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Bob Costas, who announced Feb. 9 that he’ll no longer anchor the Olympics in primetime after 24 years, was the original baby-faced broadcaster when he first signed with NBC in 1980 at age 28.
“You look like you’re 14,” Don Ohlmeyer, who then headed the network’s sports division, told him. “How much older would you look if you grew a beard?” When Costas replied that a beard would make him look five years older, “Don perked up,” recalls Costas. “Then I said, ‘Because that’s how long it would take me to grow it.’ And that ended the beard idea.”
Apart from presiding over 11 Olympics, he worked on pretty much every sport, from thoroughbred racing to NFL football, plus talk-show hosting and cameos on TV comedies. Costas says appearing in the nonsports venues “helped bring out a part of my personality that would have taken longer to appear. It helped me be spontaneous.”
Under his new contract with NBC, Costas will operate under the so-called Brokaw Clause, named after the former network news anchor who returns for special occasions. As Costas describes the deal, it will involve “appearing where it seems appropriate.” It’s most likely those appearances will include sports stories that require a substantial interview or historical perspective.
Costas, now 64, says the hardest part of his Olympic job was balancing what needed to be shown with recovering costs. He points out that NBC paid $401 million for the 1992 Barcelona Games and that rights to 2020 Tokyo cost $4.38 billion. “You have to be mindful of the enormous investment the network has to recoup,” he notes. “You then need to give a sense of the Games’ great scope while focusing on the core sports that drive the ratings.”
Costas stresses that he’s not retiring (Mike Tirico, who joined NBC in May, will take his Olympic post), and Ohlmeyer says he shouldn’t. “He’s like the Dorian Gray painting,” says Costas’ former boss. “Somewhere there’s a painting in a closet that’s aging, but he doesn’t.”
This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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