Innovator was known for mentoring other producers

Veteran producer Edgar J. Scherick, who created “Wide World of Sports” for ABC, helped produce Woody Allen’s first film and brought dozens of TV movies and miniseries to the small screen, died Tuesday, associates said. He was 78.

Scherick, whose last completed work was HBO’s Emmy-nominated historical drama “Path to War,” died of leukemia in his sleep at his Los Angeles home, said Steven Abronson, head of development for Scherick’s production company. He said Scherick, who had a stroke six years ago, had been diagnosed with leukemia in the past six months.

Charming and garrulous, the Harvard-educated Scherick was known for mentoring other producers throughout his career.

Scherick grew up in Long Beach, New York, on the south shore of Long Island. As a young boy he distributed weekly circulars for the local movie theater door-to-door. His pay was an unlimited free pass to the movies.

He joined the Army in 1943 at age 18 and served for three years, two of them as a meteorologist in Iceland.

After the war, he attended college, majoring in economics and English at Harvard, where his classmates included Henry Kissinger and Bobby Kennedy.

Scherick served as programming chief for ABC TV from 1963-66, bringing such shows as “Batman,” “The Hollywood Palace,” “Bewitched” and “Peyton Place” to the network and helping ABC achieve the top spot in the Nielsen ratings survey for the first time.

He also conceived and developed ABC’s landmark sports spectacular “Wide World of Sports.” The long-running show, which debuted in 1961 with Jim McKay as host, helped revolutionize the broadcasting of athletic events by employing new camera angles, sound techniques and other innovations that brought the viewer closer to the action.

After leaving ABC, Scherick formed his own movie company and went on to produce or executive produce such films as Woody Allen’s first feature, “Take the Money and Run,” as well as the Oscar-nominated mystery “Sleuth,” starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, and Neil Simon’s “The Heartbreak Kid.” Other features included “The Taking of the Pelham 1-2-3,” “The Stepford Wives” and “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.”

Later credits include the 1982 drama “Shoot the Moon,” starring Diane Keaton and Albert Finney, the 1984 romance “Reckless,” with Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah, and the 1991 period drama “Rambling Rose,” with Laura Dern and Robert Duvall.

But Scherick was best known as one of the most prolific producers of miniseries and TV movies in Hollywood.

His most recent completed work was as exec producer with director John Frankenheimer on “Path to War,” a docudrama chronicling the escalation of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam under President Lyndon Johnson. The film garnered eight Emmy nominations.

Scherick also shared Emmy noms for the 1990 miniseries “The Kennedys of Massachusetts” and the 1977 TV dramatization “Raid on Entebbe,” about the daring Israeli hostage rescue in Uganda.

Scherick broke into television in the early days of the medium as a radio and TV executive for a New York advertising agency, putting together the “Baseball Game of the Week With Dizzy Dean,” the first regular weekly telecast of a Major League game on a national basis.

He later joined CBS as a sports specialist, shaping the regional networks that formed the basis for CBS’ entrance into professional football telecasting. In 1957, he formed his own company, Sports Programs Inc., which produced “Wide World of Sports” and a host of other athletic-based shows during an era in which sports was experiencing tremendous growth on TV.

Sports Programs Inc. was eventually merged into ABC to become the network’s sports production arm. Scherick became vice president in charge of ABC’s network sales in 1961. Two years later, he was named vice president for programming.

Scherick’s first marriage, in 1960, lasted 20 years. He and his wife, Carol, had four children. His second marriage to Marge ended in 1998.

(Steve Gorman is a reporter for Reuters News Service.)

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