Brandon Tartikoff (1949-1997) was president of NBC Entertainment and is credited with NBC’s rise from the third place network to first in the ratings race in the 1980s. Tartikoff is thought of as a creative, original, risk-taking executive whose innovations improved the network and the television industry.

He graduated from Yale University in 1970 with a degree in English. He worked his way up through the ranks at ABC, first at local affiliates and then recruited for the network by Fred Silverman, the head of programming. In 1978, Silverman and Tartikoff took on the challenge of revitalizing last place NBC. Silverman appointed Tartikoff as the network’s entertainment president, making him the youngest network division chief in history, a post that he held even after his mentor left NBC.

Tartikoff’s formula was a combination of quality hour-long dramas and crowd pleasing sitcoms. Among NBC’s successes under Tartikoff’s watch were St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, Family Ties, The Cosby Show, L.A. Law, and Cheers. NBC’s Thursday night ratings powerhouse, a dominance which it still retains today, began during this era. Back then it began with Cosby at 8 and ended with Hill Street Blues at 10, a potent combination of dramas and sitcoms that remains with today’s Friends to ER lineup.

Tartikoff moved into the movie industry in 1991 by becoming chair of Paramount. Both industries mourned his 1997 death of Hodgkin’s disease.

TV Guide named an award after Tartikoff and this year’s recipient, the first, was David E. Kelley. Today Kelley oversees The Practice and Ally McBeal. Back in 1989, Kelley was an unknown whom Tartikoff took a chance on by allowing him to replace Steven Bochco as executive producer on L.A. Law.

Rumor has it that Punky Brewster’s dog was named after him.

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