Gary Nardino, former head of television production at Paramount and Orion, died Saturday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after suffering a stroke on Jan. 22. He was 62.
During his tenure at Paramount from 1977 to 1983, Nardino’s division dominated the industry with hits such as “Happy Days,” “:Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers” and “Taxi.”
“He ran Paramount when Paramount was by a large measure the No. 1 TV studio in town,” said CBS Television president Leslie Moonves, who for years attended Nardino’s lavishly catered Thursday night poker games. “He was larger than life in more ways than one. He was a showman, and he enjoyed all the trappings of being a top TV executive. He was a major figure in our industry and he affected the lives of a lot of people.”
Fond of characters
Nardino clearly was fond of the characters he helped bring to the small screen. ” ‘Happy Days’ took us to an innocent time and brought us in touch with our adolescence,” he wrote in a Daily Variety column in June 1987.
” ‘Taxi,’ on the other hand, did the opposite,” he wrote. “It took an ensemble of different characters with conflicting points of view and divergent experiences and placed them in a microcosm of stark reality. ‘Taxi’ was a human drama every week, dealing with good and evil, love and hate.”
Nardino also hit paydirt with miniseries and TV movies. Under his supervision, Par made “Shogun,” “Golda” and the landmark production “The Winds of War,” all of which won Emmys.
Nardino’s division consistently produced more programs than its competitors. In the 1982-83 season alone, the Paramount TV trademark appeared on 11 weekly primetime shows.
Nardino’s success in TV spilled into motion pictures: He supervised production of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” one of Par’s top box office hits of 1982, and was exec producer of “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”
Nardino was born on Aug. 26, 1935, in Garfield, N.J., and graduated from Seton Hall U. with a busi-ness degree. He entered the industry in 1959 as an agent and, over the years, represented clients such as Lorimar Prods. – which would later bring him aboard as an independent producer – Granada Televi-sion, Filmways, David Frost, Allan Funt, Dick Clark and Arthur Godfrey.
He was senior VP of ICM’s New York TV department, a post he also held subsequently at the Wil-liam Morris Agency. Nardino was the TV packaging agent for variety specials starring Bing Crosby, Shirley MacLaine, Andy Williams and Perry Como.
As agent for David Susskind, Nardino negotiated network deals for “Eleanor and Franklin,” “The Glass Menagerie” and “The Price.”
Representing Granada TV, he came up with a groundbreaking co-production agreement that made possible a series of American plays produced in London for U.S. television, among them Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth,” with Laurence Olivier.
In July 1983, Nardino vacated the TV helm at Par to produce theatrical films and TV programs under his own banner. Linked to Par, Gary Nardino Prods. made “Brothers” for Showtime and “Marblehead Manor” and “Hard Knocks,” both for NBC.
In 1988, he was named chairman and CEO of Orion Television Entertainment, where he supervised series like “Equal Justice,” “Hearts Are Wild,” “Lifestories,” “American Detective” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures.”
In June 1991, when Orion’s TV production wing closed down, Nardino moved to Lorimar as part of an indie deal to create TV programming. When Lorimar was taken over by Warner Bros., Nardino came with the package. Among other projects at WB, he was exec producer of “Time Trax.”
More recently, Nardino became co-president of North Hall Prods., which produces “Pacific Blue,” in its fourth season on the USA Network.
“I just feel honored that I could spend the last three years working with such a kind, generous and intelligent legend in the television business,” said Bill Nuss, Nardino’s partner at North Hall.
Nardino’s marriage to the former Florence Peluso ended in divorce. They had three children, Caroline, Teresa and Gary. Nardino is survived also by his sisters, Angela Stafford and Theresa Sodaro, and his father, Louis Sodaro. A memorial service will be held on Feb. 11 at a place to be announced. The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the scholarship fund at Seton Hall U.