Dann was one of the most successful programming executives in U.S.
network television during the 1950s and 1960s. He was known as a
"master scheduler" and spent his most successful years at CBS working
in tandem with CBS President James Aubrey. He began his television
career shortly after World War II as a comedy writer and in 1948
joined NBC, where he would stay for the next ten years. Initially
hired to work in the publicity, he soon moved to the programming
department and eventually served as head of NBC Entertainment under
David Sarnoff. In 1958, he moved to CBS as vice president of programs
in New York. In 1963 he was promoted to head of programming, and
in 1966 he was appointed senior vice president of programs. During
most of his tenure, CBS consistently ranked as the number one network
in prime time audience ratings.
held the head programming position at CBS longer than anyone else
(from 1963 to 1970), serving under five different CBS Presidents.
His success was attributable, in part, to an uncanny ability to
gauge William Paley's probable reaction to most program ideas. Dann
was often referred to as "the weathervane" for changing his opinions
to match those of his bosses. In spite of this reputation Dann was
not one to avoid controversy. Arthur Godfrey, a long-time audience
favorite at CBS, had two prime time programs ranked in the top 10;
during the 1950s he did not get along with Dann and left CBS as
a result. (The fact that Godfrey disappeared from public view suggests
that Dann was probably correct in his assessment that Godfrey was
"over the hill".)
was also able to restore and establish good and long-lasting relationships
with talent producers and advertisers--an area in which CBS had
suffered. He felt that viewers preferred "escapist" television to
"realist" television, and thought the half-hour situation comedy
was the staple of any prime time schedule. He also believed the
network should renew any program with ratings high enough to produce
development during Dann's regime was a significant increase in the
number of "specials" aired. While the staple of prime time programming
was, and remains, the weekly series, Dann believed that liberal
use of special programming at strategic times would only enhance
the network's ratings. One could argue that he was the innovator
of what has come to be called "event television".
1966, he recognized that television (and CBS, in particular) faced
a major crisis--the networks were running out of first-run theatrical
movies. As a result, CBS bought the old Republic Pictures lot, turned
it into the CBS Studio Center, and went into feature film production.
ABC and NBC soon followed suit.
Among the many successful programs introduced under Dann's leadership
were The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Mission:
Impossible, Mannix, Hawaii Five-0, and 60 Minutes. These program
development and programming skills were put to the test in one particular
instance. For years CBS had trouble competing in the very important
9:00-10:00 P.M. slot on Sunday evenings, despite a very strong lead-in
program (The Ed Sullivan Show). NBC had Bonanza, the
highly successful series, in that time period and CBS had failed
with its previous counter-programming attempts (Judy Garland,
Garry Moore, Perry Mason). Dann chose a new series for this
slot, a series he believed would attract a younger audience, The
Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. The move proved quite successful.
The Smothers Brothers' show became a hit, though not without more
than its share of controversy. The most notable conflict arose over
an episode involving folk singer Pete Seeger in 1967, who was scheduled
to sing his anti-war song "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy". Dann wanted
Seeger to delete one stanza of the song. When Seeger and the Smothers
refused, Dann had the song deleted from the telecast. In February
1968, Seeger was again scheduled to appear. This time the song,
in its entirety aired.
conservative attitudes toward social and cultural standards appeared
again when CBS decided to air the Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Dann had the producers make one change--Mary could not be a divorced
woman. He felt that premise too controversial and forced James L.
Brooks and Allan Burns to rewrite the character as a woman who had
recently broken off a long-term engagement.
power at CBS began to wane in the late 1960s, as did the ratings
of some of the shows he had developed and scheduled. His new boss,
Robert Wood, wanted innovation, not sameness. Dann was forced out
when he opposed cancellation of hit "rural" series: The Red Skelton
Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres,
and Hee Haw. These shows were replaced by series such as All
in the Family, deemed more socially relevant and, perhaps more importantly,
more appealing to a younger age group whose greater spending power
attracted advertisers. The public explanation for Dann's departure
was the ever-available and undefined "health reasons." His successor
was his protégé, Fred Silverman, who would go on to head the programming
departments of all three networks.
Photo courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable
DANN. Born in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A., 11 September 1921.
Educated at the University of Michigan, B.A. in Economics, 1941.
Married: 1) Joanne Himmell, 1949 (divorced, 1973), children: Jonathan,
Patricia, and Priscilla; 2) Louise Cohen, 1973. Comedy writer, 1946-47;
public relations staff of the New Haven Rail Road, 1947-48; trade
editor, NBC for press department, 1948-49; coordinator of program
package sales, 1949-50; supervisor, special telecasts, 1950-52;
manager, television program department, 1952-54; director, program
sales, 1954-56; vice-president, television program sales, 1956-58;
vice-president, network programming at CBS, 1958-63; vice-president,
programs for CBS, 1963-66; senior vice-president, CBS, 1966-70;
vice-president and assistant to president of Children's Television
Workshop, 1970s; consultant to Warner Cable, planning programming
for QUBE, 1974; developed concepts for Disney's Epcot Center; senior
program advisor for ABC Video Enterprises, 1980; visiting lecturer
in american studies and guest fellow of Yale University, 1973-78.
Barnouw, Erik. A History of Broadcasting in the United States,
Volume III: The Image Empire. New York: Oxford University Press,
David, and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers: From
I Love Lucy to L.A. Law, America's Greatest TV Shows and the People
Who Created Them. Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.
Robert. CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye. Chicago: Playboy,
William S. As It Happened: A Memoir. Garden City, New York:
Mitchell E. Television Network Prime-Time Programming, 1948-1988.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1989.
Robert. This...Is CBS: A Chronicle of 60 Years. Englewood
Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1988.
Broadcasting System; Paley,
William S.; Smothers
Brothers Comedy Hour