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TV programming wizard Brandon Tartikoff dead at 48

Brandon Tartikoff, 1949-1997

Brought viewers classics 'The Cosby Show,' 'Seinfeld'

August 27, 1997
Web posted at: 10:10 p.m. EDT (0210 GMT)

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Brandon Tartikoff was a network television golden boy, known throughout the entertainment industry for his Midas touch.

The former programming wizard for NBC, who died Wednesday at 48 from Hodgkin's disease, was the youngest entertainment president of a major network when he took over the NBC reins in 1980 at the age of 30.

Over the next decade, he would lead the once-moribund network from worst to first in the ratings, introducing such memorable classics as "Hill Street Blues," "Cheers," "L.A. Law," "The Cosby Show" and "Seinfeld." Under his tutelage, NBC was the No. 1 network for five consecutive seasons.

But Tartikoff, described by those who knew him as possessing a self-deprecating sense of humor, also talked easily about his miscues. For example, he turned down "Roseanne," a show that went on to become a major hit for ABC. He also brought the American viewing public such forgettable fare as "Manimal" and "Beverly Hills Buntz."

"Brandon Tartikoff was an irrepressible spirit and an irreplaceable friend," Steven Bochco, creator of "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law," said in a statement.

"We'll miss his creativity, boundless energy, strength and, of course, his wonderful sense of humor," said Warren Littlefield, his successor at NBC.

After leaving the network, Tartikoff became head of Paramount Pictures in 1991. There, his tenure was more mixed. He was responsible for the smash hit "Wayne's World" -- but he was also the man behind the disappointing, and quickly disappearing, "1492: Conquest of Paradise."

Just 15 months after taking the helm at Paramount, Tartikoff left the studio to spend more time with his family after his daughter, Calla, was seriously injured in a car accident. They moved to New Orleans, where she was receiving therapy.

He later became the head of New World Entertainment and ran his own production company, called H. Beale, after a character in the movie "Network."

Tartikoff and his wife

This past March, Tartikoff was hired by America Online to overhaul the online service's entertainment offerings.

Tartikoff was born on January 13, 1949, in Freeport, New York, a New York City suburb on Long Island. After graduating from Yale in 1970, he took a series of jobs in advertising and local television but spent vacations in Los Angeles looking for a job in network television.

His break came when Fred Silverman, head of programming at ABC, hired him as the network's director of dramatic development in 1976. A year later, he went to NBC to direct comedy programming. Three years later, he was in charge of all of the network's entertainment offerings.

Tartikoff had battled Hodgkin's disease, a lymph node cancer, for more than half his life. He was just 23 when he was first diagnosed with the illness, and he beat back two earlier bouts with the malady that eventually took his life.

He died at the UCLA Medical Center, where he had been undergoing chemotherapy earlier this year.

Tartikoff is survived by his wife, Lilly, and two daughters.

Correspondent Ron Tank contributed to this report.


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