Pick up the latest copy of emmy magazine to read an excerpt from our interview with network executive and BET founder Robert Johnson, where he discusses his early years in Washington, DC as vice president of Government Relations for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), during the rise of the cable industry following government deregulation. He explains his concept for a cable network targeted at African-American viewers and his efforts to secure funding for the proposed BET (Black Entertainment Television) network. Johnson was interviewed for the Archive in 2005 by Karen Herman. For more information about our interviews and to view many online, click here!
Archive for the ‘Television Executives’ Category
Roger King, CEO of CBS Television Distribution, has died at the age of 63. King was interviewed by the Archive of American Television in 2004. His interview is now online. Click here to access his 3-part interview.
King talked about his early years in television, including his position as general manager of Fort Lauderdale station WKID. He discussed the founding of the family business, syndication company “King World,” by his father Charles King, and his later association as an executive with the company. He talked about some of the first shows that “King World” syndicated and the transition to syndicating their own properties that started with the game show Wheel of Fortune. He detailed the continued success of the company with such popular programs as Jeopardy, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and Dr. Phil. Additionally, he talked about the merger between “King World” and CBS, and his subsequent role as CEO of CBS Enterprises.
The latest issue of Emmy magazine (Issue No. 5, 2007, with Cane’s Jimmy Smits on the cover) includes selections from our Archive of American Television interview with producer (nearly 200 television movies and miniseries) and chairman of RHI Entertainment, Robert Halmi, Sr. He was interviewed for two hours in May, 2007.
Halmi’s credits include many of the most acclaimed broadcast and cable productions of the past four decades: Lonesome Dove, The Josephine Baker Story, Gypsy, Gulliver’s Travels, In Cold Blood, The Odyssey, Merlin, Moby Dick, Dinotopia, The Lion in Winter and Human Trafficking. At eighty-three, Halmi maintains a busy schedule. He lives primarily in New York and London and spends the first week of production on location for every one of his films. He runs RHI Entertainment with his son Robert Halmi, Jr., having reacquired the company in 2006 from Hallmark, which bought it in 1994.
Below are some excerpts from the article:
Q: You did some documentaries for television, then moved to features, but quickly returned to TV. Why?
A: I decided that maybe features were not for me. They were too complicated. I wanted to do television, but I didn’t want to go to t do it on my own. So I went to General Foods — they were fully sponsoring television shows then — and said I would like to make a film of the Hemingway short story “My Old Man.” This was to be my very first television movie, 1979. Typical for television — General Foods loved it, but the “problem” was, it was about an old man and a boy. They wanted a girl in the lead because the demographic was female. I had to get permission from the Hemingway estate to change the character to a girl. I hated it, but thehe networks. I thought I couldn I found Kristy McNichol. She was such an incredibly good actress — she made everybody cry. I think the movie got a 46 share.
Q: How did you begin your association with Hallmark Hall of Fame?
A: They saw my movies on CBS and approached me. Hall of Fame at that time was past its real glory — there had been too much competition. They did good, solid dramas, not exploitation stuff. It was family entertainment, and the name pre-sold it — you knew it was going to be good.
Q: Before Hallmark acquired RHI, what was the state of your company?
A:When I started, there were three or four of us. Before the acquisition by Hallmark, we had maybe thirty employees. Now we have 140, because of the Hallmark Channel, which my son [Robert Halmi, Jr.] created. We really grew because Hallmark Channel needed fifteen original movies a year. We opened offices in London and Australia.
Q: What is your philosophy regarding miniseries?
A: Two hours is a very short time, and on television it’s even shorter. In eighty-five minutes, you cannot really develop characters, you can- not go into somebody’s mind or heart, especially when it’s a complex story. You cannot do Captain Ahab [of Moby Dick] in 85 minutes — it’s too much character. [Halmi’s Moby Dick ran as a four-hour miniseries on USA Network in 1998.] These stories need time. I decided I’m not going to do anything but miniseries from now on. I’m finished with the two-hour versions of things.
Q: Why did you decide to reacquire your company from Hallmark?
A: I couldn’t face passing on and not owning my company. I want to leave something to my son and my kids. I want to leave them a library.
Q: What is the key to your success?
A: I don’t know if I’m successful. I like what I’m doing and I would not do anything else. I feel very strongly about the material and the process, actors and directors. It’s nice to be surrounded by these people, and my son gives me great pleasure because he does these things so brilliantly. To have a father-son relationship that works within a business is unique.
Q: There’s an international appeal to your work. How does that figure into your business?
A: Classics are better known in the rest of the world. They’re sought after and looked after. When I did Crime and Punishment for NBC, they didn’t want to put Dostoevsky’s name on it. They said, ‘It’s a deterrent.’ I said, “You’re crazy! In Europe, they would be proud. Dostoevsky comes first, and then Crime and Punishment!” Here, it’s sad.
Q: Have you always felt that way?
A: When I started, I only knew about American audiences, and the movies reflected that. Once we became bigger, we realized half of the income comes from the other parts of the world. On any movie, we have to satisfy that world.
Q: What is your proudest career achievement?
A: Making people sometimes cry, sometimes laugh, sometimes think.
Q: How would you like to be remembered?
A: As a good storyteller.
You can find the issue at some newsstands, or it can be ordered through the Emmy Magazine Webpage.
Casting Executive Ethel Winant’s interview is now online. Ms. Winant discusses her early years casting for live anthologies, her role as one of the first female network executives, and her experiences as a network casting executive for CBS and NBC.
Click here to access Ethel Winant’s entire 7-part interview.
Here are some excerpts:
From Part 4
Q You were one of the first female network executives. What was it like to be the only woman at the top?
I’d been the only woman for so long that I never thought about it. I mean there were things that you gotta do. Like, in the executive dining room there was a bathroom which had no door, no lock. So, for years,when I went to go to the bathroom, I would go outside, take the elevator, go down and go to the lady’s room. And, finally, I just said, well, I’m not going do this anymore. I figured out that if I took my shoes off and left my shoes outside the door that these guys, because they would all go in together, that they would know that I was in the bathroom. They wouldn’t walk in. I was always the only woman. For years, and years and years.
From Part 7
What advice would you give someone who’s starting out as a casting director?
It’s hard now, I think it’s harder to be a good casting director now because the world is so much bigger. I used to have this really simple advice which was to watch a lot of television, watch a lot of movies, start making lists for yourself and every time you see somebody that you like, write their name down. If you watch a television show, if you watch a movie, if every time you go to a play, keep lists, keep cards, do all that. It’s really what it’s about — seeing as many people as you can, going to as many plays, workshops as you can. I don’t think there’s any way to learn it.
In her 7-part oral history interview, Ethel Winant (1922-2003) discusses her start in television as a volunteer for Studio One, produced by Worthington Minor. Winant talks about her shift into casting and her job with David Susskind’s Talent Associates. Winant speaks about her experience as one of the first, high-ranking female executives in television, working for CBS and NBC as well as her encounters with the Blacklist. Winant’s fondest memories in television focus on her work as a casting director for Playhouse 90, and the talented people she worked with: John Houseman, John Frankenheimer, Martin Manulis, Fred Coe and Hubbell Robinson. Additionally she talks about casting such classics as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Shogun. The interview was conducted on August 7, 1996 by Sunny Parich.
Archive interviewee Tom Moore, former program chief of ABC (1957-63), ABC president (1963-68) and independent producer (The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, the Body Human series), died at the age of 88 on March 31.
Here are some excerpts from his interview:
On ABC’s Monday Night Football.
We started Monday Night Football in 1970. Pete Rozelle had NBC and CBS, where do we put ABC? Well, it started out with a luncheon, and it was Friday Night Football. That was what we were going to buy. It wasn’t going to be Monday Night at all. I was very strong on Monday at that time and didn’t want to pre-empt programming after nine o’clock for football.
On ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
I believe the first Wide World of Sports event was a Drake Relay and it was terrible. It was a very inexpensive sports program cause we paid very little for rights to anything. But it began to pick up when we saw it had a combination in February of that year of skiing in New Hampshire, and water surfing in Hawaii in the same show. And then we got a big rating on that and it took off.
On bringing The Flintstones to television.
John Mitchell was head of Screen Gems, which was totally owned by Columbia Pictures. John was a terrific salesman. They made a deal with a pair of guys Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. They called us and said, “We would like to show you something and Joe Barbera will be there.”….We went up there and the room is completely filled with storyboard. Joe Barbera started in one corner at the top and went around the room and performed the whole pilot and it was a rip-off almost entirely of Honeymooners. The characters, the relationships, the whole damn thing — it was just Honeymooners all over again. If you can believe it, we agreed to that thing. Now, the commitment on animation is a long time and you have to make it way ahead. We committed to it for next year, eight thirty on Friday night.
On The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.
There was this book called The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, by Ernest Gaines and we’d, we bought an option on it. ABC gave us the money to do the script. The script was done by Tracy Keenan Wynn whom I had never heard of then, except he was a grandson of Ed Wynn and his father was Keenan Wynn, and Tracy wrote a script that I thought was just the best doggone thing that I’d ever seen. I got to work and was casting the thing when ABC’s Barry Diller, told me it’s fraught with too many dangers and we’re not going to make it. I took it to Bobby Wood at CBS who in the meantime had hired Freddy Silverman as the Head of Programming and Freddy was as enthusiastic about it as I was and CBS cast Cicely Tyson and she was magnificent in it. We made that picture for $1.2 million dollars, and I tried to talk Bobby into letting me go to two hours and a half. Freddy wanted to but Bob didn’t want to; that messed up his schedule. But it, it won great acclaim, it is now still a classic in that it is shown at schools and colleges and everywhere else.
On how he’d like to be remembered.
I would like to be remembered as one of the pioneers in this business who made contributions that were substantial, that I was always square with people even when I lost and I want to be remembered as somebody who never intentionally set out to harm anybody.
Moore was interviewed by the Archive of American Television in January of 2003.
The complete five-and-a-half hour interview, in which he discusses his long and distinguished career, can be viewed at Academy Headquarters in North Hollywood, CA.
ADDENDUM: (POSTED 4/6/2007) THOMAS MOORE’S INTERVIEW HAS NOW BEEN POSTED ONLINE. CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW.
Quinlan was interviewed by the Archive of American Television on July 20, 1999.
Sterling “Red” Quinlan was interviewed for nearly three hours in Chicago, IL. He discussed how his career began in 1947 at WBKB in Chicago where he eventually worked his way up to the title of station manager. During that time he participated in the rise of the “Chicago School” of television. During the interview he recounted his relationships with Burr Tillstrom, Studs Terkel and Dave Garroway. Until he left WBKB in 1965, he was considered the most independent station manager in the country. He went on to consult for WTTW, Chicago’s public television station and is currently working with DG Systems in Chicago.
The interview can be viewed at the Television Academy headquarters in North Hollywood, CA. Sterling “Red” Quinlan was also featured as an interviewee in Jeff Kisseloff’s The Box: An Oral History of Television 1920-61.
We’re happy to report that legendary television executive Fred Silverman’s interview is now online. At almost 6-1/2 hours, this amazing interview encompasses over three decades of television history and gives a fascinating inside look at the networks and programming so many of us grew up with (just take a look at the brief interview description below and you’ll see what we mean!). Not one to rest on his many laurels, Silverman is currently ramping up his Fred Silverman Co. to develop scripted and unscripted comedies.
Here’s part 7 of the interview where he describes the programming of the hit miniseries Roots.
PRESS THE PLAY ARROW IN THE PLAYER ABOVE TO WATCH THE SEGMENT NOW.
Network television executive Fred Silverman speaks about his first job in TV, at WGN in Chicago, where he created such programs as Zim-Bomba, Bozo’s Circus and Family Classics. He then explains his move to CBS in New York, where he quickly worked his way up the corporate ladder, first as head of daytime programming, (where he revitalized the Saturday morning lineup, Scooby-Doo being among them), and later as the Vice President of Programming. During this time, he oversaw such programs as All in the Family, The Bob Newhart Show, Kojak, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and The Waltons. Next, he talks his appointment as President of ABC Entertainment, where he oversaw such programs as Charlie’s Angels, Donny and Marie, Eight is Enough, Laverne & Shirley, The Love Boat and Three’s Company. He also touches on the development and scheduling of the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. Mr. Silverman talks about his next move, to NBC as President and CEO in 1978. There, he oversaw the development of programs including and Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, Hill Street Blues. Mr. Silverman also explains the basic tenets of working as a network television executive, and discusses his methods for development, scheduling and promotions. Finally, he talks about his work as an independent producer for such programs as the Perry Mason television movies, Matlock, In the Heat of the Night and Diagnosis Murder. The interview was conducted in two sessions in 2001 by Dan Pasternack.
Dr. Frank Stanton, who served as President of CBS from 1946 to 1973, died Sunday, December 24th at the age of 98. He granted the Archive of American Television a rare 2-part videotaped interview in 2000 and 2001. Below are some excerpts from the three hour interview. The entire interview can be accessed by clicking here:
On joining CBS in 1935.
I got my doctorate in late August, 1935. We got in the car the next day and drove to New York and I think my first day at CBS was the 4th of September. I was just staff, nobody labeled me anything. I was a weird sort of a person because I was introduced to the sales force as somebody that might help them in market research. They were very skeptical of somebody who had a Ph.D. In those days, Ph.D.’s on Madison Avenue were not a dime a dozen. Today I think they are. In those days I think there were only two of us, George Gallop at Young and Rubicam, at 285 Madison and Frank Stanton at 485 Madison. CBS was very young. It was on a two or three floors in the building.
On bringing Ed Sullivan to CBS television.
You reached for stars wherever you thought there was a potential. For example, I went up to the Essex House hotel and sold Ed Sullivan to an advertiser for I think six weeks one summer with the idea that Ed Sullivan, certainly not telegenic — Sullivan wasn’t very happy to even get in front of a camera. But Sullivan had, with his column in the Daily News, an enormous amount of contacts. And Sullivan could get those people on to interview them. That’s what we started out with, with Ed Sullivan on Sunday night. We had to frame it with some dancers in order to give it some entertainment flair, but Sullivan was that star on Sunday night. People said “well you’re not gonna keep that guy on Sunday night.” By the time his eight weeks were over, he had an audience and we said, let’s give him another 13 weeks. He ended up owning the first part of Sunday night for many years. That’s how Ed Sullivan came into television.
On his relationship with CBS Chairman William Paley.
We both had the same objective. We wanted CBS to be the best and we had perhaps different routes to getting there. So we started with that common goal. I devoted most of mine in terms of programming. I guess I gave most of my attention and support to the news side. He gave most of his attention to the entertainment side. Although a couple of the big things we had in entertainment, were things I brought in for example, Arthur Godfrey was my project. Playhouse 90 was mine. I had a strong hand in bringing Lucy to CBS.
On Ed Murrow’s taking on Joseph McCarthy on See It Now.
Fred Friendly and the producing crew and Ed Murrow, felt that the time was come to take the McCarthy record and put it all together and into a half-hour and what was it in See It Now. They developed it without talking about it much in the company, in fact, very little. I don’t think the head of news at that time, who was Sig Mickelson, knew that the program was in preparation. About 24 hours before it was broadcast, I got a call from Ed who said he had tried to reach Paley and could the two of us meet with, with Ed and Fred Friendly, late that afternoon. I said I couldn’t be sure we could get together. Maybe we could do it tomorrow. And Ed said no, it should be today. It turned out that about four o’clock that day, Ed and Fred came up and laid before us the idea of the McCarthy expose and offered to show us advance material from the broadcast. It was all on film in those days. Either Paley or I or both of us declined looking at it and said, it had to be fair and it had to provide for time for reply, if that was indicated on the basis of the content, which we damn well knew was going to happen. So that was built into the broadcast I believe at the opening or close or maybe both, Murrow indicated that time would be given to the Senator to respond to the broadcast. The broadcast obviously was a bombshell, it wasn’t that we didn’t expose anything that hadn’t been known because Look Magazine had done a very rough piece on McCarthy and others had done individual stories. But Murrow, with Friendly’s help, put together a See It Now broadcast that shook the whole journalism field. And it befelled to me to handle the Senator in terms of the reply. But we lived through it and it was a great coup for Murrow and Friendly.
On the Blacklist at CBS.
There was a supermarket man someplace upstate New York who began saying that he wouldn’t handle merchandise that was advertised by Communists and was specific about naming names. Some advertisers became very nervous. The chairman of General Food scalled me one day and said he really wanted to sit down and talk with me about this. We had The Goldbergs and a couple of other programs on for General Foods. He said that if certain people had were continued on that program, he would withdraw General Foods advertising from CBS. And a number of other advertisers took similar views. The FBI was making private comments to us about some of the people. We didn’t know what the facts were. We had no way of knowing what the facts were. NBC was in the same boat but we had more popular programs and somehow we had more people who were on the so-called Blacklist. At about that time, it got so complicated and so difficult, that we asked the employees to sign a loyalty oath. I don’t recall anybody refusing to sign the loyalty oath. People in News signed it. Ed Murrow signed it. Ed Murrow, I think at that time, was on the CBS Board and he supported it. None of us was happy.
On championing the repeal of Section 315 of the Communications Act.
Section 315 of the Communications Act, said that if one candidate got on the air, all of the candidates had to have access equal access to radio. This is long before television. As a result, if you put a Republican on, you had to put all the other Republicans on who were running for the same office if they wanted the time and it just destroyed the opportunity to use the medium effectively as a news medium. It became clear to me that the only way to resolve that was to get rid of Section 315. I think in the early ‘50’s I wrote a column in the then Herald-Tribune proposing debates between the presidential, presidential candidates and the relief from Section 315. And that became sort of a crusade as far as I was concerned. I was joined in by other broadcasters, eventually NBC came along and we got rid of Section 315 on a temporary basis in the election of 1960. It took that much time to get the right to put both candidates on at single broadcasts. We did the first televised debate, which was also done on radio, in 1960 and it originated in our studios in Chicago, with Kennedy and Nixon. That debate put them on so that the Republicans could see the Democrats and vice versa. It was an opening up of the air to political broadcasts. I thought, mistakenly, as it turns out, that doing those debates would bring more people out to the polls, certainly in the presidential year of 1960, I believe it did that.
On The Selling of the Pentagon.
I arrived at my house about 9:30, having missed dinner. And I’d worked at the office and I came in and my wife said, “don’t do anything. You get in and look at what’s on the air cause I think you’re gonna have trouble with it.” And I knew what was on but I hadn’t seen it. I had been told in general what it was. So I went in and watched the end of the program. And before the end came, I began getting calls about how dare we put that broadcast on. The next morning, Ted Koop who was in our Washington office as the Vice President called me and said, the Pentagon wants to see all the footage on The Selling of the Pentagon. I said send it over to them. So we had a tape in the Washington Bureau and we sent it over to the Pentagon and word came back immediately. “No we don’t want the broadcast, we want the tape that wasn’t used.” And the questioning came to me, what’ll we do and I said tell them to forget about it. We’re not releasing tape that we didn’t put on the air, those are the reporter’s notes. … I took the traditional position that these were the property of the news organization and I would not submit them to the government. And that began a whole series of things including the day when two armed uniformed guards appeared at CBS and wanted to see me to deliver a subpoena to provide this material. It was a little ludicrous because it was a serious move on the part of the government but it was silly because they could have delivered that subpoena to me in Washington where I had officers who could have accepted it on behalf of CBS. At any rate, we stood our ground and there were hearings. The committees, there were two subcommittees I believe, or maybe three, had hearings. I lost among each of the three, the vote was in favor of forcing me to give up the documents. It finally came to a vote of a full committee and we lost the vote with the full committee. I was cited for contempt of Congress and John Mitchell told me the morning after the vote that he was all prepared to send me to jail. It ultimately ended up on the floor of the full House and we didn’t squeak by but we didn’t have the majority I would like to have had. But we prevailed.
On the industry’s embracing the V-chip.
I’m embarrassed for the industry, of the leaders, for having done that but I think that’s just the beginning of things that’ll be worse. I think with the ownership now of the broadcast facilities and cable in the hands of big corporation, there will not be dedication to the First Amendment that we had when we were independently in quotes, owned ala NBC, a part of RCA and CBS being owned as it was. I don’t see that kind of leadership putting aside the impact it would have had on the stock prices in favor of a principle like the First Amendment. Newspapers are still standing their ground on the First Amendment. I don’t know what’s going to happen in broadcasting.
On his life’s satisfactions.
Public service. Architecture. Travel. The last eight years have been rather desolate years for me because I lost my wife eight years ago and that companionship had been with me from the time I was 12 years old, so it was like losing my arms, and legs and heart. I haven’t had any trouble keeping myself occupied. I think I’ve been on interesting boards. I’ve been identified with some interesting projects. I have no complaints. I was a lucky guy.
In this rare videotaped interview, executive Dr. Frank Stanton discusseshis early years at CBS and his eventual rise to the network’s presidency. He speakscandidly about CBS, chairman William S. Paley and the rise of CBS network television. Dr. Stanton retired from his post in 1973, but continued as a director of the company. He was interviewed by Don West on May 22, 2000 and May 14, 2001.
Advertising Executive and Producer Rod Erickson died recently at the age of 89. Erickson was interviewed by the Archive of American Television on October 17, 1997.
His interview can be viewed in the Archive’s Los Angeles offices and will be available online in the near future.
Historian Jeff Kisseloff conducted the five hour interview with Erickson in Bedford, NY. Mr. Erickson talked about working for Procter & Gamble when the agency first entered television, and discussed his first television show, We, The People. He spoke about his many years at ad agency Young & Rubicam, as well as the evolution of television sponsorship.