LAS VEGAS –The spirit of a television legend was saluted with reverence and fond memories of his irreverent spirit on Monday night as four industry heavyweights were feted by NATPE with this year’s Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards.
Bob Wright, former NBC Universal chief who worked with Tartikoff during NBC’s 1980s heyday, recalled his late friend as a “gifted executive, an extraordinary person, and probably one of the strongest and most courageous people I’ve ever met.”
NATPE prexy Rick Feldman opened the ceremony at the Mandalay Bay hotel by reading from a column penned by Variety’s Brian Lowry in August to mark the tenth anniversary of Tartikoff’s death at age 48 from Hodgkins disease.
Wright was intro’d by his successor, NBC U prexy and CEO Jeff Zucker, who saluted Wright as having been “a mentor to me for more than 20 years.”
In accepting the award, Wright noted the challenging business climate facing the TV biz, and he acknowledged that after stepping down from NBC U last February he is “now an investor rather than an operator.” But he suggested to the crowd that the new generation of industry leaders would do well to bring “some of the same level of Brandon Tartikoff enthusiasm and optimism in the face of adversity.”
And he reminded the aud that one of Tartikoff’s strongest qualities was his “belief in television’s ability to entertain, to uplift and to inspire.”
CBS Paramount Entertainment TV Group prexy Nancy Tellem was saluted for her commitment and enthusiasm for the creative process, and for her business acumen. Tellem recalled growing up in Northern California and being so besotted with television that she would mail away to NBC every year to get a copy of the net’s primetime sked. She also made special mention of industry vet Lew Klein, prez of NATPE’s Educational Foundation, for helping her land her first job in the biz.
Tellem was intro’d by “CSI” creator/exec producer Anthony Zuiker, who couldn’t say enough about the woman who helped ignite his career as a TV scribe.
“She is my protector, my defender, my creative partner,” Zuiker said. “She is my Brandon Tartikoff.”
Warner Bros. TV prexy Peter Roth was hailed for his longstanding role as a cheerleader for creative talent. Roth said he learned a great deal on how to be a good exec through his interactions with Tartikoff.
“He was the consummate creative executive: He was a showman and he was a mensch,” Roth said. “He served as a role model for an entire generation of executives.”
During his tenure as a top executive at Stephen J. Cannell Prods. in the 1980s and ’90s, Roth often found himself on the receiving end of latenight phone calls from Tartikoff “after a particularly exciting episode of (Cannell-produced shows) ‘The A-Team’ or ‘Hunter,'” Roth said.
“I’ve since followed his lead in calling producers all the time, but I’m a morning person so my calls are made at 5 or 6 in the morning — much to the chagrin of many spouses,” Roth said.
Cannell, a past Tartikoff Award recipient who presented the award to Roth, recalled his first pitch meeting with Tartikoff in the 1980s. It came at a time when NBC was in the ratings basement, and none of the seven new shows Tartikoff had shepherded on to the fall sked had merited a second season, Cannell said.
“I expected to find a fortress mentality at NBC,” Cannell recalled. “I walked into Brandon’s office and they were all having a paper fight. I thought how cool it was that he could keep a sense of fun when everything around him was burning.”
Cannell was quick to add that a key element of Roth’s success in his long career in TV has stemmed from the fact that Roth “shares Brandon Tartikoff’s qualities.”
Mark Itkin, co-head of worldwide TV for WMA, couldn’t help but observe in his remarks that “agents are seldom regarded as doing anything positive” but in fact there are some who strive to “change the world in small positive ways through entertainment.”
Itkin noted that Tartikoff’s love of the medium and competitive spirit made him a joy for agents to pitch to. At a time when television seems to be at an uncertain crossroads, Itkin suggested that industryites take the optimistic view that “new platforms, new business models and a shrinking world are creating more opportunities that ever.”