Jim Paratore, a TV executive highly respected throughout the industry, died last week after suffering a heart attack while on a cycling trip in France. He was 58.
For the many people who knew Paratore, the loss of the hard-driving producer and show salesman came as a tragic shock.
“The Warner Bros. Television family has lost an incredibly talented and creative friend and colleague in Jim,” said Bruce Rosenblum, president, Warner Bros. Television Group. “He has left an indelible mark not only on our company’s success but on each of us who worked with him during the past 26 years.”
“We all loved Jim for his vision, his incredible wisdom and timing, his passion for the business and for every single thing he ever did,” said Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures. “He inspired us to never compromise and to always shoot for the moon. I am heartbroken and will miss him profoundly.”
Paratore was such a strong executive that when Leslie Moonves left Warner Bros. to head CBS, he tried to bring Paratore with him.
“He was one of the best guys I ever had the opportunity to work with,” Moonves said. “In the syndication business—which is about as brutal a business as I’ve ever seen, where people from opposing companies truly hate each other—he was well-liked by everybody and he always delivered. When I left Warner Bros., I tried to bring him over to CBS, but he always remained loyal to Warners.”
At the time of his death, Paratore was running paraMedia inc., a full-service production company that he founded in August 2006, and through which he had an exclusive overall deal with Warner Bros. Television Group. Prior to that, Paratore was president of Telepictures Productions from 1992 to 2006 and served as executive VP of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution from 2002-06. Paratore started at Lorimar-Telepictures as VP of production in 1987.
He was the driving force behind many programs, including TMZ, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Extra, Lopez Tonight and People’s Court. Most recently, Paratore was working closely with Scripps to develop a new game show, Let’s Ask America.
Ellen DeGeneres credits Paratore with believing that she could host a successful talk show, even though with an “out” lesbian as its star, he would have to overcome objections from TV station owners to get the show on the air in 2003. Paratore had so much faith in DeGeneres’ talent that he traveled around the country to watch her standup shows, bringing station managers with him until they agreed to give her talk show a chance.
“My friend, producer and champion Jim Paratore died today,” DeGeneres tweeted last Tuesday. “He gave me a chance when no one else would. I love you, Jim.”
Although in recent years Paratore spent his time developing and producing programs, he also was a superstar salesman, working as right-hand man to Dick Robertson at WBDTD from 2002-06.
“Jim was a bullet train,” recalled Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, senior executive VP of Warner Bros.’ Extra. “You could never stand in Jim’s way if he was selling something.”
When Paratore was developing TMZ.com, he turned to Harvey Levin, whom he had known since 1983, to run the site. In 2005, Levin’s show, Celebrity Justice, was about to be cancelled.
“Toward the end of that run, Jim called me up and said, ‘We’re starting a partnership with AOL and we want to start this Website.’ I said I could not be less interested,” said Levin. “Later, I realized he was really asking me this because he was about to kill my show. It occurred to me, what if this were a news operation? Jim and I started talking, and that’s how we formed the whole concept behind TMZ.
“Jim was a triple threat,” Levin added. “He knew how to create shows. He knew how to produce shows. And he knew how to sell shows. Very few people can do all three. I can’t tell you the impact he’s had on my life. He was such a great partner.”
Paratore is survived by his wife, Jill Wickert; his daughter, Martinique Paratore; and countless friends and colleagues.
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.