ST. LOUIS -- Dick Ebersol, who announced his resignation Thursday from NBC after running its sports division for 22 years and also being very influential on its entertainment side, leaves a legacy that the network's lead on-air personality says is immense.
"It's overwhelming," said Bob Costas, whom Ebersol put in the prime-time hosting role for the last eight Olympics NBC has aired. "He was a rarity. He was like his mentor Roone Arledge (of ABC) in that he was an executive, a master negotiator, an administrator -- that's the part people overlook. You don't just acquire the rights and then put the stuff on the air. You have to run a department Monday through Friday, and it's a large department.
"He also was a producer. A lot of executives stay out of the production end because they recognize they don't have much of a feel for it or much background, or they get involved and it turns out to be meddlesome. He had both the credentials and the clout to influence the productions."
NBC has shown the last six Summer Olympics, will have the London Games next year and also has carried the last three Winter Olympics. But Ebersol, 63, couldn't come to a contract agreement with new NBC owner Comcast and is out just more than two weeks before the bidding opens for U.S. rights beginning with the 2014 Olympics. He's been replaced by Mark Lazarus, who has been running Golf Channel and Versus for Comsast.
Ebersol brought "Sunday Night Football" to NBC, as well as many other events and helped create "Saturday Night Live." But it's the Olympics for which he'll be most remembered. And Costas said Ebersol was a master at all aspects of the massive undertaking of getting the Games on the air.
"It can't be explained to anyone who hasn't done it or been around it," Costas said of the scale of the projects. "It just can't be. And the truth is it's an even larger undertaking for someone like Dick Ebersol or David Neal who was his lieutenant for so long. It's a significantly larger undertaking for them than it is for any of the broadcasters, myself included. I'm not saying there isn't a good deal of work for someone like me, but for years in advance they have to be planning the formats, laying out the scheduling.
"The way a modern Olympics is put together is almost like a Rubik's cube. Most people, their head would explode just to look at a day of Olympic programming and figure out how it's all going to be jigsawed together how the live parts are going to work with the taped parts."
And there's much more.
"There's a political aspect to it, he was a master at the politics of it, there's a production aspect, there's a business aspect," Costas said. "He was multi-faceted, which was necessary in his job."
Costas said Ebersol called to let him know he was leaving shortly before it was announced.
"There's no doubt in my mind he was at peace with his decision," Costas said. "Like most people do in these situations, he'll take his time off and certainly have his pick of projects if he wants to do anything else."