Award Winners Talk Tartikoff

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The Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards -- sponsored by the National Association of Television Programming Executives, Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and Variety -- were given out at the NATPE convention in Las Vegas Tuesday night.

Appropriate to a syndication convention, the awards ceremony, now in its second year, was in tone a repeat of last year's: emotional, heartfelt, and funny.

Recipients--Carole Black, the soon-departing CEO of Lifetime Television; Jim Burrows, the director who's been associated with so many of TV's best sitcoms; and Dick Wolf, who started a stampede toward prime time crime dramas with a few truckloads of Law & Orders, received the dish-like awards.

When Burrows, who had a deep friendship with Tartikoff, got his award, he instructed NATPE President Rick Feldman to tilt it upward, satellite-style, "so maybe Brandon can hear."

Tartikoff, the legendary NBC program chief through the 80's, when he took the network from nowhere to knock-out, left NBC in 1991 and died in 1997 of Hodgkin's disease.

Wolf, Burrows and, to a lesser extent, Black, talked about the faith Tartikoff always expressed in what they were producing. "He was the last programmer who solely worked by his gut," Wolf said, recalling an early episode of Law & Order that aired without any commercials sold. Tartikoff didn't seem to care. "When he believed in you, you really had to screw up for him not to believe in you," Wolf said.

Wolf later added that he regretted that Tartikoff had died shortly before L&O won its first Emmy, after six years of being nominated. After each loss, he said, Tartikoff called to say, "Maybe next year."

Black recalled her times with Tartikoff when she worked in marketing for Disney, which had lots of shows on NBC at the time. No matter what funk she might have been in, she recalled, Tartikoff's boundless spirit always picked her up. " He obviously was having fun," she said."He just enjoyed it."

Mainly, Black said, she was honored to be honored with Burrows and Wolf. She also talked of ending up on a cross-country flight with Wolf a couple years ago where she pleaded with him to find a way to let Lifetime get a crack at reruns of Wolf's series, though deals with TNT and USA were already in place.

Black said, speaking of Burrows, who directed many episodes of some of the TV's most venerated comedies (and Will & Grace today), "Jim Burrows, you are the only person who ever made me stay home on Saturday night--to watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show."

Earlier Kevin Reilly, who is now the president of NBC Entertainment--the title Tartikoff held--called Tartikoff "an enormous influence on my life." And he joked, "Not a week goes by I don't think about him--and that he didn't warn me about this job."

As she did last year, Lilly Tartikoff, Brandon's widow, talked about her husband fondly, and briefly said she knew if he were still around he'd have liked to have been at NATPE to look at new shows. Then she allowed, "Basically, I think he just liked to schmooze with you guys."

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