Howard Schultz, a prolific unscripted TV producer whose most recent hits included VH1’s “Dating Naked” and MTV’s “Are You the One,” died Monday while on vacation in Hawaii. He was 61, and there was no immediate word on a cause of death.
Schultz was head of Lighthearted Entertainment, the banner he founded in 1992. During his long career in TV, Schultz produced such series as “Studs,” “Extreme Makeover,” “The Moment of Truth,” “The Big Date” and “SexWars.” He was respected for his ability to move quickly in development and handle production matters soup-to-nuts on his shows thanks to his years of experience.
“Beyond Howard’s incredible television acumen existed a man who truly cared for everyone he encountered in a way unique from anyone I have ever met. TV has lost a visionary mind, and we have lost a mentor in life,” said Rob LaPlante, exec VP of Lighthearted.
LaPlante and Lighthearted VP Jeff Spangler were recently named partners with Schultz in the company, which will continue under their guidance.
Mike Darnell, president of Warner Bros. Unscripted and Alternative Television, hailed Schultz as a “fearless producer.” The two worked together on and off for years during Darnell’s long tenure at Fox.
“No matter how crazy or irreverent a concept was, he would go at it full force and with no regrets,” Darnell said. “He was an absolute pleasure to work with, straightforward, funny and someone you could always count on. I am shocked and saddened by the news and my heart goes out to his family.”
Schultz began his career in Chicago, working as a live TV producer at ABC powerhouse WLS-TV. He moved to Los Angeles and developed “Real People,” a forerunner of primetime docu-reality shows that ran on NBC from 1979-84.
Schultz worked as a producer on a range of TV series during the next decade before making headlines in 1991 as the exec producer of “Studs,” the syndicated series that pushed the envelope for raunch on dating shows.
Mark DeCarlo hosted the half-hour that aired mostly in latenight, often in tandem with “Married … With Children” reruns, and featured contestants sharing intimate details about blind dates. “Studs” caused a stir for its content, but as Variety noted in 1991, the “Married” / “Studs” combo airing on many Fox affils was “enticing viewers more rapidly than they are repelling advertisers.”
“Studs” had run its course within a few years, but by then Schultz’s credentials were well established at a time when demand from cable nets and broadcasters for unscripted programming began to boom.
Other shows produced by Lighthearted include “Bedroom Buddies,” “Goodnight America,” “Jones and Jury,” “The Smarter Sex” and “The George and Alana Show.”
In recent years, Schultz traveled to numerous foreign markets to help local producers handle format adaptations of shows from Lighthearted and other banners.
Schultz is survived by his wife, Tana; two sons; and a stepson. A memorial service is being planned.