Brandon Tartikoff was not just a legendary programmer and a gifted natural comedian. He was as competitive as any network executive of today. That was the sum and essence of his professional life, and why NATPE, in association with BROADCASTING & CABLE and other Reed TV Group publications inaugurated the NATPE Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards, given out for the first time last week at the convention.
"When Brandon and I first made The Cosby Show
together, he believed in it, but he wasn't sure that other people at the network believed in it," said Tom Werner, of Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, producer of such other TV hits as That '70s Show
"The first time the show was on the air, we looked at the ratings. It had done a 50 share in L.A., a 52 share in Chicago and a 48 share in New York. I asked Brandon, 'What do you make of all this?' And he said, 'We have to do better in New York.'"
Werner joined five other industry luminaries as the first honorees: Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman; reality producer Mark Burnett; independent producers Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner and Caryn Mandabach; and E. W. Scripps President Ken Lowe, They were selected by a NATPE nominating committee.
Tartikoff, the late NBC Entertainment president, was known as one of the industry's most creative and prolific programmers before succumbing to Hodgkin's disease in 1997.
His widow, Lilly, and his mentor, former ABC President and all-around television legend Fred Silverman, were on hand to give the awards during an emotional ceremony.
"He was as creative as any of the people he dealt with," said Silverman, who worked with him closely at NBC in the early '80s, when, at age 30, Tartikoff became the youngest entertainment chief in history.
His NBC was in shambles, but he plugged away. "He came up with ideas and brought them to producers," Silverman said. "If a script came in and it wasn't very good but he liked the idea, he sat down and rewrote it himself." Eventually, with shows like Cosby, Cheers, Hill Street Blues
and more, NBC dominated prime time, as it largely does to this day.
Recipients of the Legacy Awards seemed genuinely honored. In television circles, more than a half dozen years after his death, he is still idolized. "When I received the call about this award, I was overwhelmed to be associated with Brandon Tartikoff in any way," said Berman. "From him, I learned that hard work, passion, love of the game and a little showmanship goes a very long way."
"I was kind of nervous to accept this award because Brandon Tartikoff was such a legend and I'm only just beginning," said Burnett, executive producer of such hit reality shows as CBS's Survivor, NBC's The Apprentice
and NBC's The Restaurant. "Tonight's award is going to make me work 10 times harder, read every script and think every day about Brandon Tartikoff."
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