From Saturday Night to Sunday Night: My Forty Years of Laughter, Tears, and Touchdowns in TV by Dick Ebersol #NetGalley #ARCReview #BookReview

“Think of an important moment in live TV over the last half-century. Dick Ebersol was likely involved.

Dropping out of college to join the crew of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Ebersol worked the Mexico City Olympics during the famous protest by John Carlos and Tommie Smith as well as the Munich Olympics during the tragic hostage standoff. He went on to cocreate Saturday Night Live with Lorne Michaels and later produced the show for four seasons, helping launch Eddie Murphy to stardom. After creating Friday Night Videos and partnering with Vince McMahon to bring professional wrestling to network TV, he next took over NBC Sports, which helped turn basketball into a global phenomenon and made history as the first broadcaster to host the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals, and the Summer Olympics in the same year; it was Ebersol who was responsible for Muhammad Ali lighting the Olympic flame in Atlanta. Then, following a plane crash that took the life of his fourteen-year-old son Teddy and nearly killed him, he determinedly undertook perhaps his greatest career achievement: creating NBC’s Sunday Night Football, still the #1 primetime show in America. The Today Show’s headline-making hosting changes, the so-called “Late-Night Wars,” O.J. Simpson’s Bronco chase—Ebersol had a front-row seat to it all.

From Saturday Night to Sunday Night is filled with entertaining and illuminating stories featuring such boldface names as Billy Crystal, Michael Jordan, Bill Clinton, Jay Leno, Peyton Manning, Michael Phelps and Larry David. (Ebersol even inspired the famous Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza pretends he didn’t quit his job.) More than that, the book offers an insightful history and analysis of TV’s evolution from broadcast to cable and beyond—a must read for casual binge-watchers and small-screen aficionados alike.”

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced reader’s copy I received in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

From Saturday Night to Sunday Night (Amazon) is a fascinating, if somewhat shallow look at the history of live television events from one man’s remarkable perspective. Dick Ebersol is a name I know well since I worked in the television business for years, but I truly didn’t know the large footprint he made in television until reading this book. Ebersol has had a front seat to coverage of some of the most memorable moments on TV from 1968 to 2012.

While still in college, Ebersol was hired as the first Olympic researcher for the 1968 Olympics which were on ABC. Through that association, he became a production assistant for the sports department. He was lured away to head up NBC’s late-night entertainment line-up. It was Ebersol who spearheaded what was to become Saturday Night Live. Leaving after the first season to run his own independent production company, he returned in 1981 to take over when Lorne Michaels briefly left. Ebersol was at the helm when Eddie Murphy took the world by storm on SNL. He was also responsible for bringing the WWF to television.

Ebersol also delves into his personal life, although not too closely. There’s no mention of his first marriage, only his second and current marriage to the Kate & Allie and MacMillan & Wife actress, Susan Saint James. Susan brought two children to the marriage, and the couple went on to have three more children. I distinctly remember the day I was working in the newsroom and heard that Ebersol’s private plane had crashed, critically injuring himself and killing his youngest son, who was only 14 years old at the time. He writes about the experience in both a raw, yet guarded tone. It was a heartbreaking chapter, yet Ebersol kept his composure when writing about it.

Taking over at NBC Sports in the 1980’s, Ebersol brokered deals with the NBA and secured the Olympics by brokering multi-Olympic deals, something that had never been done before. He also brought the Triple Crown races to NBC. And he brought NFL Football back to NBC. Sunday Night Football has become a ratings juggernaut for the network, stealing John Madden from Fox Sports where he had worked for many years. I thought the story of how Ebersol was able to get Al Michaels on board was interesting. Michaels was under contract to Disney, who own ABC and ESPN, but it was clear that NFL Football was not going to happen for the network, leaving Michaels without a broadcast to work on. Ebersol arranged through NBC’s parent company to give back Walt Disney’s rights to Oswald the Rabbit to Disney; it was the only character Walt ever created that he didn’t own. So the trade was made, and Al Michaels moved to NBC. And the rest they say is history.

There’s a lot of talk about the various deals that Ebersol pulled off, and at times, my eyes glazed over a little and that’s the main reason this isn’t a five-star book for me. And I couldn’t help but think as I read the book was “Where are the women?” Besides his wife, Susan, Ebersol has no stories about women. I mean, let’s face it. Even though he had no experience running an entertainment division, this young white guy was hired. That was the nature of the business back then, but even as the years progress, there’s very little interaction with the female species besides his assistant. Despite that fact, this is an interesting book for anyone who has been glued to the TV for various sporting events like the Olympics or Sunday Night Football.

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