Award recipients tell their stories
The presentation of the second annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards will take on decidedly Peacock hues.
All this year’s award recipients — Lifetime Entertainment Services president and CEO Carole Black, Emmy-winning director and producer James Burrows, and Emmy-winning writer and producer Dick Wolf — have close ties with the late programming chief via their associations with NBC.
These are their stories …
“I’m very honored to accept any award with the name Brandon Tartikoff on it,” says Black, who, as a TV marketing executive at Disney, worked with Tartikoff on series the Mouse House produced for the Peacock web.
“He was so extraordinary and such a visionary in our business. He believed in creative people and the talent, and he believed in the American audience.”
Black, who served as president and general manager of NBC 4 in Los Angeles before joining Lifetime, shares Tartikoff’s commitment to serving the viewer. She follows a consumer-oriented philosophy honed in her early days in both brand management and advertising.
“It’s extraordinarily important to understand and connect with the audience you’re serving,” Black says. “I started out in brand management at Procter & Gamble, where it was critically important to understand what women wanted and what their families wanted.”
That respect for her audience is on display at Lifetime.
Equally important to Black are Lifetime’s high-profile public advocacy campaigns — from breast cancer to teen sex to violence against women — with the hope of making an impact in the lives of women beyond entertaining.
“I think it’s both an honor and obligation to be able to serve on causes that are important to our viewers. What we do is find out issues that are most important to women and their families and we advocate on their behalf,” says Black.
In the coming months, Black will give up what she called her “dream job” to “take time off for good behavior,” as she puts it. When her contract is up in March, Black will leave Lifetime to travel and re-charge her creative batteries.
For a quarter of a century, “Law & Order” Dick Wolf has entertained auds with compelling storytelling in the one-hour realm, starting out as a story editor and writer on the drama “Hill Street Blues.” In 1990, Wolf created “Law & Order” and made television history.
Now in its 15th season on NBC, the show has spawned two spinoffs: “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” now in its sixth season, and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” in the midst of its fourth year.
A fourth “Law & Order” brand extension, “Trial by Jury,” will premiere later this year.
“Virtually all of us in senior management creatively in this business owe him an enormous debt, even if it’s not direct,” Wolf says. “He ran 22 hours of the schedule and knew they weren’t all his taste. But the shows he cared about he couldn’t be talked out of; he could not be pushed to get rid of them. The only reason ‘Law & Order’ is on the air is because of Brandon Tartikoff.”
For years, the “Law & Order” series have been ubiquitous on television, both in their network runs and shared cable windows, as well as in off-net syndication on cable. Some producers worry about overexposure but Wolf takes the opposite approach.
“The more shows are on, the more people watch them. It’s like the chicken or the egg. People won’t watch a show they don’t like, but if they like it, there is no such thing as too much.
” ‘Law & Order’ is comfort food for the mind in a sense. It’s the focus on story,” continues Wolf. “Go back and look at shows that have succeeded for years and years in syndication, and they’re all story driven and all shows that have had a complete hour each week. It’s not like ‘Law & Order’ invented it. It’s been true for 50 years.”
James Burrows realizes that if not for Tartikoff, “Cheers” would have not only never become a comedy classic but might not have even made it on the air past a couple of episodes.
Such support was vital in the early 1980s when “Cheers” survived the threat of early cancellation solely because of Tartikoff’s commitment to the low-rated sitcom.
“He loved television, and while he was concerned about ratings, he was also concerned with doing innovative stuff on television as opposed to things that were imitative,” recalls Burrows.
Perhaps best known as the co-creator, exec producer and director of “Cheers,” Burrows currently serves as exec producer and director “Will & Grace” and has directed multiple episodes of seminal television series that have gone on to become syndication stalwarts. These include “Frasier,” “Friends,” “Wings,” “Night Court,” “Taxi,” “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
“There was no question that I would accept this award because of what Brandon means to me and what he means to the TV business,” Burrows says.
“He was an inspiration to all creative people, a man who was a kid at heart. He loved television. … He could give you a note but make it seem like help and support.”