In the 24 years or so that I've spent covering television, there has been no character more colorful than David Gerber, who died Jan. 2 at the age of 86.

Accomplished as a producer ("Police Story," "Police Woman," "George Washington") and an executive — including a stint at MGM when the studio developed "thirtysomething" — Gerber remained fascinated by the business until the very end. Indeed, while in his 80s he received an Emmy nomination for the 2006 A&E movie "Flight 93," about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11.

Beyond that, Gerber mentored a number of leading industry executives, including former Fox COO Peter Chernin and veteran TV and studio exec Jeff Sagansky, who simultaneously served as Gerber's VPs of development. In a profile of Gerber that I wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2001, both men fondly remembered working for him.

"He's still one of the biggest influences in my life in this business," Sagansky said, characterizing his time working for Gerber as "the greatest education you could get."

Chernin added, "It was probably the closest thing to an old-fashioned apprenticeship that's existed in this town in an awfully long time."

For all that, Gerber's memorable style nearly eclipsed his on-screen endeavors. Barry Diller recalled referring to his whirlwind visits to ABC when he was a young exec there in the 1970s as "Gerber-rama," which included talking to every secretary and assistant as he passed by. Gerber's explanation: Who knows? The next time that kid might be running the network.

In trying to capture Gerber — which can't easily be done on paper — here's a section from that earlier piece:

Despite his success, certain trappings of his youth never left him, among them a rapid-fire manner of speech (friends have dubbed it "Gerber-ese") that involves periodically mangling the English language and mixing up names.

For his part, Sagansky recalls being referred to as "Steve" for months, to the point where he began to wonder if Gerber had unwittingly hired the wrong person. Similarly, when Gerber ran MGM Television in 1980s, publicists prepared detailed press releases for reporters assigned to interview Gerber, politely telling them that attempts to decipher their own notes and tape recorders would amount to a mission impossible.

Gerber's age was often a well-kept secret, so I'm happy to finally report that he was born July 25, 1923. He is survived by his wife Laraine and will be sorely missed.

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