Brandon Tartikoff

Last updated

Brandon Tartikoff
Brandon Tartikoff at the 1988 Emmy Awards.jpg
Tartikoff at the 1988 Emmy Awards
Brandon Tartikoff

January 13, 1949
DiedAugust 27, 1997(1997-08-27) (aged 48)
  • Television network executive
  • Hollywood studio chairman
Known for
Office President of NBC Entertainment
Predecessor Fred Silverman
Successor Warren Littlefield
Spouse(s) Lilly Tartikoff (1982–1997, his death)

Brandon Tartikoff (January 13, 1949 – August 27, 1997) was an American television executive who was the president of NBC from 1980 to 1991. [1] He was credited with turning around NBC's low prime time reputation with such hit series as Hill Street Blues , L.A. Law , Law & Order , ALF , Family Ties , The Cosby Show , Cheers , Seinfeld , The Golden Girls , Wings , Miami Vice , Knight Rider , The A-Team , Saved by the Bell, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air , St. Elsewhere , and Night Court .


Tartikoff also helped develop the 1984 sitcom Punky Brewster ; he named the title character after a girl he had a crush on in school. He was also involved in the creation of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Beggars and Choosers .


Early life and career

Born to a Jewish family [2] [3] in Freeport, New York, Tartikoff was a graduate of the Lawrenceville School and Yale University, where he contributed to campus humor magazine The Yale Record .

While attending Yale, Tartikoff worked as an account executive and sales manager for WNHC-TV in New Haven, Connecticut, as well as in Hartford, Connecticut. Tartikoff spent vacations in Los Angeles looking for a job in network television. After graduating from Yale, he took a series of jobs in advertising and local television, including WLS-TV in Chicago, Illinois.

Career at NBC

Tartikoff was hired as a program executive at ABC in 1976. One year later, he moved to NBC (after being hired by Dick Ebersol to direct comedy programming). Tartikoff took over programming duties at NBC from Fred Silverman in 1981. [4] At age 32, Tartikoff became the youngest president of NBC's entertainment division.

When Tartikoff took over, NBC was in last place behind ABC and CBS, and the very future of the network was in doubt. A writers' strike was looming, affiliates were defecting, mostly to ABC, and the network had only three prime time shows in the Top 20: Little House on the Prairie , Diff'rent Strokes and Real People . Johnny Carson was reportedly in talks to move his landmark late-night talk show to ABC. The entire cast and writers of Saturday Night Live had left that late-night sketch-comedy series, and their replacements had received some of the show's worst critical notices. By 1982, Tartikoff and his new superior, the highly regarded former producer Grant Tinker, slowly but surely turned the network's fortunes around. [5]

As head of NBC's Entertainment Division, Tartikoff's successes included The Cosby Show , for which he had pursued Bill Cosby to create a pilot after having been impressed by Cosby's stories when Cosby guest-hosted The Tonight Show . Tartikoff wrote a brainstorming memo that simply read "MTV cops", [6] [7] [8] [9] and later presented the memo to series creator Anthony Yerkovich, formerly a writer and producer for Hill Street Blues . The result was Miami Vice , which became an icon of 1980s pop culture. [7] Knight Rider was inspired by a perceived lack of leading men who could act, with Tartikoff suggesting that a talking car could fill in the gaps in any leading man's acting abilities. [5]

During the casting process of Family Ties , Tartikoff was unexcited about Michael J. Fox for the role of Alex P. Keaton. [5] However, the show's producer, Gary David Goldberg, insisted until Tartikoff relented saying, "Go ahead if you insist. But I'm telling you, this is not the kind of face you'll ever see on a lunch box." Some years later, after the movie Back to the Future cemented Fox's stardom, Fox goodnaturedly sent Tartikoff a lunch box with Fox's picture on it, with a handwritten note reading: "Brandon, They wanted me to put a crow in here, but... Love and Kisses, Michael J." [10] Tartikoff kept the lunch box on display in his office. [11]

Jerry Seinfeld credited Tartikoff with saving Seinfeld from cancellation during its first four years of struggling ratings. [12] Johnny Carson broke the news of his retirement in February 1991 to Tartikoff at the Grille in Beverly Hills. For several days, only Tartikoff and NBC chairman Bob Wright knew of the planned retirement. [5]

Tartikoff wrote in his memoirs that his biggest professional regret was cancelling the series Buffalo Bill , which he later went on to include in a fantasy "dream schedule" created for a TV Guide article that detailed his idea of "The Greatest Network Ever".[ citation needed ]

Appearances on NBC's shows

During his time at NBC, he made appearances in several of the network's shows. He was played by David Leisure in an episode of ALF , when ALF suggests a sitcom about a family who hosts a loveable alien, making the tongue-in-cheek remark "Not in a million years, pal." He hosted Saturday Night Live in 1983 and appeared as himself in an episode of Saved by the Bell , where he briefly entertains the notion of a "show about a high school principal and his kids", before scoffing at the idea. During his 1983 appearance on Saturday Night Live, one skit featured Tartikoff in a black leather ensemble, with the words "Be There" spelled out in rhinestones on the back of his jacket. "Be There" was NBC's slogan during the 1983–84 season. Tartikoff appeared as himself on episodes of Night Court and Night Stand with Dick Dietrick , and in the background of one of the final episodes of Cheers.

Post-NBC career

He left NBC in 1991, moving to Paramount Pictures to become its chairman. A year later, Tartikoff left that post to spend more time with his daughter, Calla, who was injured in a car crash near the family's Lake Tahoe home.

In 1994, he made his comeback to national TV with Last Call, a short-lived late-night discussion show he produced. That same year he also produced The Steven Banks Show for PBS. Later that year, he began a brief run as chairman of New World Entertainment. Just prior to his death, Tartikoff served as the chairman of the AOL project "Entertainment Asylum", for which he teamed with Scott Zakarin to build the world's first interactive broadcast studio. He also continued to do on-air appearances on shows such as Dave's World and Arli$$ .


In 1982, Tartikoff married Lilly Samuels, and the couple had two daughters, Calla Lianne and Elizabeth Justine. In 1991, eight-year-old Calla suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident and received intense therapy in order to walk and speak again. Princess Calla on Disney’s “The Gummi Bears” was named for Calla Tartikoff. [13]

Tartikoff's parents were survivors of the collision of two 747s in Tenerife, Canary Islands, in 1977. [14]


Tartikoff died on August 27, 1997, at age 48 from Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer, with which he had had three separate bouts over 25 years. He was interred in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. The Deep Space Nine sixth-season premiere, "A Time to Stand", began with a title card reading "In memory of Brandon Tartikoff". A similar card appeared at the end of the ninth-season premiere of Seinfeld , "The Butter Shave". On August 29, 1997, Dateline NBC ran an extended tribute to Tartikoff which featured many famous figures whose careers he had influenced, including Warren Littlefield, Dick Ebersol, Bill Cosby, Michael J. Fox, Ted Danson, and Jerry Seinfeld. [15]

Related Research Articles

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial radio and television network owned by NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia. NBC is one of the Big Three television networks, and is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting; it became the network's official emblem in 1979.

<i>Seinfeld</i> American sitcom

Seinfeld is an American sitcom television series created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. It aired on NBC from July 5, 1989, to May 14, 1998, over nine seasons and 180 episodes. The show stars Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself who is the main protagonist and focuses on his personal life with three of his friends – George Costanza, former girlfriend Elaine Benes, and neighbor across the hall Cosmo Kramer. Seinfeld is set mostly in an apartment building in Manhattan's Upper West Side in New York City. It has been described as "a show about nothing," often focusing on the minutiae of daily life.

<i>The Cosby Show</i> American sitcom

The Cosby Show is an American television sitcom co-created by and starring Bill Cosby, which aired for eight seasons on NBC from September 20, 1984, until April 30, 1992. The show focuses on an upper middle-class African-American family living in Brooklyn, New York.

Dick Ebersol American television executive

Duncan "Dick" Ebersol is an American television executive and a senior adviser for NBC Universal Sports & Olympics.

Garth Ancier is an American television producer media executive.

"The Seinfeld Chronicles" is the pilot episode of the American sitcom Seinfeld, which first aired on NBC on July 5, 1989.

<i>Friday Night Videos</i>

Friday Night Videos is an American music video show that was broadcast on NBC from July 29, 1983 to May 24, 2002. It was the network's attempt to capitalize on the emerging popularity of music videos as seen on MTV. Belinda Carlisle appeared on the first episode.

<i>Buffalo Bill</i> (TV series) American television series

Buffalo Bill is an American sitcom television series that featured the misadventures of an egotistical talk show host, played by Dabney Coleman, and his staff at WBFL-TV, a small TV station in Buffalo, New York. It premiered June 1, 1983, on NBC and ran for two seasons (1983–84). It was also shown on the then-new UK fourth TV channel Channel 4.

"The Butter Shave" is the 157th episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. It is also the first episode of the ninth and final season. It aired on September 25, 1997.

Later was a nightly half-hour-long late-night talk show that ran on NBC from 1988 until 2001. Later typically aired for half an hour four nights a week at 1:30 a.m. following Late Night with David Letterman from 1988 to 1993, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien from 1993 to 2001. It was hosted by Bob Costas from 1988 to 1994, Greg Kinnear from 1994 to 1996, various guest hosts from 1996 to 2000, and finally Cynthia Garrett from 2000 until 2001. Garrett was the first African-American female ever to be given a network late-night show. Later was succeeded by Last Call with Carson Daly in 2002.

Ben Silverman

Benjamin Noah Silverman is an American media executive. He is the co-CEO and Chairman of the entertainment production company Propagate.

Warren Littlefield

Warren W. Littlefield is an American television executive.

Kevin Reilly (executive) American television executive

Kevin Reilly is an American media executive who served as the Chief Content Officer of HBO Max and the president of TNT, TBS, and truTV. In addition to his position at WarnerMedia, Reilly has also held executive positions at FX, NBC, and Fox, and has championed successful programs such as The Sopranos, Empire, The Office, 30 Rock, Friday Night Lights, The Shield, ER, Law & Order and Glee, among others.

<i>Saturday Night Live</i> (season 11)

The eleventh season of Saturday Night Live, an American sketch comedy series, originally aired in the United States on NBC between November 9, 1985, and May 24, 1986.

<i>Dark Shadows</i> (1991 TV series)

Dark Shadows is an American prime time gothic soap opera television series which aired on NBC from January 13 to March 22, 1991. A re-imagining of the 1966–71 ABC daytime gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, the revival was developed by Dan Curtis, creator of the original series.

A sitcom, clipping for situational comedy, is a genre of comedy centered on a fixed set of characters who carry over from episode to episode. Sitcoms can be contrasted with sketch comedy, where a troupe may use new characters in each sketch, and stand-up comedy, where a comedian tells jokes and stories to an audience. Sitcoms originated in radio, but today are found mostly on television as one of its dominant narrative forms.

<i>The Hogan Family</i> American television series

The Hogan Family is an American sitcom television series that began airing on NBC on March 1, 1986 and finished its run on CBS on July 20, 1991, for a total of six seasons. It was produced in association with Lorimar Productions (1986), Lorimar-Telepictures (1986–1988), and Lorimar Television (1988–1991). Originally starring Valerie Harper in the titular role as a mother trying to juggle her career with raising three sons with an absent airline pilot husband, Harper's character was killed off in the series after its second season, when Harper was fired from the series following contractual disputes. The series was initially renamed Valerie's Family before Sandy Duncan joined the cast as Valerie's sister-in-law and the boys' aunt, and the series was ultimately renamed The Hogan Family.

John Joseph Agoglia was an American television executive noted for his work at NBC from 1980 to 1998, including a tenure as President of NBC Enterprises. He was considered one of the network's top negotiators, often heading complicated negotiations between NBC and producers, actors and television studios. Agoglia was instrumental in the decision to replace Johnny Carson, the departing host of The Tonight Show, with Jay Leno in 1992.

"A Limo for a Lame-O" is a commentary delivered by Al Franken during Weekend Update on the May 10, 1980, episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Using the framework of his own desire to have a limousine drive him to and from his job at NBC, the network which broadcasts the program, Franken attacked network president Fred Silverman for NBC's poor showing in the Nielsen ratings during his tenure. It has been called "one of the meanest acts of character assassination in—well, the history of mean acts of character assassination."

Richard Adam Ludwin was an American television executive and former vice president at NBC Television. He is notable as the executive who backed Jerry Seinfeld's series Seinfeld, which went on to become one of the most popular and successful television sitcoms of all time. During his 31 years at NBC, Ludwin worked with every The Tonight Show host—Steve Allen and Jack Paar, albeit after their time on Tonight, as well as Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, and Jimmy Fallon. He also helped guide the network through the Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno conflict in 2010.


  1. "TV programming wizard Brandon Tartikoff dead at 48". CNN. August 27, 1997. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
  2. Norwood, Stephen Harlan; Pollack, Eunice G. (2008). Encyclopedia of American Jewish History. United Kingdom: ABC-Clio. p. 477. ISBN   978-1-851-09638-1.
  3. Brook, Vincent. From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood: Chapter 1: Still an Empire of Their Own: How Jews Remain Atop a Reinvented Hollywood. Purdue University Press. p. 12.
  4. Barbera, Joseph (1994). My Life in "Toons": From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century. Atlanta, Georgia: Turner Publishing. pp.  188–189. ISBN   1-57036-042-1.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Tartikoff, Brandon (1992). The Last Great Ride. New York: Hyperion Books. ISBN   0-394-58709-X.
  6. Janeshutz, Trish (1986). The Making of Miami Vice. New York: Ballatine Books. p. 12. ISBN   0-345-33669-0.
  7. 1 2 Zoglin, Richard (September 16, 1985). "Cool Cops, Hot Show". Time Magazine. Time Inc. Retrieved November 2, 2007.
  8. Boyer, Peter J. (April 19, 1988). "Guiding No. 1: The Man Who Programs NBC". The New York Times. Retrieved February 8, 2008.
  9. "About the Show". NBC Universal, Inc. Archived from the original on April 23, 2008. Retrieved May 28, 2008.
  10. Rose, Lacey (October 17, 2012). "The Private Files of Brandon Tartikoff Revealed". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  11. Dawidziak, Mark. "Gary David Goldberg, who fought to cast Michael J. Fox in 'Family Ties,' dies at 68". The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Retrieved April 3, 2017.
  12. The Howard Stern Show, June 26, 2014. SiriusXM.
  13. "Back On Her Feet". Los Angeles Times . March 25, 2007.
  14. Newsweek , March 1977.
  15. "Tartikoff service private; NBC airing tribute tonight". Variety . August 29, 1997. Retrieved December 2, 2016.

Further reading

Business positions
Preceded by
Fred Silverman
President of NBC
Succeeded by
Warren Littlefield
Preceded by
Frank Mancuso Sr.
Chairman of Paramount Pictures
Succeeded by
Sherry Lansing