Ohlmeyer served as an ombudsman for cable network from 2009 to 2011.
“Don was a legendary television executive who always sought innovative ways to tell stories and captivate audiences,” ESPN said in a statement. “His groundbreaking work on ABC’s ‘Monday Night Football’ helped turn that franchise into a prime-time television hit.”