ESPN History

‘Wide World’s’ 50th anniversary

Editor’s note: For the next week, ESPN commemorates the 50th anniversary of ABC’s Wide World of Sports on multiple platforms. ESPN Classic will provided 70 hours of memorable moments. On Sunday, April 24 at 9 a.m., ESPN’s Outside The Lines also will present its own retrospective. Front Row’s Dan Quinn spoke to the producer of the OTL piece as well as two other company employees who worked on WWOS during its heyday.

“Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports – the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC’s Wide World of Sports.”

Bob Toms, VP, Product Enhancements, produced and promoted WWOS from 1981-1997.

His first role was fitting two or three live and/or taped events seamlessly into a 90-minute window. His second was trying to promote the following week’s two or three events into 10 or 20-second on-air spots.

“A live boxing match could last one round or 12, so we’d have to have a five-minute, and a 10-minute and a 15-minute version of the second event ready for whenever the fight ended,” Toms explained.

“It was a pressure cooker for 90 minutes. Live TV from around the world was always interesting — once, we were supposed to open with a ski championship from Norway, and we lost the feed and all communications seconds before going on — just as Jim McKay was saying ‘…the agony of defeat’ in the open — and I remember thinking, ‘This is agony.”

Louise Argianas, ABC’s Director of Rights and Clearances, is the self-described “gatekeeper” of the valuable sports footage, “checking rights and weighing requests” from various outlets.

“My claim to fame is that Al Michaels told me, ‘You watch out for my ‘Do you believe in miracles,’ clip.’”

Argianas says that is “without a doubt the most-requested piece of sports footage ever.”

Evel Knievel also kept her busy, literally until the day he died — ABC News even commandeered the Evel bobblehead doll from her desk to use during coverage of his death.

Because Sunday’s Outside the Lines piece is highlight-driven, she worked closely with OTL producer Barry Abrams the past three months clearing footage. She calls Abrams “the perfect person to do the show. It wasn’t a job for him. He was so passionate about it.”

Abrams admitted as much, saying, “A job is a job, but you couldn’t help smiling while pulling tapes for this. From traveling around the world, to the storytelling, Wide World was the blueprint for everything sports television is today.

“Watching the broadcasts, then interviewing people like Frank Gifford and Keith Jackson, and the producers, you saw they genuinely cared about what they were doing. They took it seriously because the athletes they covered did.”

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