Len Firestone Dies at 93; Executive Was Pioneer in Television Syndication

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Leonard Firestone, a pioneer in the television programming and syndication industries who oversaw the off-net syndication of shows including “The Addams Family” and “Green Acres,” died at his home on Hilton Head Island, S.C., on March 4.

Firestone began his entertainment career at Unity Television in 1950, distributing theatrical films to television stations and quickly rising to national sales manager.

Variety quoted Firestone as saying that “in 1950, the only programming available to the new fledgling television stations were (pre-’48) movies, so we met that need.” In the mid-1950s he was hired by Ziv Television, where he oversaw a sales force of more than 100 salesmen, distributing firstrun TV programming such as “Sea Hunt” and “The Rifleman.” In the early 1960s, Firestone was hired to run Four Star Television Distribution, which was founded by Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino and David Niven. Subsequently Firestone was senior VP at Filmways, in charge of off-network syndication for sitcoms “The Addams Family” and “Green Acres.”

In the mid-1960s he founded his own company, Firestone Films (later, Firestone Program Syndication Company), and went on to become one of the key innovators in firstrun syndication. Firestone initially found success distributing firstrun talk shows (“The Pat Boone Show,” “The New Steve Allen Show”), but his vision was to produce firstrun half-hour programming specifically for the syndication market. Until that time, the only series programming offered in syndication were reruns of off-network series.

Among many sales innovations, Firestone developed a straightforward simple sales strategy: a telephone-based operation. While his competitors spent precious time traveling all over the country, Firestone utilized a telephone-based sales operation to efficiently cover many TV markets per day. Firestone thus outsold the competition, resulting in much greater sales revenues and wider distribution. Client producers included Goodson-Todman Productions (“To Tell the Truth,” “Tattletales,” “Beat the Clock”), Reg Grundy Productions (“Prisoner: Cell Block H”), Allen Funt Productions (“Candid Camera”) and Chuck Barris Productions (“The Gong Show,” “The Dating Game,” “The Newlywed Game”).

Firestone was also an extremely active advocate in regard to the legislation of the FCC’s establishment of PTAR (Prime Time Access Rule), which gave network TV affiliates the ability to “access” a one-hour block of time per day from their respective broadcast networks’ primetime schedule so those stations could air their own syndicated programming. This was a boon to those stations, as well as to producers and firstrun programming syndicators. He retired from the business in 1980.

Firestone, the son of immigrant parents, was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he attended Duquesne University and began his broadcasting career as a radio disc jockey for WPGH-AM. During WWII he enlisted in the Air Force, serving as an overseas pilot in Japan. After the war, Firestone sought his fortune in New York City.

Firestone’s wife, Carole (Honey) nee Greenfield, to whom he was married for 59  years, predeceased him in 2009.

Survivors include two sons and a daughter; ; six grandchildren Errol (Nicole); and a great-grandson.

 

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