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The passing of television's last giant

Roone Arledge, creator of sports shows such as ABC's Monday Night Football and Wide World of Sports, died last week at the age of 71.

Roone Arledge, creator of sports shows such as ABC's Monday Night Football and Wide World of Sports, died last week at the age of 71.

Arledge, who made his mark first as president of ABC Sports and then as president and chairman of ABC News, was-as the News York Times put it- "the most important behind-the-scenes figure in the television coverage of the major events of the last half century."

A natural storyteller who applied his skills to television sports and news coverage, Arledge was a hands-on executive who felt most comfortable behind a bank of monitors in a broadcast remote truck. "The image that ultimately appears on the tube is what TV is all about," Arledge once said. "So for me the most rewarding and exciting part of my job is making pictures and words that move people."

Arledge attended Columbia University in 1949 where in the English Department, he came under the influence of such notable faculty members such as Lionel Trilling and Mark Van Doren. From his studies, Arledge learned the importance of narrative and the role of the hero in storytelling. It was these attributes that he brought to television.

"Years later the announcers of ABC Sports were taught to emphasize what Mr. Arledge called the storyline of whatever game they were covering and to focus on a star whose personal story could transcend the outcome of the events itself," the New York Times noted. "The 'up close and personal' biography of an athlete, which ABC's Olympic coverage invented to introduce viewers to obscure foreign athletes, became the template for personalizing the stories of stars in every sport."

At the same time Arledge brought new storytelling values to sports, he pushed the envelope of television technology. His technical innovations redefined modern sports production, with the addition of instant replays, isolated replays, slow-motion replays, cameras in racecars, and cameras on skiers' helmets. On ABC's 'Wide World of Sports,' he even placed a microphone on fresh kill being devoured by a lion.

As creator of the modern TV star system, Arledge recruited and nurtured some of the top on-air talent of the past forty years. These included Jim McKay, Frank Gifford and Howard Cosell in sports, and Peter Jennings, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Ted Koppel in news.

Retired ABC sportscaster McKay, in a Times interview, summed up Arledge's career achievements as "huge and outsized, like the man himself." He added that Arledge's achievements were also easy to sum up: "He was the very best at what he did that there ever was."

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