Rick Jacobson, prexy and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television and a well-liked veteran of the syndication biz, died Sunday at Tarzana Hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 48.
During his four years at Twentieth, Jacobson re-engineered the company’s syndie and basic sales operations, setting an industry precedent when Twentieth launched “The X-Files” and “NYPD Blue” with simultaneous windows in both basic cable and off-net syndication. He integrated New World Entertainment into the Fox family, recently launched this season’s most successful syndie strip, “Divorce Court,” into the marketplace and just cleared another gaveler, “Power of Attorney,” for next season.
“Rick was a great colleague and friend, and it is impossible for me to adequately express the sense of loss we all feel,” said Mitch Stern, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Stations.
Jacobson, an avid baseball and hockey fan, was raised in Chicago and began his career with Orion Pictures, followed by Buena Vista Television, overseeing sales for the company’s off-net product. He later joined Viacom as prexy of domestic markets, where he ran all domestic sales and distribution efforts for the company’s motion-picture library, as well as off-net syndication.
“The one thing about Rick was that he always tried to make you laugh. He mixed it up with some tremendous wisdom,” said Tom Cerio, exec VP of sales at Buena Vista, who came into the business with Jacobson. “He was unique in that he was able to go into big corporations, no matter where he went, and have a major impact because he never lost touch with the human side of things.”
Jacobson went on to serve as prexy and CEO for Tribune Entertainment before joining Twentieth in December 1995. He was recognized in 1996 for his outstanding service by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“His leaving is going to affect a lot of people in this business, both sellers and buyers,” said former BVTV prexy Mort Marcus. “This is going to be tough for the industry to take.”
No decision has been made on filling his position at Twentieth.
Jacobson is survived by his wife, Gayle, and two daughters. A memorial service will be held today at noon at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the National Colorectal Research Alliance.