TV exec David W. Tebet, who recruited Johnny Carson for NBC’s “The Tonight Show” died June 7 of complications from a stroke in Coronado, Calif. He was 91.
A former theater publicist in New York, in 1959 Tebet became NBC’s vice president for talent, where his job was to spot and recruit stars for the network. Among entertainers he landed were Michael Landon, James Garner and Dean Martin.
When Jack Paar was about to leave “The Tonight Show” in 1962, Tebet spotted Carson on daytime television and lobbied to bring him to NBC. He was also involved in casting Angie Dickinson in “Police Woman” and in the inception of “Saturday Night Live.”
When Carson set up his Johnny Carson Prods. and bought “The Tonight Show,” Tebet resigned from NBC and became exec. V.P. of the new company, where he stayed until his retirement.
Tebet and his onetime roommate Sammy Cahn, the songwriter, were reportedly the inspiration for Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple,” with Tebet inspiring the Felix Unger character. He was also said to have inspired the “good guy” TV exec Max Schumacher in the film “Network.”
Born in Atlanta, Tebet grew up in Philadelphia, where he began his entertainment career as a theater usher. After studying journalism at Temple University, he moved to New York to publicize Broadway shows.
He received the medallion for distinguished service of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and was lifetime member of the Board of Governors of the New York Friars’ Club.
Tebet was married to actress Nanette Fabray from 1947 until their divorce four years later.
He is survived by two nephews and a niece.
Donations may be made to the Neurosciences Research Foundation, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Dr., San Diego, CA 92121.