Hall of Fame Inductee Profile: Ted Nathanson
Perhaps the only director to don elbow pads before his broadcasts, Ted Nathanson was a study in contrasts. Absent-minded and forgetful outside of the production truck, he was laser-sharp inside of it, directing 21 Wimbledon championships and 13 Super Bowls during his 37 years at NBC. Tempering his intensity with a penchant for practical jokes, Nathanson’s youthful exuberance colored his entire career.
“Teddy was like a great basketball player in that he raised the level of performance of everyone around him,” explains Steve Hellmuth, EVP, operations and technology, at the NBA. “He strived for excellence by empowering and soliciting ideas from everyone. People just died to work for the guy.”
Nathanson’s career began in the mailroom at CBS, and, even as an assistant director at ABC working on events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and political conventions, “he was dying to get into sports,” explains Edith Nathanson, Ted’s widow.
Once at NBC, Teddy worked his way into sports, where he spent nearly four decades directing Major League Baseball, boxing, college-football, hockey, and golf, as well as two Olympic Games.
“He was always thinking about how he could make his telecasts better,” explains Ken Aagaard, EVP, operations and production services, for CBS Sports. “He really laid the groundwork for the standards of the way football is covered.”
Pioneering the use of handheld and remote-controlled cameras and instant replay, Nathanson changed the expected look of football coverage, coloring his broadcasts with unusual reaction shots that matched his personality.
“He loved people and would have cameras trained around the stadiums to get crowd shots,” Edith says. “He was very good at crowd shots.”
When it came to directing, there was little that Nathanson was not good at, and his intensity literally got his blood flowing. He would emphatically bang his elbows and knees against the console, bloodying himself to the point of requiring two surgeries. For every telecast thereafter, he suited up in synch with the athletes he covered, donning elbow pads and a neck brace before taking his place in the truck.
“Because he was so heavily encumbered by all of his padding, he would have to loosen his pants, making for an occasional embarrassing moment in the truck,” recalls Michael Weisman, former executive producer of NBC Sports.
On at least one occasion, the devilish director attached a piece of paper to his shirt tails. Over the course of the broadcast, an 8×10 sign was inevitably revealed reading, “HI!!!!,” immediately breaking the tension.
A gifted athlete throughout his youth, Nathanson loved tennis but, without the time to refine his skills, found an outlet for his passion in Wimbledon. Nathanson directed 21 Wimbledon Championships and won a little one of his own — on his 20th broadcast, the crew presented him with a replica of the Wimbledon Cup engraved with the words “Our Wimbledon Champion.”
“He was very proud of that,” Edith smiles.
Nathanson’s colorful personality translated seamlessly to his wardrobe, as he clad himself in the brightest purples and oranges, though always with an elegance unmatched in the business.
“He socialized in circles that most of us truck people didn’t,” Weisman explains. “He was a connoisseur, very elegant, and very social.”
Treating his crews more like family than co-workers, Nathanson’s generosity was legendary. “He cared about all the production people, knew all their family names, their birthdays, what was happening in their lives,” Weisman says.
Every holiday season, Nathanson made sure everyone he worked with received a gift worthy of their contributions.
“We would make up a list and he would say, everybody that does anything for us in the entire year is going to get something,” recalls Patti Fallick, director of broadcast operations for MLB Network and Nathanson’s former assistant. “We made a list of every cashier, every telephone operator, everyone who worked in the building. Everybody always got something.”
Edith adds, “His television crews worshipped him. He considered them part of his world. They were not just technicians, grips, or engineers; they were buddies.”
Nathanson may have turned every broadcast into a family affair, but he saved plenty of time for his own family, as well. He and Edith have three children — Michael, Laura, and Carla — all of whom “got the television germ,” as Edith says.
Despite constant forgetfulness and zany sense of humor, or perhaps because of them, Ted Nathanson was one of a kind — a gifted director who was loved by everyone who had the privilege of working with him.