It’s Beijing in 1980, and Doug Wilson gets a call on his walkie-talkie from his translator.
There’s a problem, he’s told. A security guard won’t let ABC’s cameraman up to his post in a section above the packed ice-arena crowd.
That’s all Wilson needed to hear. After all, there was television to be made.
The former director/producer of ABC’s Wide World of Sports couldn’t waste time walking around the venue. So, he hopped on the ice in front of thousands of spectators—decked out in a cowboy hat, leather jacket, and leather boots—and walked across the rink to his translator.
“Would you please tell [the guard] that I understand she has a job to do, and I appreciate and respect that. Now, would you tell her that with all due respect, all your Chinese countrymen are here to watch the skate. Until you let this cameraman go to that position, not one blade of skate will touch this ice.”
Up the cameraman went and soon after, the skating exhibition was taped.
As Wilson, now 78, speaks to Westchester Magazine in his Irvington home, it’s clear why he jokes he needed an editor for his book, The World Was Our Stage: Spanning the Globe with ABC Sports (www.dougwilson
abcsports.com): After a 50-year career with the network, there’s simply too much material.
Yes, there were Emmys (17, to be exact) and the production of 10 Olympic games, but Wilson’s biggest impact on the sports television landscape came from Wide World of Sports.
The show ran from 1961 to 1998 and was innovative in its content and delivery. Not only was the audience exposed to unfamiliar sports, but they were captured uniquely, with camera shots taken on cranes and underwater.
“Before the steadicam was invented, I was trying to get a camera on the ice to move with a skater,” says Wilson. “I ended up putting the cameraman in a hospital wheelchair and had the wheelchair pushed by another skater.”
Wilson acutely notes that with so many entertainment options, the only times America watches something collectively is during a tragedy. But during a promotional book stop in Boston, he was reminded of his work’s impact.
“At least half a dozen women came to the table not saying, ‘I read your book,’ but ‘It reminded me of when I sat with my father and we watched Wide World together.’ That was it. People were doing these things together.”