NATPE '08: Fifth Annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards Presented

Tartikoff Remembered, Four Industry Professionals Lauded 1/29/2008 06:05:00 AM Eastern

It was the feel-good event of NATPE '08, happening one evening before the trade show's official start. On Monday, the National Association of Television Program Executives -- in conjunction with Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News andVariety and with the cooperation of NBC Universal -- bestowed the Fifth Annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas.

Fifth Annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards

The awards honor the legendary showman, who took NBC from worst to first in the 1980s and gave TV some of its most enduring hits.

This year's honorees are Bob Wright, former CEO of NBCU, who luckily "inherited" Tartikoff when GE acquired NBC from RCA in 1986; Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, who admitted that even as a young adult, Tartikoff was an idol; Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television, whom pal and producer Stephen J. Cannell said embodies the same spirit and zest for television that Tartikoff did; and Mark Itkin, executive vice president and worldwide co-head of television for William Morris Agency, who made his first deal (for a game show) with Tartikoff.

Tartikoff died at age 48 in 1997 from complications Hodgkin's disease. He had first been diagnosed with it at age 23.

Wright, accepting his award, remembered the anxiety many at NBC felt when bottom-line General Electric took over and replaced the charismatic Grant Tinker as president with buttoned-down Wright.

On an early visit to Los Angeles, Wright recalled, he sensed that Tartikoff felt, "Oh, no, he's coming from GE to tell me I have no more money to spend, I know it, I know it, I know it." Instead, they forged a strong friendship. At the awards, Wright's wife, Suzanne, spent part of the evening embracing Tartikoff's widow, Lilly, in a supportive embrace as speakers extolled Tartikoff's contributions.

Tellem told how she yearned to be in show business while continuing to study in law school but followed the rise of Tartikoff. When she finally did get into the business, she added, she once met him briefly but regretted not telling him how much he influenced her. "I never seized that moment to tell Brandon what he meant to me," she said, adding that the award, and Lilly Tartikoff's presence, gave her the feeling, "I can finally right that wrong."

Roth, in a video and in remarks from Cannell, was tweaked for his reputation for giving hugs -- big and small -- to coworkers and pals. In a video, producers and other co-workers defined the hugs and showed the different style, all caught -style on grainy hidden video.

Roth credited Tartikoff with possessing the qualities other TV executives should have -- a love of television, an unbreakable spirit, a sense of humor and deep vein of integrity. Cannell, recalling Tartikoff's sense of humor, remembered visiting him during one of NBC's early ratings troughs and, supposing that he'd be entering a morgue-like environment, instead winding up in the middle of an NBC staff "paper fight" led by Tartikoff. That go-with-the-flow humor, he said, is an essence of Roth, too.

Itkin -- who admitted that he was such a TV geek as a child that he made his up his own TV lineups -- acknowledged, "Agents are seldom recognized for doing anything positive," but said he was driven in the business not by the buck but by the possibility of putting popular programming on television.

He recalled that in addition to selling Tartikoff the game show (which ultimately failed), he convinced Tartikoff to syndicate a late-night soap opera when, briefly, Tartikoff ran New World, then a producer of television. Tartikoff left that job, and the soap withered, but Itkin insisted, "There still should be a late-night soap opera, by the way … I'm always selling."

The night happened almost completely without mention of the writers' strike, although in private conversations, many in the crowd, connected tightly to the Hollywood inner circle, predicted that a breakthrough could be literally around the corner. Anthony Zuiker, creator of the CSI shows and itching to get back to work, said that once his staff is reassembled, they could be turning out scripts "within two days."

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