Sign In | Create an Account | Welcome, . My Account | Logout | Subscribe | Submit News | News | Local News | Contact Us | Home RSS

Award-winning producer adds to elite cast at Figure Festival

August 20, 2015
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - If you mention the name Doug Wilson in the company of sports fans, especially figure skating fans, they will certainly know his name.

After exactly 50 years as a producer and director for ABC, Wilson has a reputation as the premier director of figure skating broadcasts. He is also known for his work as a producer and director with ABC's "Wide World of Sports," a revolutionary program in the sphere of sports television journalism.

Wilson will join skating luminaries Aug. 25-29 in Lake Placid for the inaugural World Figure Championship & Figure Festival.

Article Photos

Doug Wilson poses with the Emmys he has won during his distinguished career in sports broadcasting.
Photo courtesy of Doug Wilson

The World Figure Championship allows world-caliber skaters like Kurt Browning, Sandy Lenz and Charlene Wong to compete in the discipline of figures. School figures were a part of Olympic Games until 1988 when they were abolished, despite being the foundation of skating (and the source of its name). The competition will take place on black ice with unbiased judging by well-known skaters such as 1972 Olympic gold medalist Trixi Schuba and 1972 Olympic bronze medalist Janet Lynn.

Skaters of all ages will compete in "Figure Festival Fun competitions," and learn from the best figure authorities in the world. Adding to the fun of the event are special events, such as an opening night party, an art show displaying works by elite skater and coach Tommy Litz, a film screening of two-time Olympic pairs champions Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov's legendary programs, and Doug Wilson's "Memorable Moments of Greatness" presentation.

Wilson grew up idolizing Gene Kelly and aspiring to follow in his footsteps as a singer, dancer and actor. Wilson also became fascinated with Sonja Henie and figure skating.

"As I grew up, Sonja Henie was a person I obviously knew about," Wilson said. "I was born in 1935 (and) she had already won a gold medal in 1932. I grew up during a time when her movies in the early 1940s were huge successes."

This interest in figure skating would serve Wilson well. After college and serving in the Air Force reserves, Wilson became a page at NBC. He then started working at ABC, which is where he started producing and directing sports, especially figure skating. He was at ABC for exactly 50 years, starting work on Oct. 15, 1958 and retiring on Oct. 15, 2008.

The time period when Wilson started working at ABC was the beginning of a golden age for sports broadcasting. The Olympic Games were starting to become a marketable entity and an event worth broadcasting to the viewing public.

CBS was the first network to broadcast the 1960 Olympic Games from Squaw Valley, California, on a limited basis. Wilson remembers watching from his living room as Carol Heiss won the Olympic gold medal.

Wilson said that broadcasting rights for the Olympics were incredibly affordable by today's standards at the time, costing CBS only $50,000. "I can't imagine what happened (since then)," Wilson said.

It's indeed difficult to imagine, considering that in 2011 NBC agreed to a $4.38 billion contract with the International Olympic Committee to broadcast the 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020 Olympics, which is the most expensive television rights deal in Olympic history.

Wilson was with ABC in 1964 when the next Olympics was televised from Innsbruck, Austria.

"It was a fascinating time, the Protopopovs were reigning of course then, and Peggy (Fleming) skated ... she was ill, but she still made a name for herself finishing in the top 10 and I think paved the way for people focusing on her. And, of course, four years later she won the gold," Wilson said.

The ABC broadcast at the 1964 Olympics might not have been the first Olympics broadcast, but it was the first of its kind in other ways.

"We were the first ones certainly to televise anything from Europe," Wilson said. "And, of course, we were the first ones to televise an Olympics by satellite. We had Telstar in the sky, it was not a fixed satellite; it would pass over, and we had some historical presentations where the satellite went across the sky for about 20 minutes and sent the signal to the US during that time."

Wilson went on to participate in the production of 10 Olympic broadcasts.

Before he started covering the Olympics in 1964, Wilson was associate director of ABC's Wide World of Sports in 1963. With the program, Wilson covered 51 different sports across five continents, but he considers figure skating to be something special in sports broadcasting.

"We dealt at ABC Sports with sports theatre," Wilson said. "We were more than a sports show - we dealt with politics, with human natures. Obviously, the basis was who won and who lost whatever contest we were covering, but it was much more than that.

"There's no more entity of theatre in sports than figure skating. It's got it all. It's got drama, it's got athleticism, it's got music, it's got dance, it's got the whole package. Figure skating was a main staple of the Wide World of Sports."

Wilson watched technology and production style change, but he felt that there was an essential purity to the sport of figure skating, and the production should complement the skating, not obscure it.

"The thing to me is that there's an essential quality to the sport that does not change. And because you have a lot of technical ability, it doesn't mean you should necessarily use it all," he said. "If you are directing or producing the television coverage in figure skating, you should be thinking of trying to have your cameras (become) part of the choreography. Sometimes some directors get too much in love with their ability to do stuff, and they very often - I call it - overdirect, overproduce, the purity of what's happening on the ice."

During his Olympic broadcasting career, Wilson was in Lake Placid for the 1980 Olympic Games. He remembered watching the figure skating practices, and was impressed with the soon-to-be 1980 Olympic silver medalist Linda Fratianne.

"She was always the first one on the ice and the last one to leave it," he said. "I'll never forget that. She used every single minute she could possibly use. And to think that if the rules had been different, a year later after they changed them, she would have won the gold medal, it's kind of fun to think about this kind of history."

Like many, Wilson did not expect the 1980 US hockey team's victory over the USSR, and it actually affected his scheduled segment with Peggy Fleming. After transforming the rink into a darkened space, complete with black velour on the hockey boards to allow for a more dramatic setting, Wilson's plans for the segment were changed due to the surprising event.

"Peggy did a few routines there for us, one of them we were planning to use on the night when the hockey game was going to be a runaway hockey game," Wilson said. "We expected it to be 10-1 or something. We were planning on cutting away to show Peggy to promote the next night's ladies free skating competition.

"I was very very proud of the pieces I had done with Peggy, and I had to nix them when the Americans were winning the hockey games. As thrilled as I was - well, it goes in the category of blessings in disguise - early in the ladies free (skate) he chose to present not only what hadn't been shown the night before, but an interview with Peggy and another piece that I'd done. It was a 16-minute presentation of Peggy and it was the highest rated night in the history of the Olympic Games, up to 76 million people were watching that."

After those television specials, Fleming's commercial career as a skater soared, and she had her blades mounted on a plaque for Wilson as a token of her appreciation, a memento Wilson cherished. He continued to produce and direct for ABC until he retired in 2008 after having won 17 Emmys and various other distinctions.

Wilson is excited to return to Lake Placid for the Figure Championship & Festival, where he will showcasing "Memorable Moments of Greatness," a presentation about his 50 years with ABC Sports. In the presentation, he will show video clips and share anecdotes about his fascinating career. Video clip subjects will include Dick Button and Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov. Guests can expect an engaging discussion about sports, figure skating and Wilson's career in sports broadcasting. Wilson's book "The World was Our Stage: Spanning the Globe with ABC Sports" will also be available for purchase.

"It's probably a decade or two (since I was in Lake Placid). I love Lake Placid, always did," Wilson said. "It promises to be a very happy time. I'm so honored and more than delighted to be welcomed into it and be a part of the event."

To learn more about Wilson's career and his book, visit For more about the World Figure Championship & Figure Festival and to purchase tickets for "Memorable Moments of Greatness," go to



I am looking for:
News, Blogs & Events Web