Thursday, January 30, 2020

Fred Silverman Passes On

Fred Silverman, a network executive who worked at CBS, ABC, and NBC and later became a successful television producer, died today, January 30 2020, at the age of 82.

Fred Silverman was born on September 13 1937 in New York City. His father worked for Sears as a radio and television repairman. As a child Fred Silverman collected radio scripts that he obtained from porters working for the radio networks. He graduated from Syracuse University with a bachelor's degree and then earned a master's degree from Ohio State University. His master's thesis analysed ABC's programming practices from 1953 to 1959, during which time the network went from having few hit shows to several.

He broke into television in 1961 at WGN-TV in Chicago, editing commercials there. He oversaw the development of children's programming at the station, including Bozo's Circus. He also oversaw repackaging old Boma the Jungle Boy movies and kid's movies aired in the afternoon under the heading Family Classics. He left WGN in 1963 for WPIX in New York City. He was only at WPIX for six weeks before being hired by CBS as director of Daytime Programming.

As the head of Daytime Programming at CBS, Fred Silverman created a hit line-up of Saturday morning cartoons in 1966, capitalising on the superhero craze with such shows as Space Ghost and Dino Boy, The New Adventures of Superman, and The Lone Ranger. While CBS's superhero cartoons proved very successful, to the point that NBC and ABC debuted their own superhero cartoons the following season, they also led to backlash from moral watchdogs concerned about the violence in the cartoons. It was then in 1968 that Fred Silverman successfully shifted CBS's Saturday morning line-up to more humorous fare such as The Archie Show and Wacky Races. In 1969 Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? debuted on the network, eventually becoming a franchise that lasts to this day.

In 1970 Fred Silverman was promoted to Vice President, Programs at CBS. As such he would become the architect of the Rural Purge. While the Rural Purge would see the cancellation of shows that arguably had much more life in them (notably Mayberry R.F.D. and Hee Haw, CBS would see the debut of several hit shows in the early Seventies, including such shows as All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Waltons, Kojak,and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.  Fred Silverman was also responsible for re-introducing games shows to the CBS daytime line-up, including such hits as Match Game and The Price is Right (which still airs to this day).

It was in 1975 that Fred Silverman moved to ABC, where he was named president of ABC Entertainment. While Happy Days had debuted before his move to ABC, Fred Silverman was responsible for saving the then low-rated sitcom from cancellation. It was while he was at ABC that the network debuted such hits shows as Laverne & Shirley, Charlie's Angels, Three's Company, The Love Boat, Soap, and Fantasy Island. He pioneered the mini-series on American television by airing both Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots. Under Fred Silverman's watch, ABC became the number one network for the first time in its history.

It was in 1978 that Fred Silverman moved to NBC, where he was made President and CEO. Unfortunately he would not see the success at NBC that he had at CBS and ABC. Mr. Silverman would see some successes at NBC, including CHiPs, Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters, Hill Street Blues, and the mini-series Shogun. He also made the series commitments that led to Cheers and St. Elsewhere, even though both would debut after he was gone from NBC. At NBC, however, Mr. Silverman's failures far outnumbered his successes, including Hello, Larry; Pink Lady; Supertrain;  and The Krofft Superstar Hour. Things were so dire that in 1981 NBC had its worst season in its entire history. As a result, Fred Silverman found himself ousted as president and CEO of NBC.

Fred Silverman would not remain down for long. Leaving NBC in 1981, he founded the Fred Silverman Company. Often in conjunction with Dean Hargrove Productions, the Fred Silverman Company not only revived Perry Mason as a series of TV movies, but also produced such hit shows as Matlock, Jake and the Fat Man, In the Heat of the Night, and Diagnosis Murder.

As legendary as Fred Silverman was as a programmer, he did make his share of mistakes. While the Rural Purge was to some degree necessary to clear the way for new shows, it also saw the cancellation of shows that arguably still had life in them (Hee Haw would last over twenty more years in syndication). It was on his watch that a number of ill-fated shows were launched at ABC and NBC, including The Brady Bunch Variety Hour; Hello, Larry; The Big Show; Pink Lady; and Supertrain. That having been said, his successes far outnumbered his failures, to the point that it could be said with some certainty that he was a programming genius.

Indeed, it was arguably Fred Silverman who put the Saturday morning cartoon on the map. His successful spate of superhero cartoons an later comedy cartoons insured that CBS would dominated Saturday mornings in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Once he became Vice President, Programs at CBS, he saw the debut of such hits as All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Maude, and Kojak. At ABC he also saw success, with such hits as Laverne & Shirley, Charlie's Angels, Three's Company, and Soap. Once his career as a network executive was over, he was able to become a successful television producer, producing shows that are still aired in syndication to this day, including Matlock, In the Heat of the Night, and Diagnosis Murder. It must also be noted that Fred Silverman did not rely on any one formula at programming. At CBS he was responsible for a number of socially relevant sitcoms and detective dramas. At ABC his programming tended to be more escapist fare. Fred Silverman seemed to have a knack for knowing what audiences wanted at any given time.

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