NEW YORK - Al Michaels was traded from ABC to NBC for a cartoon bunny, four rounds of golf and Olympic highlights.
The rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a bunny created by Walt Disney in the 1920s before he invented Mickey Mouse, were transferred from NBC Universal to The Walt Disney Co. as part of the agreement to release the broadcaster from his contract with ABC and ESPN.
“As the forerunner to Mickey Mouse and an important part of Walt Disney’s creative legacy, the fun and mischievous Oswald is back where he belongs, at the home of his creator and among the stable of beloved characters created by Walt himself,” Disney president Robert Iger said after Thursday’s announcement.
Michaels had been with ABC for three decades and had been the play-by-play announcer for “Monday Night Football” for the past 20 years.
“Oswald is definitely worth more than a fourth-round draft choice,” Michaels said, referring to what the Kansas City Chiefs gave the New York Jets as compensation for releasing coach Herm Edwards from his contract. “I’m going to be a trivia answer someday.”
A four-time Emmy Award winner, Michaels agreed last July to stay with ABC/ESPN as the Monday game switched to the cable network next fall, but he asked to back out and instead will broadcast Sunday night NFL games on NBC with John Madden, his partner on ABC during the past four seasons.
As part of the deal, NBC sold ESPN cable rights to Friday coverage of the next four Ryder Cups through 2014, and granted ESPN increased usage of Olympic highlights through 2012 and other NBC properties through 2011. NBC, in turn, gets expanded highlight rights to ABC and ESPN events.
NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said ABC Sports and ESPN president George Bodenheimer called last month to initiate talks, which culminated in an agreement Tuesday.
Espn / AP
Former quarterback Joe Theismann, Mike Tirico and Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser will be the Monday Night Football crew next season.
“He told me this incredible story that Walt’s first really big production as a cartoonist for the cinema had been a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which was before Mickey,” Ebersol said. “And for reasons that aren’t still totally clear to me, Walt lost those rights. He didn’t have the money to hold onto them.”
Disney and his partner, Ub Iwerks, created the rabbit in 1927 at the request of Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures, and made 26 silent cartoons. After Disney learned that Universal held the rights, he created a new character, eventually named Mickey Mouse, who resembled Oswald, but with shorter ears.
Universal continued to make Oswald films from 1929-38 — Mickey Rooney was one of his voices — and appeared in a comic book from 1943-62.
“We earn nothing from those rights; they’ve had no value in the United States,” Ebersol said.
The Walt Disney Co. had been trying to reacquire the rabbit for some time.
“When Bob was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word,” Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller said in a statement. “Having Oswald around again is going to be a lot of fun.”
Michaels, 61, began to think about hopping networks during the past season, realizing he wanted to work with Madden, producer Fred Gaudelli and director Drew Esocoff, who also are moving from ABC to NBC.
“As the weeks went on, I began to realize more and more how much I was going to miss being with those people,” he said. “That’s my family, that’s my broadcasting family, and they’re moving out of the house, and I wanted to move back in with them.”
Cris Collinsworth, who had been set to be NBC’s play-by-play broadcaster, will instead be a studio analyst.
Michaels wanted to finish the current NBA season as ABC/ESPN’s lead announcer. He is being replaced by Mike Breen.
Michaels’ first television broadcast was on NBC, when Buffalo played Minnesota in October 1971. He’ll get a chance to work with his brother, who a producer of NBC’s Olympic coverage.
“Life comes full circle,” Michaels said.
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