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Joe Aceti, at 76; TV director helped shape sports coverage

Mr. Aceti received a lifetime achievement award in sports direction from the Directors Guild of America in 2006. Mr. Aceti received a lifetime achievement award in sports direction from the Directors Guild of America in 2006. (vince bucci/getty images)
By Richard Goldstein
New York Times / October 15, 2011

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NEW YORK - Joe Aceti, an innovative television director who for three decades helped shape network coverage of major sports events, died Oct. 4 in Kirkland, Wash. He was 76.

The cause was a stroke, his wife, Barbara, said.

Working mostly at ABC, CBS, and Fox, Mr. Aceti was known for unorthodox and human-interest camera shots: overhead views, tight close-ups, and sequences capturing quick glimpses of figures on the field anticipating a key play.

Major events for which he directed coverage include the Olympics, the World Series, and the Ali-Frazier “Thrilla in Manila.’’

Mr. Aceti, an outstanding catcher for the Colgate University baseball team, graduated with a fine arts degree, and he drew on a sense of artistic expression in his directing work.

“I like to think what I do is humanize the athlete,’’ he told The Chicago Tribune in 1987. “I always look for dramatic replays. That comes from my art background. I like to see a guy leaping over a pile from a low angle. That makes it larger than life.’’

His work also included coverage of college and professional football and figure skating, as well as segments of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.’’

Dennis Lewin, who worked with Mr. Aceti as a senior producer at ABC, recalled his innovations at the 1980 National League Championship Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Houston Astros.

Mr. Aceti “did things like putting the camera in the gondola in the Astrodome looking straight down on the field,’’ Lewin told the Sports Video Group, a communications organization. “At the time, it was unique.’’

As for tight shots, “I want to see the face of the pitcher and the face of the batter,’’ Mr. Aceti said in a 1999 interview with Lawrence Mullen, a journalism professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “Not in a split screen. I want to see them separately in a close-up.’’

Mullen wrote that Mr. Aceti devised a technique he called sequencing, which “changed the coverage of college football’’ by placing cameras on the field.

Sequencing might involve six camera shots of a dramatic baseball moment: the catcher looking into his dugout, then his manager directing what pitch to call, the other team’s third-base coach giving signs, the batter, the catcher signaling with his fingers, and finally the pitch.

Joseph Richard Aceti was born in West Point, N.Y.

After graduating from Colgate, he began his television career at ABC in the mid-1960s as a production assistant to Jackie Robinson, who was doing commentary for baseball games.

Mr. Aceti became a coordinating director for ABC, then joined CBS in 1982, and moved to Fox in the early ’90s. He retired in 2001.