SBD/March 7, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Televised Golf Innovator Frank Chirkinian Passes Away At Age Of 84

Former CBS Sports Producer FRANK CHIRKINIAN passed away Friday at the age of 84 after battling cancer. In N.Y., Richard Goldstein wrote Chirkinian "defined televised golf as the innovative executive producer and director for CBS's coverage of the Masters tournament." Chirkinian first oversaw The Masters in '59, when televised golf was a "black-and-white affair with bulky stationary cameras." But he "transformed it into an imaginative spectacle, using more than two dozen mobile cameras as well as a camera in a blimp along with split screens showing two golfers putting at the same time." He "cut briskly from hole to hole," he "showed his audience where the leaders stood in relation to par as play progressed, not simply their total score, and he placed microphones on the greens to pick up chatter between the golfers and their caddies." Goldstein also noted Chirkinian was a "commanding presence, known as the Ayatollah for his often brusque orders to his production crew and to the CBS announcers on the course." Chirkinian also "directed coverage of the Winter Olympics, the United States Open tennis tournament, college and pro football, auto racing and thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown for CBS Sports," and he was a "four-time Emmy recipient." He was elected into the World Golf HOF last month, and he "will be posthumously inducted in May" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/6). Chirkinian also produced coverage of the Indianapolis 500 (PALM BEACH POST, 3/5).

DEFINED GOLF ON TV: NBCSPORTS.com's Ryan Ballengee wrote Chirkinian's "vision for how golf should be broadcast on television continues to be the standard." Ballengee: "It starts on the tee, with boom mics at the tee box to pick up the sound of impact." He also "developed the idea of over and under par ... to make it easier for the fan to compare players at varying points in their round." He also "basically created the blimp fleet industry by [deciding] to attach a camera to a zeppelin" (NBCSPORTS.com, 3/5). In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote Chirkinian was "one of the handful of true visionaries his business has ever produced." Lupica: "For all the innovations he brought to golf on television, Chirkinian's real genius was as a storyteller" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/6). In Denver, Dusty Saunders writes Chirkinian "created fascinating camera angles, integrated golf course sounds and was the first to utilize reporters on the course" (DENVER POST, 3/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Steve Elling wrote Chirkinian was a "titan in his field and revolutionized sports broadcasting, especially in golf circles." He "invented a broadcast template that to this day remains largely intact," and he "truly invented the sports as a broadcast entity at CBS Sports" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/5). YAHOO SPORTS' Brian Murphy wrote Chirkinian "had no peer when it came to inventing golf on TV" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/6). GOLF.com's Cameron Morfit wrote Chirkinian's "legacy will live on not just through all the sports-television advancements, but also through the talent he hired," including Nantz, GARY MCCORD and DAVID FEHERTY. SI's Gary Van Sickle wrote Chirkinian "turned telecasts from a collection of golf shots...into a show, a story with an ending." SI's Damon Hack: "Love that he instituted a 'don't talk while the ball is in the air' rule during the broadcast" (GOLF.com, 3/6).

A GENIUS AND A VISIONARY: The Daily News' Lupica said, "Chirkinian was more than just a producer and director for golf. He was both a genius and a visionary, one of the seminal figures in broadcast history. He was loud and funny and profane and demanding, but always a storyteller. 'I want guys who can put words to my pictures, he said'" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 3/6). In N.Y., Larry Dorman wrote Chirkinian was a "boisterous visionary whose imagination gave birth to many of the innovations viewers now take for granted." Dorman: "He had a passion for providing pictures from new vantage points." Dorman added, "His commanding presence was augmented by a booming voice that could strike fear in big stars and understudies alike" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/6). CBS' JIM NANTZ said, "He took a sport that no one knew how to televise and made it interesting. He brought the Masters tournament to life" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/5). CBS Sports Golf and NFL Coordinating Producer LANCE BARROW: "He was never afraid to take a chance. Don't be afraid to do something different. Frank set the standard" (AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, 3/5). Golfer DAVIS LOVE III: "Frank invented golf, the scoring system for golf and then golf on TV. That's a pretty good resume" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/6).

MASTER-PIECE THEATER: In Georgia, John Boyette wrote it was "at the Masters where Chirkinian shined," and his career "coincided with the rise of ARNOLD PALMER" (AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, 3/5). GOLF WORLD's Ron Sirak writes golf "emerged in the 1960s as a game for the masses," and one of the reasons "was CBS' coverage of the Masters." Sirak: "It was Chirkinian who captured the beauty of Augusta National GC and communicated the skill of Palmer, JACK NICKLAUS, GARY PLAYER and others" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 3/7 issue). Author JOHN FEINSTEIN said The Masters "became The Masters partly because of the golf course, partly because of the great players who won there, but also because ... of the way it was televised and Frank did capture every last bit of drama there was to capture" ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 3/4).

REMEMBERING THE MAN: CBS Sports Chair SEAN MCMANUS said, "In his 38 years with CBS Sports, Frank Chirkinian's remarkable innovations and contributions have become the industry standard for the way we watch golf on television. Frank has left a legacy of excellence and creativity in golf broadcasting that will never be equaled and is a true Hall of Famer in all of sports television." Nantz said, "The cameras controlled by Chirkinian left indelible images that will be remembered for generations to come. A loyal leader of his crew, he transformed the sports landscape into a stage directing a script and telling a story that everyone had to see. ... I am comforted knowing, as long as there is golf being televised any where in the world; Frank Chirkinian lives." Barrow: "He did as much for the game as anyone who has ever been associated with golf. His legacy will live on forever" (CBS). NBC Sports Group Chair DICK EBERSOL: "There certainly would not have been a golf television business without him. He will be sorely missed but the game is better forever because of him." Nicklaus said, "Frank Chirkinian made Augusta National what it is today from a TV standpoint -- he made it theater. He was a pioneer" (PALM BEACH POST, 3/5). Chirkinian's son, FRANK CHIRKINIAN JR., said, "He squeezed every drop of life out of his 84 years. I don't think there was anything left." PGA Tour Commissioner TIM FINCHEM said Chirkinian was a "visionary in every sense of the word." Finchem: "He was an artist. The sport of golf was presented on television to generations of fans in innovative, imaginative and entertaining ways because of Frank" (GOLFWEEK.com, 3/4).

HALL OF FAME BOUND: The L.A. TIMES noted Chirkinian was elected to the World Golf HOF "during an emergency vote after it became widely known he was undergoing treatment for cancer" (L.A. TIMES, 3/5). The N.Y. TIMES' Dorman noted Chirkinian taped an "acceptance speech for the ceremony." JOHN HAAS, who formerly co-Owned Emerald Hills Golf Club in West Palm Beach with Chirkinian, said, "He delivered the whole thing, for three or four minutes, and it was tremendous. ... It's really going to be something when they play it at the induction, almost like he's there" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/6). GOLF DIGEST's Tim Rosaforte noted, "Through the lobbying efforts of CBS host Jim Nantz, and the push of PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, one of the great oversights was rectified, and Frank would have his rightful place among the game's greats." Chirkinian was "able to savor knowing he would be in the Hall, but he would never make it to the induction" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 3/5). Chirkinian Jr. said his father's election to the HOF "really brightened his last few days." Chirkinian Jr.: "I think this was kind of the crowning achievement for his career" (GOLFWEEK.com, 3/4). Lupica: "They finally put him into the World Golf Hall of Fame a couple of weeks ago, much too late. But not too late" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 3/6).

A NICE TOUCH: GOLF WORLD's E. Michael Johnson noted NBC during its Saturday broadcast of the PGA Tour Honda Classic made a "classy move" when "for several minutes the network went away from its coverage of the golf to pay homage to Chirkinian." As part of that segment, NBC's DAN HICKS interviewed Nantz, "who was in Chapel Hill, N.C., to work that evening's Duke-North Carolina basketball game." A "few things were noticeable" during the interview, including that Nantz "was wearing his CBS Sports blazer and there was no attempt by NBC to keep it out of view." However, Nantz "did not once try to take advantage of the opportunity on a rival network to plug the CBS brand." Johnson: "Instead we got what we so often fail to receive in this era of business-above-everything else attitudes -- two professionals talking solely about the topic, that being Chirkinian and his impact on the game" (GOLF WORLD MONDAY, 3/7 issue).
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