That’s where Kerner wrote his senior thesis, a 30-page treatment for a series that follows a military family in 1961 as they live through such political episodes as the Cuban missile crisis, the Kennedy assassination and the Civil rights movement. Twelve years later, as ABC’s VP of dramatic development, Kerner teamed up with Jon Avnet and Steve Tisch to develop what would become the 1984 one-season-wonder, “Call to Glory.”
Kerner had cut his teeth as a negotiator, buyer and seller at the Big Three, working with mentors from across the industry. Formerly president at the Eye, Bob Daly helped Kerner get his start in business affairs at CBS. Later came Charles Engel at Universal and Quinn Martin at QM Productions, from whom Kerner inherited his competitive streak.
“I became hooked with the notion of caring about what the entertainment said, caring about the level of execution, and caring about being No. 1,” he says.
But beyond the wheeling and dealing, Kerner always harbored that deep-seated passion for content creation. It’s what compelled him to develop “Call to Glory,” just as it would compel him to turn down an offer to become the Alphabet’s head of primetime programming.
“If I had taken that job, I would have been on track to be the next entertainment president – it was just that progression,” he says. “But what I really wanted was to learn how to make the product.”
He’d overseen some of the Peacock’s biggest shows of the era, like “Quincy, M.E.” and “The Rockford Files,” but developing his own passion project was just the spark Kerner needed to quit climbing the studio rungs and start his next chapter: producing.
And despite diving into the role with such early feature credits as “Less Than Zero,” “Heat Wave” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” Kerner never forgot the sensibilities that steered him in the TV trenches.
“TV gave me the desire to follow characters deeper,” he says. “It’s about burrowing in, telling more stories and following characters who just tickle me.”
Another common thread in Kerner’s credits: pics adapted from TV. “Inspector Gadget,” “George of the Jungle” and “The Smurfs” each had their glory days on the smallscreen before hitting theaters and an “ALF” vehicle is coming down the pike.
So why does this blockbuster producer keep circling back to TV development?
“It’s the golden era of television,” Kerner says. “Pound for pound, TV is so far superior to features today. From my point of view, the amount of compelling images, performances and writing dwarfs theatricals in the last five years.”