TARTIKOFF, BRANDON

U.S. Media Executive/Producer

TEXTAn 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.

Tartikoff , 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.

In 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.

NBC's 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 Night Court.

Tartikoff 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."

By 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.

-Michael B. Kassel


Brandon Tartikoff
Photo courtesy of New World Entertainment

BRANDON 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.

PUBLICATIONS

"Tartikoff Talks" (interview). Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), 4 June 1990.

The Last Great Ride, with Charles Leehrsen. New York: Turtle Bay Books, 1992.

Mandese, Joe. "Tartikoff Is still one of TV's Idea Men" (interview). Advertising Age (New York), 5 July 1993.

"Brandon Tartikoff" (interview). Mediaweek (Brewster, New York), 23 January 1995.

FURTHER READING

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.

Christensen, Mark, and Cameron Stauth. The Sweeps: Behind the Scenes in Network TV. New York: Morrow, 1984.

Coe, Steve. "Tartikoff Urges Networks to Take Risks." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), 20 May 1991.

Hammer, Joshua. "A TV King's Rough Passage." Newsweek (New York), 9 December 1991.

McClellan, Steve. "Grabbing the Grazers in a Crowded Field..." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), 1 February 1993.

Zoglin, Richard. "Return of the Slugger." Time (New York), 24 January 1994.

 

See also Cheers; Cosby Show; Early Frost; Family Ties; Hill Street Blues; Miami Vice; National Broadcasting Company; Programming; Silverman, Fred