It is not a GOOD MORNING. My good friend and a friend to the industry, Brandon Tartikoff, has left us, far too early. … It’s hard to find ample words to describe this courageous man. No matter to whom I spoke about him, the same words were repeated: kind, honest, a man of his word, fair, tireless. Even though he’d been downed time after time by the dread Hodgkin’s disease, he was never out. Even after the most recent, very painful treatments, he continued to work tirelessly on future projects. He wanted me to be a part of his AOL entertainment programming and created a TV show he wanted me to host, “The Name Game.” We developed it together and were skedded to meet with KABC-TV, Aug. 5. At our last breakfast meeting, Aug. 1 at the Westwood Marquis, he enthused about the project and the extraordinary technology (which he thoroughly understood) that would be woven into the show. But the day before we were to have the meeting, his secretary called and said he wanted to postpone it until after Labor Day. I knew he was not all that well. Although he had driven himself to our last meeting, he was painfully thin. He wore a baseball cap to cover the effects of the last chemotherapy treatments, and he excused himself for eating sparingly. “But I eat several times a day,” he said when I urged him to share my plate of fruit. I called regularly to see how he was doing. And his brave wife Lilly returned my call on the 12th. “It takes more to break me,” she said, “but I’m getting to that point. It (his pain) has been really horrible.” Everyone had begged Brandon to take it easy, to relax his work schedule. But he didn’t know what the word “relax” meant. Remember, he named his company H. Beale, after the newsman character played by Peter Finch in “Network” who hoped for better TV programming and shouted to the world, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!” Those, of course were Paddy Chayefsky’s words, but the former network chief had always kept that message in mind.
“I’VE BEATEN THIS OPPONENT before,” Brandon told me as he readied for his second chemotherapy session to try and KO Hodgkin’s. Last Thanksgiving, he discovered a swollen gland while shaving. He immediately met with Dr. Dennis Slamon, who’s in charge of the Revlon/UCLA Women’s Cancer Research Unit, with whom wife Lilly had been working via the Fire and Ice fund-raising balls (and she continues to do so). It was the third time Brandon would be battling cancer of the lymph node, he revealed. “Back in 1981,” he admitted, “I had my first recurrence. I was president of NBC and while I was supported strongly by Grant Tinker, I did not think it wise in my position, with a network which was not doing very well, to divulge my illness.” He helped cure NBC and it seemed he was also healthy again. After this second bout, Tartikoff became supportive of others who had Hodgkin’s disease, giving one-on-one counseling, giving optimism and hope from his example. “I want to now be able to continue doing it for them, ” he told me Jan. 20 of this year. He maintained his sense of humor: after losing all his hair, saying he looked like Michael Jordan! At that time his H. Beale banner had 15 network and cable projects sold, five features in development and a Tartikoff line in Avon books, plus a cyber project with AOL Although he knew that the third chemotherapy treatment would be quite a “wallop” he was confident he and Lilly would get through it.
LILLY BECAME BRANDON’S NURSE, giving him the shots needed for the new drug designed to fight the disease. “He’s going to make it,” she said at that time. But in May, Brandon was back in the hospital, “Just for a 1,000-mile checkup,” he told me confidently. He started readying “Ernie’s Christmas Special,” based on the America Online “Kids Only” channel. Characters were to be prepared by Will Vinton, the stop-motion animator of California Raisins fame. “He was exuberant as a kid on his this project,” I wrote in May. As for his many activities during this period, he explained, “I come from a discipline of running NBC and Paramount: I’m more like an orchestra leader, I come from a world of juggling 20 balls.” But he was doing his juggling in a hospital room. He was more like a composer than an orchestra leader, constantly creating new shows. While in New Orleans (and commuting to L.A. as well as N.Y.), he had created a local TV gameshow, “The Know It Alls.” It is so successful, he told me, similar local versions are set for Indianapolis. Atlanta, and Texas cities this Fall. He was also excited about his Fox series, “Blade Liners,” about cops on roller blades! He was full of ideas involved with current/future technologies and entertainment. When he was released from the hospital after stem-cell transplant and chemotherapy in April, he said, “This is the fourth greatest day of my life — the other three being the meeting with wife Lilly, the birth of our first child and the adoption of our second. I’ve done a lot for cancer in the past, I’m going to do a lot more for people with cancer now,” he promised. It’s now up to us to do it for you, Brandon.