ABC Sports Olympic Production Legend Marvin Bader Passes Away at 85
ABC Sports legend and Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Marvin Bader, a man who changed the way Olympic broadcasts are produced during a career that was highlighted by working on 10 Olympics between 1968 and 1992, died on Jan. 2 at the age of 85 in Escondido, CA.
As VP of Olympic Operations for ABC during the network’s heyday of Olympic broadcasts, Bader oversaw production operations, created the modern accreditation system, and was the behind-the-scenes force responsible for ABC’s stunningly successful Olympic coverage for decades. (To watch Marvin’s Hall of Fame induction tribute video please click here.)
“Marvin Bader was a truly unique, unforgettable person,” says Bob Iger, Walt Disney Company president and CEO who worked with Bader on many projects over the years. “He could be crusty and sometimes irascible, but he was a kind, warm, big hearted man, who loved what he did and the people whom he worked with. He will be missed by all; there will never be another Marvin.”
No sporting event is more logistically challenging than the Olympic Games, but, without Marvin Bader, the logistics might have overwhelmed the Olympic movement.
“He was the key guy that really started to build big events in the sports business, as it related to all the logistics in production management,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP, operations and production services, CBS Sports, and Chairman of the Hall of Fame Committee. “If [ABC Sports head of broadcast operations and engineering] Julie Barnathan was the right hand, Marvin Bader was the left hand of that whole Olympic triumph.”
Bader, whose pre-ABC jobs included military policeman for the Manhattan Project and bowling-alley pinsetter, never aimed to work in sports. “It just happened,” he once said. After quitting his job as a cameraman at WBKB in Chicago to move to New York, Bader found a job as a commercial coordinator for ABC. He soon moved to the sports side of the network, where he spent the next three decades.
“Marvin was one of the most unheralded people involved with our Olympic production,” says Dennis Lewin, former Senior VP of ABC Sports. “In a lot of ways, it was a thankless job. While Marvin would go in and do all the dirty work, the planning, logistics, budgets, and have to be the heavy on both sides, we were getting all the accolades. Nobody realized that, without Marvin’s efforts, we wouldn’t have been able to paint with the palette we were working with.”
As the nexus between the creative and financial sides of the business, Bader was responsible for every aspect of ABC’s Olympic productions in Grenoble, Mexico City, Munich, Innsbruck, Montreal, Lake Placid, Sarajevo, Los Angeles, and Calgary. From booking hotel rooms for every production assistant, to double-checking the bill for every phone call, the detail-oriented everyman left nothing to chance.
“He forged new paths of organizational aptitude in putting these monster projects together,” adds Geoff Mason, former executive producer of ABC Sports.
And Bader’s influence still resonates among those who are at the top of the sports broadcasting community. Sean McManus, Chairman of CBS Sports, was a runner for Bader when he was virtually a toddler.
“Marvin was in many ways the glue that held the entire Olympic operation together, always with an answer or a solution no matter what the question or the problem,” says McManus. “A little volatile at times, but with a heart of gold and, if you needed a pal, always there. Like many of the ABC legends he was a true original, a character, and a friend for life. We will miss you Marvin, but the great memories of an amazing guy will ease the pain a little.”
Howard Katz, former President of ABC Sports, and now Senior VP/Broadcasting and Media Operations for the NFL says that Bader was not only a Hall of Famer but a great, great friend to so many in the industry.
“Marvin defined big event logistics operations and set the gold standard forever,” he explains. “I met him in the spring of 1971, fresh out of college, knowing nothing but eager to learn. And Marvin helped me understand what it took to mount a big-time complex production. We began a friendship that lasted for 40 years, and like all of us whose lives and careeers he touched, I am truly saddened by his passing.”
Perhaps Bader’s greatest contribution was implementing the modern system for accrediting workers. In the decades before wall-to-wall sports coverage, host Olympic committees were not used to accommodating requests from dozens of television professionals, much less the hundreds of ABC crew members that stepped off a plane before an Olympic broadcast.
Deeply devoted to ensuring the quality of the production, Bader socialized with his counterparts across the globe far more than he had to. Those friendships ensured that everywhere ABC went, Bader had friends the network could count on.
“Marvin really believed that the way to cut through all that red tape and all those bureaucracies was to formulate friendships,” Mason says. “He went well beyond the normal pattern of relationship cultivation, and he was one of the most well-known and well-liked people in the whole Olympic world.”
Bader’s relationships extended beyond the Olympiad, as he called on them again in planning international shows like Wide World of Sports.
In a business known for colorful personalities and volatile tempers, Bader was a port in ABC’s administrative storm, serving as the cool voice of reason to calm many a tantrum.
His work was seldom recognized unless something went wrong, which, with Bader at the helm, hardly ever happened.
“The great tribute to Marvin was that the events he oversaw ran so smoothly that you never had those ‘who’s to blame here’ moments,” adds Don Ohlmeyer, long-time producer-director at ABC Sports, fellow Hall-of-Famer, and former executive producer at NBC Sports. “There was really nobody to blame; but there WAS somebody you had to thank at the end of the event, and that was Marvin.”
Bader’s quiet organizational skills served ABC and NBC through 10 Olympic Games and countless other broadcasts, from golf tournaments to Wide World of Sports shows. He was the first American to serve as Host and Domestic Broadcaster of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles and made the cost estimates that won ABC Sports the bid to televise the 1980 Games in Lake Placid. His logistical prowess has yet to be replaced.
“I’m sorry I retired,” Bader said recently. “I had the best job in the world. There was no better job.”
And no one did the job better than Marvin Bader.
Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Geoff Mason contributed to the reporting for this article.