Going for the Gold with Barbara Donahue

I had the opportunity to meet with a lovely woman in the sports broadcasting industry. You name it, she has done it. The Olympics, Super Bowl Championships, and even frog racing (apparently that exists)—Barbara Donahue has done it. She graciously invited me into her home so that I could hear about these fantastic experiences. Not to mention, letting me hold two of her 13 Emmys and the Olympic Torch may have made my day. No, I take that back—it totally made my day. Ms. Donahue is an inspiration—she is evidence that there are no limits to what we can accomplish. I hope you’ll enjoy her interview; it’s a great trip down memory lane while simultaneously offering precious advice for the current media industry. Enjoy!

You have produced multiple Olympics broadcasts. What about this experience brings you happiness?

The travel is wonderful. All the people you meet when you travel. What’s really fun, honestly, is that whenever we go anywhere in the world, I always know at least somebody. Television is a very small world—you always know somebody that knows someone else.

You have won thirteen Emmys. What award are you most proud of and why?

The one third from right (as she points to one of her 10 Emmys on display)—my older son took it to show and tell when he was five years old and he dropped it and broke it. I love that it’s broken. It was for the 1984 Olympics. Even though it’s broken, it’s by far my favorite.

What is your happiest memory?

Let me think, that’s hard. There are so many. It’s a lot of fun, honestly. When in Sarajevo, we were a little bit lonely so ABC flew over John Denver to do a concert for us. I also enjoyed bar hopping in Lake Placid with the men’s bobsled team.

Who’s your favorite athlete to work with?

They’re all great. Actually not. I work more with announcers—who are usually athletes that are retired. My least favorite with OJ (Simpson). Howard Cossell is an icon in the business. He was incredibly difficult to work with. If he liked you, life was wonderful. If he hated you, you wanted to die. Incredibly tough. Jim McKay, Al Michaels, Keith Jackson. You have to keep them in check as a producer to keep them calm, and give them information that they need.

How’d you get in business?

It was a different world. I loved sports and I met the right person at a party.

What has been your favorite project to work on?

Olympics, specifically equestrian venue. I’ve done it 4-5 times and I was a rider myself. I have a natural affinity to talk about it more.

What is your favorite sport to film and why?

It used to be football for sure. Now I love basketball, but that’s because I live in LA.

What reality TV shows have you been apart?

I did “The Contender,” “So You Wanna Move Back Home Again?” “Deadbeats” (tracking down parents who don’t pay child support), and “Garage Sale.” They’ll all be coming out soon. NHL and NFL going on strike so I’m turning to reality TV.

What’s your opinion on the professional sports strikes?

They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. They’ll lose money, but all the periphery industries are gonna take a hit. There’s much more room for reality programming.

What has been your biggest challenge and how have you been able to overcome it?

My biggest challenge, truly, is having two kids with an inordinate amount of travel and hours. Try doing live on air with an 18 month year old. The kids were a part of this, they weren’t going to be raised by anyone else.

Your kids have enjoyed the process?

They love the travel. But if they’re sitting at home, they don’t wanna go to a court side Lakers game. They’ve been around it their whole lives.

How much time do you spend on your job?

It’s a minimum of 10 hours a day. But it’s fun. Sometimes it’s researching. I’m working; I’m not always sweating bullets.

I didn’t go to school for this, I fell into this. I’ve loved sports my whole life, but I was political science major. You couldn’t train for it. The network hated kids that were trained; they wanted to train you to do it their way. It was like they wanted you to admit you had no idea.

Do you think it’s that way today?

It’s really unfortunate today—you need amazing credentials. And then you have to do it their way. It’s not about knowing how to do it; you need to know the stats, the story of the game, the players.

But it’s really hard to get into. Sports is small. It’s like going to the same little playground every day.

What would you say for college students interested in getting into production?

Seriously define what area you want to get into. They’re dramatically different. News is the polar opposite to sports which is very different from entertainment. They’re specialties. If you can do one, it doesn’t mean you can do another. There is a bigger edge with sports because there are two things in life you can talk to anyone about; sports and kids. They are the two great equalizers. Everyone plays some sort of sport.

What is your favorite movie that you’ve worked on?

Meet Joe Black. I got to meet Anthony Hopkins, he was lovely. Very dear and patient.

Who’s been your favorite person in the film industry to work with?

Bruce Willis is just really funny.

How would you define success?

A couple of different ways. The number of Super Bowls, the number of Emmys,  the number of Olympics. Not sure I’d define it that way. I’ve done some ridiculous events; I’ve even done frog jumping events in Angels Camp, California.

I strongly suggest to experiment and try everything  cause it’s a really long life. And you’re working a lot of years, a lot of hours. If you’re paid a million dollars and you hate what you what you’re doing, it’s going to be a miserable experience. It’s great to make good money and everyone wants to ; to have the niceties in life, nice houses—but you can do both.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook


The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

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