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Brandon Tartikoff

Brandon Tartikoff

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Brandon Tartikoff was a television executive who was credited with turning around NBC's low prime time
Prime time
Prime time or primetime is the block of broadcast programming during the middle of the evening for television programing.The term prime time is often defined in terms of a fixed time period—for example, from 19:00 to 22:00 or 20:00 to 23:00 Prime time or primetime is the block of broadcast...

 reputation with such hit series as Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues is an American serial police drama that was first aired on NBC in 1981 and ran for 146 episodes on primetime into 1987. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a single police precinct in an unnamed American city, the show received critical acclaim and its production innovations ...

, L.A. Law
L.A. Law
L.A. Law is a US television legal drama that ran on NBC from September 15, 1986 to May 19, 1994. L.A. Law reflected the social and cultural ideologies of the 1980s and early 1990s and many of the cases featured on the show dealt with hot topic issues such as abortion, racism, gay rights,...

, ALF
ALF (TV series)
ALF is an American science fiction sitcom that originally aired on NBC from 1986 to 1990, created by Paul Fusco. The title character was Gordon Shumway, a friendly extraterrestrial nicknamed ALF , who crash lands in the garage of the suburban middle-class Tanner family.The series starred Max...

, Family Ties
Family Ties
Family Ties is an American sitcom that aired on NBC for seven seasons, from 1982 to 1989. The sitcom reflected the move in the United States from the cultural liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s to the conservatism of the 1980s. This was particularly expressed through the relationship between young...

, The Cosby Show
The Cosby Show
The Cosby Show is an American television situation comedy starring Bill Cosby, which aired for eight seasons on NBC from September 20, 1984 until April 30, 1992...

, Cheers
Cheers
Cheers is an American situation comedy television series that ran for 11 seasons from 1982 to 1993. It was produced by Charles/Burrows/Charles Productions, in association with Paramount Network Television for NBC, and was created by the team of James Burrows, Glen Charles, and Les Charles...

, Seinfeld
Seinfeld
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

, Miami Vice
Miami Vice
Miami Vice is an American television series produced by Michael Mann for NBC. The series starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as two Metro-Dade Police Department detectives working undercover in Miami. It ran for five seasons on NBC from 1984–1989...

, The Golden Girls
The Golden Girls
The Golden Girls is an American sitcom created by Susan Harris, which originally aired on NBC from September 14, 1985, to May 9, 1992. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, the show centers on four older women sharing a home in Miami, Florida...

, Knight Rider, The A-Team
The A-Team
The A-Team is an American action adventure television series about a fictional group of ex-United States Army Special Forces personnel who work as soldiers of fortune, while on the run from the Army after being branded as war criminals for a "crime they didn't commit". The A-Team was created by...

, St. Elsewhere
St. Elsewhere
St. Elsewhere is an American medical drama television series that originally ran on NBC from October 26, 1982 to May 25, 1988. The series is set at fictional St. Eligius, a decaying urban teaching hospital in Boston's South End neighborhood...

, Night Court
Night Court
Night Court is an American television situation comedy that aired on NBC from January 4, 1984, to May 20, 1992. The setting was the night shift of a Manhattan court, presided over by the young, unorthodox Judge Harold T. "Harry" Stone...

, Hunter, Highway to Heaven
Highway to Heaven
Highway to Heaven is an American television drama series which ran on NBC from 1984 to 1989.- Season 1 :- Season 2 :- Season 3 :- Season 4 :- Season 5 :...

, Matlock
Matlock (TV series)
Matlock is an American television legal drama, starring Andy Griffith in the title role of attorney Ben Matlock. The show originally aired from September 23, 1986 to May 8, 1992 on NBC, where it replaced The A-Team, then from November 5, 1992 until May 7, 1995 on ABC.The show's format was similar...

, Remington Steele
Remington Steele
Remington Steele is an American television series, co-created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason. The series, starring Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan, was produced by MTM Enterprises and first broadcast on the NBC network from 1982 to 1987. The series blended the genres of romantic...

, A Different World, 227
227 (TV series)
227 is an American situation comedy that originally aired on NBC from September 14, 1985, until May 6, 1990. The series starred Marla Gibbs as a sharp-tongued, inner-city resident gossip and housewife, Mary Jenkins...

and Empty Nest.

Tartikoff also helped develop Punky Brewster
Punky Brewster
Punky Brewster was an American sitcom about a girl named Punky Brewster being raised by her foster parent...

, for which he named the title character after a girl he had a crush on in school. Punky Brewster's pet dog Brandon was named after Tartikoff. He was also involved in the creation of the acclaimed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a science fiction television series set in the Star Trek universe...

and Beggars and Choosers
Beggars and Choosers (TV series)
Beggars and Choosers is a comedy-drama series broadcast by Showtime. Developed by Peter Lefcourt and Brandon Tartikoff, the series was a comedic, behind-the-scenes look at network television...

.

Early life and career


Born in Freeport
Freeport, New York
Freeport is a village in the town of Hempstead, Nassau County, New York, USA, on the South Shore of Long Island. The population was 42,860 at the 2010 census. A settlement since the 1640s, it was once an oystering community and later a resort popular with the New York City theater community...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, Tartikoff was a graduate of the Lawrenceville School
Lawrenceville School
The Lawrenceville School is a coeducational, independent preparatory boarding school for grades 9–12 located on in the historic community of Lawrenceville, in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, U.S., five miles southwest of Princeton....

 and Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, and started his career at WLS-TV
WLS-TV
WLS-TV, virtual channel 7, is an owned-and-operated television station of the Walt Disney Company-owned American Broadcasting Company, located in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The station operates their full power digital operations on UHF channel 44, with their digital fill-in translator on VHF channel...

 in Chicago, Illinois
Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

. While attending Yale, Tartikoff worked as an account executive and sales manager of WNHC-TV
WTNH
WTNH is the ABC-affiliated television station for the state of Connecticut that is licensed to New Haven. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on VHF channel 10 from a transmitter in Hamden. Owned by the LIN TV Corporation, the station is sister to MyNetworkTV affiliate WCTX and the two...

 in New Haven
New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven is the second-largest city in Connecticut and the sixth-largest in New England. According to the 2010 Census, New Haven's population increased by 5.0% between 2000 and 2010, a rate higher than that of the State of Connecticut, and higher than that of the state's five largest cities, and...

, Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

 and Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford is the capital of the U.S. state of Connecticut. The seat of Hartford County until Connecticut disbanded county government in 1960, it is the second most populous city on New England's largest river, the Connecticut River. As of the 2010 Census, Hartford's population was 124,775, making...

. After graduating from Yale, he took a series of jobs in advertising and local television. Tartikoff spent vacations in Los Angeles looking for a job in network television.

His parents were both survivors of the collision of two 747s
Tenerife disaster
The Tenerife airport disaster occurred on March 27, 1977, when two Boeing 747 passenger aircraft collided on the runway of Los Rodeos Airport on the Spanish island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands...

 on Tenerife
Tenerife
Tenerife is the largest and most populous island of the seven Canary Islands, it is also the most populated island of Spain, with a land area of 2,034.38 km² and 906,854 inhabitants, 43% of the total population of the Canary Islands. About five million tourists visit Tenerife each year, the...

, Canary Islands
Canary Islands
The Canary Islands , also known as the Canaries , is a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, 100 km west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. The Canaries are a Spanish autonomous community and an outermost region of the European Union...

 in 1977.

Career at NBC


Tartikoff was hired as a program executive at ABC
American Broadcasting Company
The American Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue radio network, ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company and is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. Its first broadcast on television was in 1948...

 in 1976. One year later, he moved to NBC (after being hired by Dick Ebersol
Dick Ebersol
Duncan "Dick" Ebersol is an American television executive and a senior adviser for . He had previously been the chairman of NBC Sports, producing large scale television events such as the Olympic Games and National Football League broadcasts....

 to direct comedy programming). Tartikoff took over programming duties at NBC from Fred Silverman
Fred Silverman
Fred Silverman is an American television executive and producer. He worked as an executive at the CBS, ABC and NBC networks, and was responsible for bringing to television such programs as the series Scooby-Doo , All in the Family , The Waltons , and Charlie's Angels , as well as the...

 in 1981. At age 31, Tartikoff became the youngest president of NBC's entertainment division.

When Tartikoff took over, a writers' strike was looming, affiliates were defecting and the network had only three prime time
Prime time
Prime time or primetime is the block of broadcast programming during the middle of the evening for television programing.The term prime time is often defined in terms of a fixed time period—for example, from 19:00 to 22:00 or 20:00 to 23:00 Prime time or primetime is the block of broadcast...

 shows in the Top 20: Little House on the Prairie
Little House on the Prairie (TV series)
Little House on the Prairie is an American Western drama television series, starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert, about a family living on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s and 1880s. The show was an adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder's best-selling series of Little House books...

, Diff'rent Strokes
Diff'rent Strokes
Diff'rent Strokes is an American television sitcom that aired on NBC from November 3, 1978 to May 4, 1985, and on ABC from September 27, 1985 to March 7, 1986...

and Real People
Real People
Real People is an NBC reality television series that aired from 1979 to 1984, on Wednesday and then Sunday nights. Its initial episodes aired live in the Eastern and Central Time Zones.-Synopsis:...

. Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson
John William "Johnny" Carson was an American television host and comedian, known as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years . Carson received six Emmy Awards including the Governor Award and a 1985 Peabody Award; he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987...

 was reportedly in talks to move his landmark late-night talk show to ABC. The entire cast and writers of Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live is a live American late-night television sketch comedy and variety show developed by Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol. The show premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, under the original title of NBC's Saturday Night.The show's sketches often parody contemporary American culture...

had left that late-night sketch-comedy series, and their replacements had received some of the show's worst critical notices. By 1982, Tartikoff and his new superior, the highly regarded former producer Grant Tinker
Grant Tinker
Grant Almerin Tinker is the former chairman and CEO of NBC from 1981 to 1986, co-founder of MTM Enterprises, and television producer. Tinker is the former husband of television actress Mary Tyler Moore...

, turned the network's fortunes around.

As head of NBC's Entertainment Division, Tartikoff's successes included The Cosby Show
The Cosby Show
The Cosby Show is an American television situation comedy starring Bill Cosby, which aired for eight seasons on NBC from September 20, 1984 until April 30, 1992...

, for which Tartikoff had pursued actor-comedian Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby
William Henry "Bill" Cosby, Jr. is an American comedian, actor, author, television producer, educator, musician and activist. A veteran stand-up performer, he got his start at various clubs, then landed a starring role in the 1960s action show, I Spy. He later starred in his own series, the...

 to create a pilot after having been impressed by Cosby's stories when Cosby guest-hosted The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson is a talk show hosted by Johnny Carson under the Tonight Show franchise from 1962 to 1992. It originally aired during late-night....

. Tartikoff wrote a brainstorming
Brainstorming
Brainstorming is a group creativity technique by which a group tries to find a solution for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members...

 memo
Memo
Memo may refer to:* Most commonly Memorandum.* Bench memorandum, law* Memorandum Recordings - record company* Mêmo* MEMO - specialization in electrical engineering that studies Microwaves, Electromagnetism and Optoelectronic...

 that simply read "MTV
MTV
MTV, formerly an initialism of Music Television, is an American network based in New York City that launched on August 1, 1981. The original purpose of the channel was to play music videos guided by on-air hosts known as VJs....

 cops
Police
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

," and later presented the memo to series creator Anthony Yerkovich
Anthony Yerkovich
Anthony Yerkovich is an American television producer and writer.He is best known for creating the 1980s cop show Miami Vice. He served as the show's executive producer along with Michael Mann before handing over full executive responsibilities to Mann after only six episodes...

, formerly a writer and producer for Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues
Hill Street Blues is an American serial police drama that was first aired on NBC in 1981 and ran for 146 episodes on primetime into 1987. Chronicling the lives of the staff of a single police precinct in an unnamed American city, the show received critical acclaim and its production innovations ...

. The result was Miami Vice
Miami Vice
Miami Vice is an American television series produced by Michael Mann for NBC. The series starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as two Metro-Dade Police Department detectives working undercover in Miami. It ran for five seasons on NBC from 1984–1989...

, which became an icon of 1980s pop culture. Knight Rider was inspired by a perceived lack of leading men who could act, with Tartikoff suggesting that a talking car could fill in the gaps in any leading man's acting abilities.

During the casting process of Family Ties
Family Ties
Family Ties is an American sitcom that aired on NBC for seven seasons, from 1982 to 1989. The sitcom reflected the move in the United States from the cultural liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s to the conservatism of the 1980s. This was particularly expressed through the relationship between young...

, Tartikoff was unexcited about Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox, OC is a Canadian American actor, author, producer, activist and voice-over artist. With a film and television career spanning from the late 1970s, Fox's roles have included Marty McFly from the Back to the Future trilogy ; Alex P...

 for the role of Alex P. Keaton. However, the show's producer, Gary David Goldberg
Gary David Goldberg
Gary David Goldberg is a United States writer and producer for television and film. Goldberg is best known for his work on Family Ties , Spin City , and his semi-autobiographical series Brooklyn Bridge .-Background:Gary David Goldberg was born on June 25, 1944, in Brooklyn, New York, the son of...

, insisted until Tartikoff relented, saying "Go ahead if you insist. But I'm telling you, this is not the kind of face you'll ever see on a lunch box
Lunch box
The lunch box, also referred to as a lunch pail or lunch kit, is used to store food to be taken to work or school. The concept of a food container has existed for a long time, but it wasn't until people began using tobacco tins to haul meals in the early 20th century, followed by the use of...

". Some years later, after the movie Back to the Future
Back to the Future
Back to the Future is a 1985 American science-fiction adventure film. It was directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, produced by Steven Spielberg, and starred Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson. The film tells the story of...

cemented Fox's stardom, Fox good-naturedly sent Tartikoff a lunch box with Fox's picture on it and a note inside reading: "To Brandon: This is for you to put your crow in. Love and Kisses, Michael J. Fox." Tartikoff kept the lunch box in his office for the rest of his career.

Johnny Carson broke the news of his retirement in February 1991 to Tartikoff at the Grille in Beverly Hills. For several days only Tartikoff and NBC Chairman Bob Wright knew of the planned retirement.

Tartikoff wrote in his memoirs that his biggest professional regret was cancelling the series Buffalo Bill
Buffalo Bill (TV series)
Buffalo Bill is an American television situation comedy that featured the misadventures of an egotistical talk show host and his staff at WBFL-TV, a small TV station in Buffalo, New York. It premiered May 31, 1983 on NBC and ran for only part of two seasons...

, which he later went on to include in a fantasy "dream schedule" created for a TV Guide
TV Guide
TV Guide is a weekly American magazine with listings of TV shows.In addition to TV listings, the publication features television-related news, celebrity interviews, gossip and film reviews and crossword puzzles...

article that detailed his idea of "The Greatest Network Ever."

Appearances on NBC's shows


During his time at NBC, he made appearances in several of the network's shows. He hosted Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live is a live American late-night television sketch comedy and variety show developed by Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol. The show premiered on NBC on October 11, 1975, under the original title of NBC's Saturday Night.The show's sketches often parody contemporary American culture...

in 1983 and appeared as himself in an episode of Saved by the Bell
Saved by the Bell
Saved by the Bell is an American television sitcom that aired between 1989 and 1993. The series is a retooled version of the 1988 series Good Morning, Miss Bliss, which was itself later folded into the history of Saved by the Bell...

, where, very tongue-in-cheek, he shortly entertains the notion of a "show about a high school principal and his kids," before scoffing at the idea. During his 1983 appearance on Saturday Night Live, one skit featured Tartikoff in a black leather ensemble, with the words "Be There" spelled out in rhinestone
Rhinestone
A rhinestone or paste or diamante is a diamond simulant made from rock crystal, glass or acrylic.Originally, rhinestones were rock crystals gathered from the river Rhine. The availability was greatly increased around 1775 when the Alsatian jeweller Georg Friedrich Strass had the idea to imitate...

s on the back of his jacket. "Be There" was NBC's slogan
Slogan
A slogan is a memorable motto or phrase used in a political, commercial, religious and other context as a repetitive expression of an idea or purpose. The word slogan is derived from slogorn which was an Anglicisation of the Scottish Gaelic sluagh-ghairm . Slogans vary from the written and the...

 during the 1983–1984 season, a fitting example of clever hidden advertising. He also appeared as himself in episodes of Night Court
Night Court
Night Court is an American television situation comedy that aired on NBC from January 4, 1984, to May 20, 1992. The setting was the night shift of a Manhattan court, presided over by the young, unorthodox Judge Harold T. "Harry" Stone...

and ALF
ALF (TV series)
ALF is an American science fiction sitcom that originally aired on NBC from 1986 to 1990, created by Paul Fusco. The title character was Gordon Shumway, a friendly extraterrestrial nicknamed ALF , who crash lands in the garage of the suburban middle-class Tanner family.The series starred Max...

, and in the background of one of the final episodes of Cheers. David Leisure
David Leisure
David Russell Leisure is an American actor best known for his role as Charley Dietz in the sitcom Empty Nest from 1988 to 1995 and fictional automotive "pitch man" Joe Isuzu in a series of North American television commercials for Isuzu from 1986 to 1990, and again from 1999 to 2001.Additional...

 also played Tartikoff in an episode of ALF.

Post-NBC career


He left NBC in 1991, moving to Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures Corporation is an American film production and distribution company, located at 5555 Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Founded in 1912 and currently owned by media conglomerate Viacom, it is America's oldest existing film studio; it is also the last major film studio still...

 to become its chairman. A year later, Brandon left that post to spend more time with his daughter, Calla, who was injured in a car crash near the family's Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada of the United States. At a surface elevation of , it is located along the border between California and Nevada, west of Carson City. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Its depth is , making it the USA's second-deepest...

 home.

In 1994, he made his comeback to national TV with Last Call, a short-lived late-night discussion show he produced. That same year he also produced The Steven Banks Show
Steven Banks
Steven Banks is an American musician, comedian, actor, mime and writer of television, plays, books and cartoons, including SpongeBob SquarePants.Banks attended Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus clown college...

for PBS
Public Broadcasting Service
The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

. Later that year, he began a brief run as chairman of New World Entertainment
New World Communications
New World Pictures was an independent motion picture and television production company, and later television station owner in the United States from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s...

. Just prior to his death, Tartikoff served as the chairman of the AOL
AOL
AOL Inc. is an American global Internet services and media company. AOL is headquartered at 770 Broadway in New York. Founded in 1983 as Control Video Corporation, it has franchised its services to companies in several nations around the world or set up international versions of its services...

 project "Entertainment Asylum," for which he teamed with Scott Zakarin
Scott Zakarin
Scott Zakarin is an American writer, film producer and new media entertainment pioneer.-Career:In 1995, while directing commercials and early interactive television tests for the Fattal & Collins advertising agency, Zakarin became fascinated by the Internet. He spent time in chat rooms and quickly...

 to build the world's first interactive broadcast studio.

Family


Tartikoff was married with two daughters. Wife Lilly Tartikoff
Lilly Tartikoff
Lilly Tartikoff Karatz is an American cancer activist and fundraiser. She has raised more than $80 million for cancer research.- Early life :...

 and daughter Calla own a restaurant in West Los Angeles called Colony Cafe.

Death


Tartikoff died on August 27, 1997 from Hodgkin's Disease, with which he had three separate bouts over 25 years. He was 48 years old. He was interred in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery
Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery
Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries refers to two Jewish cemeteries in the Los Angeles, California metropolitan area. The original cemetery is located at 5950 Forest Lawn Drive in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. The cemetery was originally established in 1953 by the neighboring Forest...

 in Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

. The Deep Space Nine sixth-season premiere "A Time to Stand" began with a title card reading "In memory of Brandon Tartikoff." A similar card appeared at the end of the ninth-season premiere, "The Butter Shave
The Butter Shave
"The Butter Shave" is the 157th episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. It is also the first episode of the ninth and final season. It aired on September 25, 1997.-Plot:...

," of Seinfeld
Seinfeld
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom that originally aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, lasting nine seasons, and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself...

.

Further reading

  • Tartikoff, Brandon and Leerhsen, Charles. The Last Great Ride (New York: Turtle Bay Books/Random House, 1992), ISBN 0-394-58709-X

External links


  • Brandon Tartikoff at Find A Grave
    Find A Grave
    Find a Grave is a commercial website providing free access and input to an online database of cemetery records. It was founded in 1998 as a DBA and incorporated in 2000.-History:...