BRODKIN, HERBERT

U.S. Producer

Herb Brodkin has enjoyed a singular career in television because of his insistence on quality, his uncompromising standards, and his longevity. Brodkin served as executive producer or producer on some of television's finest moments, began his television career producing live television in its Golden Age, and has produced until his death in 1991.

Brodkin came to television with a background in theater and scenic design. He began working as a set designer for CBS in 1950. After three years he was handling the production chores for no less than three anthology dramas. Brodkin continued to work in the anthology format during what has been generally termed the "golden years of television." These dramas, such as Playhouse 90 and Studio One, were splendid vehicles for Brodkin's broad and varied theatrical experience. One telecast in particular would prove fortuitous for Brodkin and others. "The Defender," (28 February and 4 March 1957) starring Ralph Bellamy and William Shatner would serve as a model for one of Brodkin's cornerstone filmed series.

When the telefilm began to flourish in the 1950s and most filmed production came from Hollywood, Brodkin remained in New York although he, too, changed from the live format to film. Brodkin brought a great deal of technical expertise to telefilm production, for he had made dozens of films for the Army Signal Corps. His first series, Brenner, focused on a father/son team of cops and was scheduled sporadically by CBS. But Brodkin's next series was the landmark, The Defenders. The series was based on the Studio One show and featured E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as a father/son team of lawyers. The "Brodkin approach" of treating controversial issues with intelligence and dispassion, developed during the live years, translated well to the filmed medium of television. Brodkin had always held the script in the highest esteem and consistently used writers of excellence--Ernest Kinoy, Robert Crean, and Reginald Rose. Though television was and is a medium that appeals largely to the emotions, Brodkin's productions consistently asked the viewer to think, to consider, and to weigh. Issues considered taboo, issues such as abortion, euthanasia, racial prejudice, and blacklisting, were familiar ground to Brodkin. CBS constantly battled affiliates that refused to clear The Defenders and the network endured some financial hardship due to advertiser pull-out from the series. Nevertheless, the hallmark of every Herb Brodkin production was a thoughtful and even-handed examination of an issue in a dramatic context. The Defenders enjoyed a four-year run in which it garnered every major award for television drama.

Brodkin's filmed series work often used the settings of the legal and medical profession to explore a variety of very contemporary controversies. The series also used the convention of the mentor/student relationship. In The Defenders as well as Brenner the protagonists are father and son. In the unsold pilot The Firm, written by longtime Brodkin associate Ernest Kinoy, the protagonists are father and daughter. Brodkin, and those who wrote for him, proved especially adept at balancing the maturity of the mentor and the intellectual enthusiasm of the student as a framework for examining the issues of the day.

In 1965, Brodkin shifted his attention from his Plautus Productions to his newly created Titus Productions (formed with Robert Berger), under whose banner some of his most memorable dramatic specials were produced. 1965 was also the year of one of Brodkin's more metaphorical productions. Coronet Blue was a short series run by CBS in the summer of 1967. It chronicled amnesiac Michael Alden's search for his identity while being pursued by a shadowy band of assailants. The only clue to Alden's identity was the cryptic phrase, "coronet blue." The character of Alden can be seen as a metaphor for the angst-ridden youth of the 1960s. His search mirrored the search of the "counterculture" for its identity, its place in the world. The series was fairly well-received but could not be revived for regular production because Frank Converse, who played Michael Alden, was already signed for another series.

 

 


Herbert Brodkin
Photo courresy of Broadcasting and Cable

In 1981, Titus Productions was acquired by the Taft Entertainment Company. Both Brodkin and Berger remained to produce dramatic specials for Taft. Notable among those specials was Skokie, starring Danny Kaye as a Holocaust survivor who fights to keep a group of neo-Nazis from marching in Skokie, Illinois and the HBO special Sakharov, which featured Jason Robards and Glenda Jackson as Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov and his wife Elena Bonner. In 1985, the Museum of Broadcasting in New York mounted a retrospective of Herbert Brodkin's career. In the words of Television Curator Ronald Simon, "the ouevre of Herb Brodkin is an impressive collection of socially significant dramas." Herb Brodkin died in 1990 leaving a legacy of creative and intellectual integrity unparalleled in the annals of television.

-John Cooper

TELEVISION

1950-52 Charlie Wild, Private Detective
1953-55 ABC Album
1953-55 The TV Hour
1953-55 The Motorola TV Hour
1953-55 Center Stage
1953-55 The Elgin Hour
1955-56 The Alcoa Hour
1955-56 Goodyear Playhouse
1957 Studio One
1958-60 Playhouse 90
1959-64 Brenner
1961-64 The Defenders
1962-65 The Nurses
1966 Shane
1967 Coronet Blue

TELEVISION MINISERIES

1978 Holocaust

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION- MOVIES

1970 The People Next Door
1981 Skokie
1982 My Body, My Child
1983 Ghost Dancing
1984 Sakharov 1985 Mandela
1988 Stones for Ibarra
1990 Murder Times Seven

FURTHER READING

Barnouw, Erik. Tube of Plenty, 2d Rev. New York:Oxford University Press, 1990.

The Museum of Broadcasting. Produced by . . . Herb Brodkin. New York:The Museum of Broadcasting, 1985.

Watson, Mary Ann. The Expanding Vista: Television in the Kennedy Years. New York:Oxford University Press, 1990.

 

See also Defenders