Earlier this week, former television executive Julian Goodman passed away at age 90. As someone who was the president of NBC, and was instrumental in bringing together the anchor team of David Brinkley and Chet Huntley, as well as setting up what was then a record $1 million deal in keeping Johnny Carson on the network, such an obituary probably doesn’t mean much in the sports media landscape.
But as James Andrew Miller points out this morning, it was under Goodman’s watch that NBC aired what would be known as “The Heidi Game” in 1968. “The great Scotty Connal lost that argument,” said Miller, alluding to the manager of NBC Sports at the time (Connal would go on to become the executive vice president and CEO of ESPN).
For the uninitiated, this was a regular-season late game on a Sunday afternoon, where as 7 PM approached on the East Coast, the network made the decision to wipe away the remainder of the game – which at that point, the Jets were leading by a mere field goal, 32-29, over the host Raiders. In fact, the boxscore showed that the game was tight throughout most of the game.
Yet it was only after NBC pulled away from the game in the Eastern and Central time zones to show the made-for-TV movie, produced nearly three decades after the original motion picture starring Shirley Temple, that the Raiders regained the lead and promptly pulled away over the Jets.
“He was compelled to apologize to viewers,” reads the New York Times obit, “after NBC cut away from a nationally broadcast New York Jets-Oakland Raiders game so that a movie version of “Heidi” could go on as scheduled.
“Television viewers never saw the end of the game, thereafter known as “the Heidi bowl,” when Oakland scored two touchdowns in the last minute to overcome a 32-29 New York lead. Mr. Goodman called the programming switch “a forgivable error.”
Ironically, given his role in “The Heidi Game,” Goodman died days after the NFL announced a wider window between early and late games during a network doubleheader, all but ensuring viewers don’t miss tight contests like that Jets/Raiders game back in 1968. Of course, the time alteration is made with the conclusion of the early game in mind, and while that “Heidi Bowl” was a late game, the new rule could lead to later conclusions of some late games starting this season. Yet we probably shouldn’t expect a “60 Minutes Bowl” in the foreseeable future.
Oh, and as far as NBC’s current football fortunes: with the most-watched program of the year in “Sunday Night Football,” I believe that, looking back, “The Heidi Game” is such “a forgivable error” even more than Julian Goodman had imagined.
Rest in peace.