Influential TV mogul Lee Rich, who ran Lorimar Television and later MGM/UA, and won an Emmy for producing “The Waltons,” died of lung cancer Friday in Los Angeles. He was 93.
Rich founded Lorimar Television with Merv Adelson and Irwin Molasky in 1969, starting out as a producer of TV movies. When Earl Hamner Jr. brought Lorimar TV movie project “The Homecoming,” Lorimar produced the well-received pic and then sequel “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story,” which served as a pilot for “The Waltons.”
“Lee Rich was a giant in the television industry who produced some of the most iconic series in the history of the medium and influenced audiences worldwide,” said CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves. “He also served as an early mentor to me while I was at Lorimar, providing valuable guidance for which I will forever be appreciative. I will miss him as a friend and colleague and offer my sincerest condolences to his entire family.”
The folksy family series “The Waltons” ran on CBS from 1972-81, drawing the Emmy for outstanding drama series in 1973 and four other nominations in the category. Lorimar’s biggest hit was primetime soap “Dallas,” which ran from 1978-91; other successes included “Eight Is Enough,” “Knot’s Landing” and TV movies such as “Sybil” and “Helter Skelter.”
“He was one of the greatest producers to ever come out of advertising, and he knew talent better than anyone else,” said Norman Lear.
After Lorimar merged with Telepictures, Rich took over as chairman of MGM/UA in 1986, which the L.A. Times said at the time “sent a signal to the movie-making community that MGM/UA was going to make a serious attempt at restoring some of the glory and profitability once associated with these venerable studios.” Over the next few years, the studio made pics including “Moonstruck,” “The Living Daylights” and “Rain Man” as well as TV series “Moonlighting.”
“Lee Rich was an indelible talent who helped to shape the television landscape,” said Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, co-chairmen and chief executive officers of MGM. “Lee’s role as chairman and CEO of MGM/UA and the prolific body of work he created throughout his career continue to inspire the work we do today.”
Norman Horowitz, who worked for Rich as head of MGM TV, remembered him as a frugal but colorful “curmudgeon.”
After stepping down in 1988 from MGM/UA, his Lee Rich Prods. was based at Warners, and Rich served as producer on feature films such as Sidney Lumet’s “Gloria” and Wesley Snipes starrer “Passenger 57.” His most recent project, the feature film “Replay,” is currently in development at the studio.
“Lee’s passion for television, his business acumen and his love of the creative process made him an extraordinary mentor for all of us who had the good fortune to work for him,” said Bruce Rosenblum, president of Warner Bros. Television Group and chairman-CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “Lee was a creative force who established the gold standard for independent production companies, and the Lorimar/Warner Bros. merger was transformational for Warner Bros. Television.”
Rich got his start in television after attending Ohio U., working in the TV department at ad agency Benton & Bowles in the late 1950s.
He packaged and sold early TV hits such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Danny Thomas Show,” working essentially as another producer at a time when the advertising business had substantial influence on TV shows.
Rich left the agency in 1965 to form Mirisch-Rich Prods., which produced “The Rat Patrol” and “Hey Landlord.”
In later years, the outspoken Rich had strong opinions on the problems of the TV and film bizzes. He questioned the dependence on box office grosses in a 1992 L.A. Times interview, saying, “It’s fine to do movies and say, ‘We made big grosses,’ but you’ve got to go back and ask, ‘How much did it cost?’ and ‘Where do you make your profit?’”
Rich is survived by his partner, actress Pippa Scott; son Michael Henes, daughter Jessica Rich and her partner Frank Chiocchi, daughter Miranda Rich Tollman and her husband Brett, daughter Blair Rich and son Anthony Rich; and seven grandchildren.