Jack Sameth, 79, renaissance TV man and veteran commercial and noncommercial producer whose credits spanned Beat the Clock, a Kennedy/Nixon debate, the first manned space flight, WNET New York's acclaimed Brain series, the wonderfully quirky Great American Dream Machine, and many more, has died of a heart attack at his home in Northport, N.Y., according to a WNET spokeswoman.
Sameth retired in 1996 after a 50-year career in the TV business that took him from game show Beat the Clock to trying to beat the news competition to a cerebral series looking at what made humans tick.
After graduating from Syracuse University, Sameth parlayed a job as page at the old DuMont TV network into directing for shows including drama anthology The U.S. Steel Hour, games Stop the Music and Clock, and The Walter Winchell Show.
By the time the first American was launched into space in 1961, Sameth was directing ABC news coverage of the event. He also directed one of the seminal Kennedy/Nixon debates that established TV as the new force in presidential politics, and was director of the ABC Evening News when Barbara Walters became the first female evening news co-anchor (with Harry Reasoner). He also worked with Bill Moyers and directed his This Week program.
After a stint as an ABC programming executive (The Jimmy Dean Show, for one), he began to divide his time between commercial and noncommercial projects.
His 1970 Great American Dream Machine series for WNET and PBS won an Emmy and numerous fans for its often offbeat look at society. The satirical newsmagazine featured Andy Rooney and Marshall Efron and became something of a cult classic with its mix of sketches, commentary and animation, with Pythonish elements, mixed with Saturday Night Live (Albert Brooks and Chevy Chase both contributed).
But Sameth is probably best known on the public TV side for his Peabody-winning WNET production, The Brain, and sequel, The Mind, plus dozens of PBS music specials on everyone from Mstislav Rostropovich to Benny Goodman, and a 1988 history of Television.
It is the third death in the WNET family in as many weeks. George Page, 71, creator and narrator of WNET's Nature series, died June 28, and veteran PBS producer and station executive Bill Lamb, who headed production of Nature when he was at WNET, died June 17.
Sameth is survived by two sisters, Lois Geldermann and Dorothy Buswell.