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‘Entertainment Tonight’ creator Al Masini dies

He was a pioneer in producing syndie shows

Syndie pioneer Alfred Masini died Nov. 29 in Honolulu from complications of melanoma. He was 80.

Masini was behind such shows 1980s syndicated series as “Entertainment Tonight!,” “Star Search” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

Raised by his widowed mother, Masini started to work at age 10 at a Tootsie Roll factory in New Jersey. He served in the Air Force during the Korean War. After he left the service, Masini joined CBS News in 1954 and a year later shifted to its CBS Network Station Relations before seguing to network sales.

A couple of years later he left for spot sales company Edward Petry Co., where he introduced a more sophisticated sales system and procedures including individual spot pricing, which set the cost based on actual aud delivery, a method that’s the industry standard even today.

In 1968 he with future Disney topper Rich Frank set up TeleRep in Gotham to sell ads for client TV stations. Its clients grew to the hundreds and also entered into smallscreen programming including “Entertainment Tonight” based on mags such as People and TV Guide stripped across weekday evenings. To facilitate the timely delivery of the program to stations he arranged for 125 satellites to transmit the skein in 1981.

When discussing the budget with a major station, Masini was asked, “How long do you think ‘Entertainment Tonight’ will last?” He responded: “How long will your 6 p.m. news last?” The reply was “Forever.” Masini answered, “That’s the same for ‘Entertainment Tonight.'”

The show celebrated its 30th anni in September.

Masini then created one hit syndicated series after another. His formula for success was simple: “analyze the market, find a need, fill the need, and make it happen.” His first landmark music show was “Solid Gold,” a skein that became one of syndication’s highest-rated programs for a remarkable 10 years. Next followed “Entertainment Tonight,” “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” “Runaway With the Rich and Famous” and “Star Search,” which helped launch the careers of Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Christina Aguilera, Rosie O’Donnell, LeAnn Rimes, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone, Usher, Chris Rock, Drew Carey, Alanis Morissette, Sinbad, Tiffany and Brandy among others.

Robin Leach, host of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” said: “He was the most beloved and well-respected executive in the television industry. A true pioneer who launched first-run syndication in the industry we know today.”

Besides series Masini created 32 minis and specials including “Supermodel of the World,” “The Rich and Famous World’s Best,” “Star Search International,” “United States Air Show” and the “International Auto Show,” which ran annually for 12 years.

Another of Masini’s innovations was programming for independent TV stations with the creation of first-run mini-series under the banner of Operation Prime Time (OPT). Masini founded OPT, a consortium of stations designed to develop network quality prime time programming for local, independent stations. At the time it was the equivalent of the fourth network, long before Fox came on the scene. Television Program Enterprises (TPE), an offshoot of OPT, became one of the top syndicators of first-run programming. Over 12 years, OPT scheduled and ran 32 specials, amounting to 112 hours of primetime fare, most specials “out-rating” competing regular network programs. OPT specials have included many Emmy Award nominees and several Emmy winners such as Ingrid Bergman in “A Woman Called Golda,” Alec Guinness in “Smiley’s People,” Louis Gossett Jr. in “Sadat,” Robert Blake in “Blood Feud,” and Barbara Taylor Bradford’s “A Woman of Substance.”

His made-for-TV movies and syndicated series garnered more than 35 Emmy Awards. In 2003, he received the Broadcast Pioneer Award from the National Assn. of Broadcasters.

Entertainment promoter Tom Moffatt said, “Al Masini was an innovator in television. He created programs that were the precursors to shows like ‘American Idol.'”

After moving to Hawaii in 1994 he helped push the state for locations including such shows as “Baywatch Hawaii,” “Pacific Blue,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “Destination Stardom.”

“Make it happen! There are opportunities everywhere. You just need to recognize them,” was one of his mottos.

Survivors include his wife, Cheryl Honda, and a sister.

Donations may be made to the Alfred M. Masini Scholarship Fund, see almasini.com for details.

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