But the chain-smoking Mr. Ohlmeyer, who was the president of NBC West Coast, had a fractious relationship with Warren Littlefield, the president of NBC Entertainment, whose power was clipped when Mr. Ohlmeyer arrived. In Mr. Littlefield’s book, “Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV” (2012), written with T.R. Pearson, he said he viewed Mr. Ohlmeyer’s arrival as a vote of “severely limited confidence in me.”
Mr. Ohlmeyer kept Mr. Littlefield as his deputy but their personalities were vastly different — Mr. Ohlmeyer was blunt and autocratic, Mr. Littlefield was quieter and more collegial — as were their opinions on the development of hits like “ER” and “Friends.”
In Mr. Littlefield’s book, Jack Welch, the chairman of General Electric, which owned NBC then, made clear which executive he valued more. “The thinking was that Warren was a dry hole,” he said. “Ohlmeyer’s personality and charisma made us a bigger force in Hollywood in our view.”
Mr. Littlefield also described how, by 1996, Mr. Ohlmeyer’s drinking had become a liability in the office and at off-site events. He said he asked Mr. Wright to encourage Mr. Ohlmeyer to get help. “Don was clearly sick and needed our help and support,” he said.
Mr. Ohlmeyer subsequently entered the Betty Ford Center for a month of alcohol rehabilitation, then returned to NBC.
In 1998, Mr. Ohlmeyer feuded with Norm Macdonald, the sardonic comedian and anchor of the “Weekend Update” news segment on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Mr. Ohlmeyer called it increasingly unfunny and ordered Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of the late-night series, to remove Mr. Macdonald from the segment immediately.
Mr. Macdonald cast his exile as an overreaction by Mr. Ohlmeyer to his “Weekend Update” jokes about O. J. Simpson, who was a close friend of Mr. Ohlmeyer’s. During Mr. Simpson’s arrest and trial for the murders of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, Mr. Ohlmeyer stood by him, insisting that he would never abandon a friend in peril. Mr. Ohlmeyer said he had never told anyone to lay off Mr. Simpson, whether at “S.N.L.” or “The Tonight Show.”
Several months later, Mr. Ohlmeyer rejected an existing plan by NBC to carry commercials for “Dirty Work,” a film with Mr. Macdonald.
When Mr. Ohlmeyer stepped down in 1999, he told The Los Angeles Times: “There’s two reasons to do this job. One…