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Les Brown, Journalist and Former Variety Scribe, Dead at 84

Editor wrote influential books on television, founded Channels magazine

Les Brown, a respected journalist who chronicled the growth of the television business for Variety, the New York Times and other publications, died Nov. 4 at his home in Larchmont, N.Y. He was 84.

As a reporter tasked with covering the radio business for Variety in New York, Brown was perfectly positioned to cover the rise of the smallscreen as it emerged from infancy. Later in his career, Brown assembled an authoritative encyclopedia of television, and wrote other books offering scholarly looks at the industry including 1971’s influential “Television: The Businesss Behind the Box.”

A native of Chicago, Brown was with Variety for nearly 20 years, starting in 1953. He rose to assistant managing editor before joining the Times in 1972. In 1980, he launched the industry-focused magazine Channels of Communications, which was later acquired by Norman Lear’s Act III Communications.

Brown’s reporting was distinguished by his insight and his skill at examining the smallscreen’s pervasive influence in the broader context of social trends. In story from the Feb. 11, 1970, edition of Daily Variety, Brown was quick to pick up on the significance of CBS’ creative shift from “yokel” sitcoms such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” to a new breed of comedy fare that would come to include “All in the Family” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

“CBS TV, which had a ‘Southern strategy’ years before there was a Nixon administration, appears to be jettisoning it, or at least phasing it out,” Brown wrote in a front-page account about the “de-ruralization” of the Eye’s sked.

Brown’s Encyclopedia of Television was first published in association with the New York Times in 1978. His other books included 1979’s “Keep Your Eye on Television.”

Later in his career, Brown taught at Yale U., Columbia U. and Fordham U. He was an editor and columnist at trade mag Television Business Intl. from the early 1990s through 2004.

Survivors include two daughters and a son.

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