Archive for the ‘Television Executives’ Category

Remembering Pioneering Television Executive Julian Goodman

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

The Archive of American Television is sad to report that former NBC executive Julian Goodman, died Monday, July 2nd, at the age of 90. In 1998, the Archive interviewed him for nearly three-and-a-half hours at his home in Jupiter, FL. During that interview Goodman discussed his years as president of NBC. In addition, he talked about his start at NBC News, when he was a news writer for David Brinkley in 1945.  Mr. Goodman also detailed the network’s coverage of important news events including President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

On producing the second of the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates

We had always sought to get the presidential candidates to debate.  And the Convention of 1960, as soon as the candidates had been selected, Bob Sarnoff and Bob Kintner and Bill McAndrew and I sat in a hotel room in Chicago and composed a telegram to the two candidates, urging them to do this.  I guess the other networks were doing the same thing at the same time.  I know that the candidates themselves had probably been thinking about it long before we were, probably. So, reluctantly, they agreed upon the debates.  And they certainly were historic and they certainly were influential in the outcome of the election.  The debates have changed a great deal since then, if indeed they have been debates.  But the ones we had then  were the real thing.  They may have changed the course of history because they were on television.  People got a chance to see the candidates and a chance to choose for themselves which man they wanted to lead them.  Yet it’s difficult that the mechanics and the cosmetics of the situation have blurred over the years who was the best man for the job. Because the final vote was less than half a million.  Television did play a very important part in making the decision, or allowing the American people to make the decision for themselves.

On covering the President John F. Kennedy’s Assassination and Funeral (including the capturing of John-John’s famous salute)

Someone leaned over to me and whispered, “I’ve heard on WNEW Kennedy has been shot.”   I got up without excusing myself and went to the headquarters, BOC, Broadcast Operations Center, of NBC.  It was on the 5th floor, one floor down. And that’s where everything took place when we had an emergency.  It was a room about the size of a current sports utility vehicle.  We crowded at least 6 or 8 people into it.  We were separated by a glass partition.  And William Ryan, a correspondent, very good one, for NBC News, walked in about that time and I said, “Go and get on-camera.” And he said, “What’ll I say?”  I had a UP flash in my hand that said,” Flash, Dallas – President Kennedy has been shot.”  And he said, “what’ll I say?  I can’t go on with that.”   I said read it forwards.  And then read it backwards.  And then read it halfway and then read the other half.  And by that time you’ll have more to say.  And he read it.  He did a really very good job.  And a young man in the front part of this Broadcast Operations Center turned around and said to me rather petulantly, “When are we going back to local programming?”  And I said, “son, why don’t you go home?  We’re not ever going back to local programming.”

While we didn’t have a correspondent on the air from Dallas at that time, we followed the story from that moment on, until the following Monday night, after the Kennedy funeral.  Without ever leaving the air. Without commercials. There were many people afterward were asking me, quite a number of times, how long did it take you to decide not to do any commercials?  How big was the fight about not doing commercials?  There was never even any discussion of it.  Kintner just said, we’ll drop the commercials.  That’s all there was to it. But,  to the best of my knowledge, I didn’t sleep during those days, from that time Friday until the following Monday.   I flew to Washington at one point, when Kennedy was in-State at the Rotunda, It was midnight. There was some discussion, somebody said, “there’s nothing going on.  Shall we go off the air?”   Edwin Newman was at the Capital Rotunda.  I said, “No. Stay on the air all night, but don’t have anybody talk.  Just show the people passing the casket.”  It was a very effective way of doing it.

The coverage was a voluntary instantaneous work of art by everybody involved in it at NBC.  From the time it started until the time it finished.  In the course other coverage, particularly of the funeral cortege, and in Washington, there was a moment when there occurred a shot that I’ve always regarded as the greatest shot I’ve ever seen on television.  It was caused by, directed by, set up by Charles Jones, who was one of our directors in Washington, he was working for the pool, and he set up a camera at a low point, so he could get the upward shot of the people coming out of the church, when Mrs. Kennedy came out. When young John-John came out and saluted, I still think it’s the best single, most impressive, most dramatic television shot in the history of television.

On the infamous 1968 NBC “Heidi” incident where a Jets v. Raiders game was pre-empted

It was November 17th, 1968.   I was at my house in Larchmont, New York.  The NBC Press Department was at a meeting with the press in Miami.  At a cocktail party. I was watching the television and there was a football game on.  The football game went off and Heidi came on and I said, “What?”  But I thought no more of that. Until the phone began to ring. And until neighbors began to appear at our door.  What had happened was, that Heidi, a children’s program sponsored by Hallmark, was scheduled to go on the air at I believe 6 p.m.  Somebody who later admitted it to me, but whom I won’t name, had left a memorandum with Broadcast Operations Control.  A man name Dick Cline, touched the fatal button and when 6 o’clock came – the memo said ‘Under no circumstances will the football game run past 6 o’clock.  Heidi must go on at 6.  We have committed to the advertiser.” Well, I didn’t know that it had happened.  I don’t know any other people who knew it had happened.  But at 6 o’clock, certainly, the game seemed to be under control at that time.  But two more touchdowns were scored, the whole outcome of the game was reversed. We had bomb threats the next day.  And people still remember it to this day.

On his most important achievements at NBC

The coupling of David Brinkley with Chet Huntley was the most important decision that I made. If that’s the only one I have to make. Something we haven’t mentioned: When I was at  NBC News, Kintner and McAndrew and I were coming out of the White House after a meeting with Pierre Salinger.  We had just lost the NCAA Finals.  The NCAA contract, the yearly contract for football, college football on television to ABC.  And instead of talking about what Pierre Salinger wanted us to talk about, when we got back to the hotel room at the Mayflower Kintner said, what are we going to do about football?  And I gave him a plan.  Which eventually we developed and which is working pretty well even today.  That plan was to take the American Football League, which was then at ABC, getting $150,000 per game for what they did, and let us offer them a 10-year contract. Give them more money than they were worth to allow them to pay their football players so they could become competitive with the NFL.  We got a 5-year contract.  We paid them $800,000 per game per week as against ABC’s $150,000.  Sonny Werblin, owner of the New York Jets, hired Joe Namath to be the quarterback, with the money we gave him.  Some of the owners put the money in their pocket.  Others made their teams competitive.  As a result, Pete Rozelle created the Super Bowl.  The American Football League is now competitive with the NFL.  That was probably the most important decision.  Aside from picking David Brinkley.

On the public’s perception of news integrity

The public’s acceptance of news integrity since I started, has gone up and down like a chart of the Dow Jones Industrials.  Namely though, it has, like the Dow Jones Industrials, ended “up”. I think the public, although it hates some things it hears and sees on television, likes having it there and would be very sorry not to have it.  That’s what I tried to fight all the time I was an executive in television.  And that is, the eagerness that politicians have to hamstring us, to harass us, to keep us from doing what we would like to do. And that is to be fair.  To be equitable.  To be even-handed.  To be thorough with all the news that we cover.  I’ve made in speeches,  a reference to the fact that as each new day begins, the pages of a newspaper are totally blank.  The screen on television is blank.  And all day long, there are people fighting to change and shape and arrange in order, to their benefit, what goes on there.  It is the purpose and the challenge of the newsperson responsible to make sure that what goes on is fair and not just what others want us to say.

On how he would like to be remembered

As everybody would like to be remembered.  Well and favorably.  He did a good job.  He did the best he could.

The entire interview can be viewed at

HBO’s Sheila Nevins on Making Documentaries That Matter

Friday, April 6th, 2012

She’s spearheaded some of HBO’s most memorable and risque projects: Real Sex, Taxicab Confessions, CathouseAs Vice President of Original Programming (overseeing family and documentary projects) Sheila Nevins has pushed the boundaries at HBO, and given the world some remarkable shows as a result.

In her 2006 Archive interview, Nevins describes the origins of Taxicab Confessions:

Learn more about Nevins’ work at HBO by watching her full Archive interview.

International TV Executive Donald Taffner, Sr. dies at 80

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

We’re sad to report the passing of Donald Taffner, Sr., who died early this morning. Don founded DLT Entertainment in 1963 — specializing in international television distribution. DLT was responsible for bringing Three’s Company (adapted from Man About the House), Too Close for Comfort (adapted from Keep it in the Family), and The Benny Hill Show to American audiences. DLT Entertainment continues to be engaged in television distribution and production worldwide. The Archive of American Television, in association with BAFTA, interviewed Mr. Taffner in 2008. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

On starting his own production and distribution company

At that time, there were also people from Australia — [Jim Oswin] and a fellow named [Len Major], who ended up over here, representing, in America, the Seven Network in Australia.  And Len went back to open up a third network, which was then called the O Ten Network, and he asked me to represent them in the States.  So  uh, I made the judgment that if I’m going to go on my own, now is the time to do it because I don’t have to make the amount of money that I would be making 10 years later somewhere else.  It would be relatively easy for me to do it now.  So I got representation of that. I started my own company, representing originally broadcasters from overseas to buy their shows — to buy American shows for them.  I had a group of stations in Canada and the network in Australia.  And that’s how it started.  Gradually, as the business grew and the broadcasters in America or the distributors in America had offices overseas, they didn’t need somebody that way.  So I then switched and sold shows from overseas in the American market.  And that’s how the business grew.  The first show that I sold was  getting an animation studio in Australia to do work for King Features, and we did some of the Beatles’ cartoons, and we did “Crazy Cat” and “Barney Google.”  They did the scripts here.  And then there was “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” which we sold to Kellogg and then Skippy peanut butter.  It’’s always fun to sell shows –  there, my speech was, “Think of Lassie, except that the pet is a kangaroo.”  And we sold it to Kelloggs and then we sold it to Skippy on a market-by-market basis.

On the business aspects of owning a show outright (video clip)

As far as television production was concerned, the way I did that was I find the properties, put them together, help get it started, let the creative elements work on the properties, and when they were finished with it, sell the properties so that we get the maximum out of all of it.  But leave the creative people, more or less , to do it themselves.  There were a lot of gambles in that originally with “Three’s Company” when I came to Thames and told them we’re not going to sell the format, we’re going to produce the format.  But that means we were going to be responsible for overages if that happened.  I had some luck in that Thames Television said, “Oh, we’re not going to do that.  We’re not going to be responsible for it.”  So since I didn’t have any dollars, I don’t know why I said this, but, “Oh, I’ll be responsible for it.”   I didn’t know how the hell I was going to get it, but I said I’ll be responsible for it.  And that’s how I got more or less involved with the total control and the bigger piece of the action from everybody else in the show.  By being responsible for it in the beginning.  The theory behind that was if I go to the network and say, “Here’s the rights,” I end up with 2%.  If I go to the network and say, “Here’s the television show,” I have ownership, and that I don’t have to give up all but 98% to be in a position.  So I ended up in a very good position between the producers on the west coast and the network controlling the show — controlling the rights.

On his approach to negotiating a deal

I’ll tell you what I do, and then I think it’s salesmanship after that.  I look at a show and try to find all of the elements in that show that I like.  And then I talk about it.  And that’s the only thing I talk about in a show.  Whether it’s the little monkey that’s jumping around in a section of the screen, whether it’s the guy falling off the ledge, whatever the joke is, I talk about that.  I couple that with knowing your marketplace.  To know what the buyer likes and then try to get my language about my show into the language of knowing what the buyer likes.  And if I can put all of these likes together, I’m selling the show.  The problem that sometimes happens is after you sell the show, I’m sure there’s a formula.  There’s a diminishing return on how successful your salesmanship was.  And if you don’t get it to the next step quickly, it slows down.  So you’ve got to keep on piling on all of the good things about a show.  But the first thing is to sell yourself on the show.  And the first thing that I had to do was to sell myself to know this is the only thing I’ve got to sell, so I’d better find the right things to sell about the show!

On being a totally independent producer

There aren’t many that will go my way of totally independent because the government allows the networks to control all of this television business.  If they just allow them to be in their business of being studios or — or telephone lines between the producer and the people out there, that’s what they should be, and there’s a lot of money in that.  Because they used to want to own my property and I said, “No.  I’ll tell you what, if I can share in your income from advertisers, I’ll let you have a piece of my action.”  That was a lot of bravado because they ended up with a piece of my action because I had to get on the air.  But they never shared their advertising money and they always wanted more.  I remember fighting down in Washington against the networks.  I remember meeting up with the then-FCC chair Mark Fowler — and telling him that you’re taking my livelihood away and you’re taking the livelihood of a lot of other people who think independently –  if you let them control the business.   I also gave him another piece of advice.  No matter how they own the show, one question should never be asked — how much of it do I own?  If I own 50% of “Father Murphy” and I own no percent of “Three’s Company,” why should ‘Father Murphy” be renewed and the other one canceled?  Ownership has nothing to do with it if the FCC is doing what I think they’re doing, trying to get good programming on the air.  Don’t get me too excited about the networks because I think they control too much.

On how he would like to be remembered

The people that like me, like me.  That’s all.

Interview description:

Donald L. Taffner, Sr. was interviewed for one-and-a-half hours in New York, NY.  Taffner talked about his work in the television division at the William Morris Agency in the 1950s, commenting on the shows that the agency packaged in those days.  He talked about his move to Paramount, running their New York office and selling such series as the adventure program Mr. Garlund.  He described his founding of DLT Entertainment in the early 1960s, representing broadcasters overseas in the purchase of U.S. shows.  He talked about his company’s association with Thames Television and described the tradition of programming on the BBC.  He chronicled the packaging of The Benny Hill Show to market it for American television, and commented on Benny himself.  He described the adaptation of several British sitcoms into successful American series, including: Three’s Company, Too Close for Comfort, and Check It Out! He spoke about his later work in live theater and series Mystery Wheel of Adventure, As Time Goes By, and My Family.  The interview was conducted by John Fitzgerald in a joint venture with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), on August 26, 2008.

50 Years Later: A Vaster Wasteland?

Monday, May 9th, 2011

On May 9, 1961 FCC Chairman Newton N. Minow, an appointee of President Kennedy’s administration, delivered his historic speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC. The speech is best known for two words he uttered in reference to the programming found on TV stations nationwide: Vast Wasteland. The term became a cultural touchpoint for critics of television, and remains so to this day. Interestingly, in Mr. Minow’s Archive of American Television interview, he discusses not only the origins of the speech itself, but how those loaded words ultimately overshadowed his larger overall message:

“To my way of thinking, that speech was badly misinterpreted. It didn’t condemn all of television. It said there are great things in television which are unique in uniting and serving the country, but you, the broadcasters, have got to remember that you are trustees for all of us. That you have got to pay more attention to your obligations to children. You’ve got to pay more attention to not only the bottom line, but to public service.”

Minow’s insightful video interview covers his two-year FCC chairmanship and his championing of the creation of public television as well as the implementation of satellite communications. The interview was conducted by Chuck Olin on July 21, 1999.

An excerpt from his 1961 speech is below, and you can listen to it in its entirety here.

AUDIO mp3:

“Governor Collins, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. … my subject today is the television industry and the public interest.. I am the chairman of the FCC. But I am also a television viewer and the husband and father of other television viewers. I have seen a great many television programs that seemed to me eminently worthwhile and I am not talking about the much bemoaned good old days of “Playhouse 90” and “Studio One.” I’m talking about this past season. Some were wonderfully entertaining, such as “The Fabulous Fifties,” “The Fred Astaire Show,” and “The Bing Crosby Special”; some were dramatic and moving, such as Conrad’s “Victory” and “Twilight Zone“; some were marvelously informative, such as “The Nation’s Future,” “CBS Reports,” “The Valiant Years.” I could list many more — programs that I am sure everyone here felt enriched his own life and that of his family. When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it….

… Television will rapidly join the parade into space. International television will be with us soon. No one knows how long it will be until a broadcast from a studio in New York will be viewed in India as well as in Indiana, will be seen in the Congo as it is seen in Chicago. But as surely as we are meeting here today, that day will come; and once again our world will shrink.

What will the people of other countries think of us when they see our western bad men and good men punching each other in the jaw in between the shooting? What will the Latin American or African child learn of America from this great communications industry? We cannot permit television in its present form to be our voice overseas…

…I say to you ladies and gentlemen — I remind you what the President said in his stirring inaugural. He said: Ask not what America can do for you; ask what you can do for America.”¹ I say to you ladies and gentlemen: Ask not what broadcasting can do for you; ask what you can do for broadcasting. And ask what broadcasting can do for America.

I urge you, I urge you to put the people’s airwaves to the service of the people and the cause of freedom. You must help prepare a generation for great decisions. You must help a great nation fulfill its future. Do this! I pledge you our help. Thank you.”

Chicago Broadcasting Legend Ward Quaal Has Died

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Ward Quaal was a broadcasting pioneer who transitioned from radio to television at the advent of the medium and became president of WGN, Chicago.  He died on September 24, at the age of 91.

Interview Description:

Ward Quaal was interviewed for three hours in Chicago, IL.  Quaal described his lifelong association with Chicago television station WGN, where he began as an announcer and worked his way up to station manager and later president of the WGN Continental Broadcasting Company.  Quaal described the programming on WGN through the years as well as the evolution of television technology. He outlined WGN’s conversion to a “superstation” and the station’s subsequent financial success.  He spoke about working closely with government agencies in matters regarding the broadcast industry (allocation of stations, the Fairness Doctrine, etc.) as well as the government’s role in regulating the industry.  Quaal passionately advocated the need for local stations to provide their communities with relevant programming. He also talked about writing the textbook Broadcast Management, and its usefulness to aspiring station managers.  The interview was conducted by Karen Herman on October 12, 2004.

62nd Primetime Emmy Noms Announced Today

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

With the 62nd Primetime Emmy Nominations, the Archive of American Television congratulates all of the nominees, including our interviewees:
Paris Barclay (comedy series direction, Glee)
Ken Burns (producer nonfiction series, National Parks: America’s Best Idea)
Kevin Clash (producer children’s nonfiction program, When Families Grieve)
Robert A. Dickinson (lighting direction, 82nd Annual Academy Awards)
Dick Ebersol (exec producer special class programs, Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremony)
Sharon Gless (supporting actress drama series, Burn Notice)
Louis J. Horvitz (variety special direction, The Kennedy Center Honors)
Shirley Jones (guest actress drama series, The Cleaner)
Susan Lacy (exec producer nonfiction series, American Masters)
Christopher Lloyd (producer/writer comedy series, Modern Family)
Sheila Nevins (producer nonfiction special, Teddy: In His Own Words & exceptional merit filmmaking Sergio)
Tim Van Patten (miniseries direction, The Pacific)
Betty White (guest actress comedy series, Saturday Night Live)
Dick Wolf (producer nonfiction series, American Masters)

Special note: With 126 total series nominations, Saturday Night Live has now become the most-nominated series of all-time.

Watch the Emmy Awards Sunday, August 29 on NBC!

"ER" Ends Tonight After Fifteen Seasons

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

NBC medical drama ER aired its first episode on September 19, 1994 and with its final episode tonight, is noted by wikipedia to be the longest-running American primetime medical drama of all time.

Watch a segment of the Archive’s interview with CBS Executive Leslie Moonves regarding the show’s development and casting:

E! Online has posted videos with the current stars of the show, as they commented on the series finale. Link to E! Online’s “The Stars Say Their Goodbyes.”

Interview with Larry Auerbach – Now Online

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Larry Auerbach was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in Beverly Hills, CA. Auerbach detailed his 47-year association with the William Morris Agency, where he started part-time in the mailroom. He talked about his move out of the mailroom and his work booking talent in small nightclubs and theaters. He described his booking of musical talent on early television shows, including such talents as Sam Cooke, Sammy Davis Jr., and Elvis Presley. Auerbach described fully the circumstances by which he got Presley his first television exposure on the series Stage Show. He discussed representing Alan Freed and how the payola scandals ruined Freeds career. He also talked about the packaging of the unusual Mitch Miller series Sing Along With Mitch that featured on-screen lyrics for sing-alongs and was a big commercial hit. He talked about representing such television figures as Alan Alda, Beatrice Arthur, Agnes Nixon, and Aaron Spelling. Finally, he described in great detail the creation and packaging of the 1980s sitcom hit The Cosby Show. Auerbach then talked about his second career teaching at USC. The interview was conducted by Dan Pasternack on May 21, 2003.

You can view his entire interview online here, or visit to see other interviews.

Manager Bernie Brillstein Has Died

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Bernie Brillstein, who represented many comedy legends and helped shephard classic television programming, has died at age 77.

Bernie Brillstein full 8-part interview will be online soon and can be viewed in its entirety at Academy Headquarters.

Interview description:
Brillstein talked about his experiences growing up in the various entertainment worlds of New York City, and how he eventually landed a job in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency. He discussed his meeting with WMA client Elvis Presley, and fondly remembered his first meeting with eventual client, puppeteer Jim Henson. He explained his reasons for leaving the agency to become a personal manager, and the work that he did on behalf of his various clients. He described his role in creating the long-running syndicated series Hee Haw, and his efforts at getting The Muppet Show on the air. He also spoke about his representation of writer/producer Lorne Michaels, and his involvement in the early years of Saturday Night Live. Brillstein reminisced about clients including John Belushi and Gilda Radner, and later explained his move into the executive suites at Lorimar. Finally, he talked about his partnership with Brad Grey, and the clients and programs that they have represented. The interview was conducted by Dan Pasternack on November 14, 2001.

Legendary William Morris Agent Ruth Engelhardt Has Died– Archive Interview Online

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Ruth Engelhart was associated with the William Morris Agency for over fifty years. She died at the age of 86 on July 23.

Click here to watch Ruth Engelhardt’s entire 8-part interview.

Interview Description:
Ruth Engelhardt was interviewed for three-and-a-half hours in Los Angeles, CA. Engelhardt vividly described her over 55-year association with the William Morris Agency. She recalled how she worked her way up from being a secretary to an executive in Business Affairs by earning her law degree attending night school. She discussed the structure of the Agency, the key figures in its executive suites, and its important television accounts. She talked about the packaging of such television series as The Life of Riley, The Danny Thomas Show, and I Spy. She spoke in great detail about the creation of one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, The Cosby Show. Additionally, Engelhardt talked about such topics as contract negotiations, the era of the Hollywood Blacklist, and the 1975 formation of CAA by ex-WMA agents. The interview was conducted by Karen Herman on October 9, 2003.

7/31/08 UPDATE: Read a wonderful tribute to Ruth Engelhardt’s legacy by Variety’s Cynthia Littleton.