Longtime network executive Mike Pearl dies at 77; He was the first producer of The NFL Today

Mike Pearl was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2015. His resume reads like the history of many of sports television’s great programs.

A 1968 University of Miami graduate, Pearl passed today at age 77.

He started in television at WTVJ, the NBC affiliate in Miami. It began an illustrious career that spanned some fifty years. Pearl produced the first five years of CBS’ The NFL Today. He also produced the first live wire-to-wire coverage of The Daytona 500, studio and events for CBS Sports Spectacular. If that wasn’t enough, the decorated behind the scene craftsman was the coordinating producer of the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

A boyhood friend, Dr. Harvey Schiller brought him to Turner Sports where production was under his aegis. He oversaw a ton of properties while he was there, the NFL, Atlanta Braves , NASCAR, figure skating, golf, Wimbledon, and college football. Pearl was also the executive producer of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.

Industry organization Sports Video Group wrote this when reflecting on Pearl’s contribution, “However, his crowning achievement at the network was his revamp of NBA on TNT: his keen eye for talent and unique programming would result in a nine-time-Emmy-winning studio show and create one of sports television’s most incendiary and popular stars: Inside the NBA and Charles Barkley.”

The NBA’s late commissioner David Stern heaped praise on Pearl. “When I grew up in this business, there was a differentiation between a terrestrial over-the-air production and a cable production, but, thanks to  Mike Pearl, that distinction was smashed once and for all after his job on the NBA on Turner. That’s just a fact,” said Stern, adding, “He put together a spectacular production and terrific on-air talent, and he had the audacity to hire Charles Barkley, so we owe a deep debt of gratitude to Mike Pearl.”

Disney’s George Bodenheimer recruited Pearl to ABC Sports where his responsibilities included the production of Monday Night Football, Super Bowl XL, the BCS National Championship, the 2006 FIFA World Cup, the Open Championship, the Indianapolis 500, and the World Figure Skating Championships. Sports Video Group noted, “He also continued to work his magic behind the mic, introducing the three-man ABC Golf booth of Mike Tirico, Nick Faldo, and Paul Azinger as well as anointing Al Michaels and Doc Rivers as the network’s top NBA announce team.” For Mike it was his second tenure of duty at ABC.

Pearl won 17 Emmy Awards overall. When he was honored by the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, former Fox Sports president Ed Goren said, “I’ve known Mike for over 45 years, and nothing has changed from his years at WTVJ to his years doing network sports.”

Pearl made his first big mark in the industry when he redid the look and feel of The NFL Today, adding on-air talent Brent Musburger, Irv Cross, Phyllis George, and Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. Under Pearl’s helm, the pregame show was a huge hit for CBS. The NFL Today started an 18-year run as the highest-rated program in its timeslot. CBS’ studio success led to other pre and post game programs by other network.

Pearl had been hospitalized for months, suffering from infections. He had a massive heart attack this morning and died. He is survived by a brother Bob and extended family members.

David J. Halberstam

David is a 40-year + industry veteran who served as play-by-play announcer for St. John's University basketball in New York and as radio play-by-play voice of the Miami Heat in South Florida. He is the author of Sports on New York Radio: A Play-by-Play History and The Fundamentals of Sports Media and Sponsorship Sales: Developing New Accounts.

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Michael Green
3 years ago

I’m so sorry to see this news. And I well remember that the NFL Today was in the hands of another youngster at CBS, the program’s director, Bob Fishman. They created the template.