"The Agony of Defeat": A Requiem for ABC Sports

Little attention has been paid to the recent news that the Walt Disney Company has shut down ABC Sports in favor of utlizing the ESPN sports operation (announcers, production facilities, identity, etc.) for any and all sports broadcast on ABC.

From a strictly business standpoint the move makes a lot of sense: with common ownership of ABC and ESPN by Disney (which has owned the two since it bought Capital Cities/ABC in the mid-1990s), why duplicate services and personnel when a considerable cost savings can be realized by simply using ESPN's resources for the relatively small amount of sports shown on ABC? The recent transfer of "Monday Night Football" from ABC--where it had been a mainstay since 1970--to ESPN turned out to be only part of the larger effort of dissolving ABC Sports.

Why should anyone care about the demise of ABC Sports? Only because it was the first modern TV sports operation, established by visionary TV executive Roone Arledge in the early-1960s and prospering under Arledge's leadership for twenty years; it featured pioneering sports programs such as "Wide World of Sports," "MNF," and the first great Olympic games broadcasts in the late-1960s and early-1970s; and it set the standard for television sports of all kinds, paving the way for sports departments at the other major networks and at cable networks such as ESPN. In short, without ABC Sports, there wouldn't be TV sports as we know it today.

And so, I thought a requiem of some sort was called for. Below you can reminisce about the forty-five year history of ABC Sports through the video clips and links I have compiled. The end of ABC Sports means, in the famous words from the intro voiceover from "The Wide World of Sports," the end of "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat."


Opening to "Monday Night Football" (1982)

Excerpt of Skateboarding Championship from "Wide World of Sports" (1965)

Promotional Montage for "Wide World of Sports" (1982)

ABC Sports-related Links

"Monday Night Football" history page on ESPN.com (updated through 2002)

ABC Sports entry on Wikipedia (with links to major programs and sporting events)

Roone Arledge entry on website for Museum of Broadcast Communications

Roone Arledge entry on Wikipedia

Article on Arledge's accomplishments upon his 2002 death on PopPolitics.com

Internet Movie Database TV entry on "Wide World of Sports"

Special Note: If you are interested in enjoying some of this ABC Sports heritage and see what sports coverage from the 1960s and 1970s was like, ESPN Classic currently airs "Classic Wide World of Sports" early Saturday mornings at 7 am EST/6 am CST.

(Video source: YouTube)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Chris: I also noticed the demise of ABC Sports, and with the purchase of Cap Cities in mid 1990s, I am surprised that it took as long as it did to finally move the last bastion, MNF. Now I guess the only sports programming left is college football coverage (unless they do some golf and olympics).

It won't stop there, though. Sometime soon network TV ratings will plummet to the point that one of the major networks will move news coverage to cable. Since NBC is the only crossover of the three, NBC news will probably dissolve in several years.

Great blog site by the way. As a former local TV production man, I enjoy reading your posts.