independent producer and former president of Paramount Pictures,
Brandon Tartikoff served from 1980-91 as the youngest and most accomplished
president of NBC's Entertainment division. During his tenure at
NBC, Tartikoff developed a blockbuster Thursday night lineup which
helped the ailing network rank number-one in primetime for the first
time in 30 years.
, an admitted "child of television," confesses that he once dreamed
of being the next Ed Sullivan, but his television career began at
the local level. After undergraduate work in broadcasting at Yale,
Tartikoff broke into the business at WTNH in New Haven Connecticut.
Driven to make it to the big leagues, he soon landed a job at the
ABC owned-and-operated WLS in Chicago, the third largest market
in the country. He worked under the tutelage of Lew Erlicht, his
eventual rival programmer.
the mid-1970s, ABC President Fred Silverman was impressed by Tartikoff's
high camp promo for a series of "monkey-movies" dubbed "Gorilla
My Dreams." Silverman recruited Tartikoff for manager of dramatic
development at ABC. Three years later, the up-and-coming 30-year-old
"boy wonder" of television was snatched by third-place NBC, where
Silverman had become president in 1978. Tartikoff was named head
of the entertainment division, where he stayed for the next 12 years,
the longest any individual has held that position.
ratings breakthrough came in 1984, when Tartikoff happened to catch
Bill Cosby doing a monologue on The Tonight Show. Convinced
Cosby's family-based banter would make for an excellent sitcom,
Tartikoff recruited the comedian and producers Tom Werner and Marcy
Carsey. The resulting Cosby Show not only helped resurrect
the failing sitcom format, but became the building block for a Thursday
night schedule which also included Family Ties, Cheers, and
was at the helm for the development of MTM Entertainment, Inc. series
Hill Street Blues, which exploded in popularity in its second
season after receiving critical acclaim and an armload of Emmy awards
in its first. And he shepherded as well An Early Frost, the
first TV-movie about AIDS. Miami Vice was also conceived
under Tartikoff; according to executive producer Michael Mann, when
the head of entertainment presented him with a short memo which
read: "MTV. Cops."
1991, when Tartikoff left NBC to head Paramount Pictures, the network
had been ranked first in the ratings for six consecutive years.
Tartikoff was replaced by Warren Littlefield. A series of organizational
changes at Paramount and a near-tragic auto accident later led Tartikoff
out of the studio arena and into the realm of independent production.
Photo courtesy of New World Entertainment
TARTIKOFF. Born on Long Island, New York, U.S.A., 13 January
1949. Educated at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, B.A.
with honors 1970. Married: Lily Samuels, 1982; one daughter. Director
of advertising and promotion, WTNH-TV, New Haven, 1971-73; programming
executive for dramatic programming, WLS-TV, Chicago, Illinois, 1973-76;
manager, dramatic development, ABC-TV, New York City, 1976-77; writer,
producer, Graffiti; director of comedy programs for NBC Entertainment,
Burbank, California, 1977-78, vice-president of programs, 1978-80,
president, 1980-90; chair, NBC Entertainment Group, until 1991;
chairman, Paramount Pictures, 1991-92; independent Producer from
1992. Recipient: Tree of Life Award, Jewish National Foundation,
1986; Broadcaster of the Year, Television, Radio and Advertising
Club of Philadelphia, 1986.
Talks" (interview). Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), 4 June
The Last Great Ride, with Charles Leehrsen. New York: Turtle
Bay Books, 1992.
Joe. "Tartikoff Is still one of TV's Idea Men" (interview). Advertising
Age (New York), 5 July 1993.
Tartikoff" (interview). Mediaweek (Brewster, New York), 23
Carter, Bill. "The Man Who Owns Prime Time." The New York Times
Magazine, 4 March 1990.
"Tartikoff's 11 Years at NBC: One for the Record Books." The
New York Times, 6 May 1991.
Mark, and Cameron Stauth. The Sweeps: Behind the Scenes in Network
TV. New York: Morrow, 1984.
Steve. "Tartikoff Urges Networks to Take Risks." Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), 20 May 1991.
Joshua. "A TV King's Rough Passage." Newsweek (New York),
9 December 1991.
Steve. "Grabbing the Grazers in a Crowded Field..." Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), 1 February 1993.
Richard. "Return of the Slugger." Time (New York), 24 January
Broadcasting Company; Programming;