You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Brandon Stoddard, ABC Exec Who Shepherded ‘Roots,’ Dies at 77

Brandon Stoddard, the longtime ABC exec who shepherded such landmark longform productions as “Roots” and “The Winds of War,” died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 77.

Stoddard had a 25-year career at ABC, rising to entertainment president from 1985-89. He spent another six years as head of ABC Prods. before stepping down in 1995.

During his long run, Stoddard was an instrumental player in steering ABC’s success with large-scale miniseries productions. None was a bigger gamble than “Roots,” a gritty historical look at the journey of Africans into the slave trade in America that aired over eight consecutive nights in January 1977. The production and the impact it had as a cultural event remains a milestone for the medium.

Stoddard was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in March. After leaving ABC, Stoddard spent 10 years teaching graduate students at USC’s School for Cinema and Television.

Stoddard was a mentor and friend to a generation of TV execs including Bob Iger, producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner and Ted Harbert, now chairman of NBC Broadcasting.

“In many ways, I owe my career to Brandon. He taught me how to read a script, how to talk to writers and to above all, revere great characters and stories,” Harbert told Variety. “And we laughed.”

Iger, chairman-CEO of Disney, succeeded Stoddard as ABC Entertainment president in 1989.

“Brandon was a true maverick who was instrumental in transforming prime time television. His influence continues, and he will be missed by everyone who had the good fortune to know him,” Iger said.

Gary Levine, exec VP of programming at Showtime who worked with him at ABC in the 1980s and ’90s, recalled that one of Stoddard’s guiding principles for development was to respect the audience.

“In spite of the fact that Brandon was one of the smartest creative execs ever to work in television, he never looked down on his audience. He insisted on aiming high, which was rare for broadcast television,” Levine told Variety. “The results: ‘Roots,’ ‘China Beach,’ ‘Roseanne’ and ‘Thirtysomething,’ to name but a few, speak volumes about his taste, his craft and his fierce belief in challenging the viewers.”

Stoddard grew up in Southport, Conn., and attended Yale University. He initially pursued a career as an actor, but got discouraged and veered in law. He wound up in advertising at BBDO, which eventually led him to join ABC in 1970 overseeing daytime and children’s programming. He developed the enduring “Schoolhouse Rock” shorts designed to teach kids basic history, English and civics lessons such as how a bill becomes a law.

As he rose through the ranks at ABC, Stoddard moved into the longform arena where he helped bring “Roots” to the screen. ABC under Stoddard delivered epic, ambitious productions that were seen as “novels for television,” drawing on Stoddard’s high-brow taste in literary material and his equally strong skill at adapting it for mass appeal. Among the ABC productions of the era were “Rich Man, Poor Man,” “QBVII,” “The Thorn Birds” and “Masada.”

The 1983 WWII saga “The Winds of War” starring Robert Mitchum marked a peak of audience size and scope of the storytelling. But the 1988 sequel “War and Remembrance” marked the beginning of the end of the mega-miniseries as it was costly and not as successful as its predecessor.

Beyond the miniseries, Stoddard championed telepics that broke ground on controversial subjects, such as the nuclear drama “The Day After”; “Something About Amelia,” which tackled incest; and “Friendly Fire,” about the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

He also oversaw ABC’s feature film development efforts in the early 1980s. The division yielded the Oscar-nominated “Silkwood,” which started out as an ABC TV movie project; “The Flamingo Kid”; and “Prizzi’s Honor,” among other titles.

Stoddard was named ABC Entertainment president in 1985. While Stoddard was head of programming, ABC fielded such hits as “Roseanne,” “The Wonder Years,” “Moonlighting,” “Thirtysomething,” “China Beach,” “Max Headroom” and “Full House.” He also greenlit the pilot for “Twin Peaks” and oversaw the production of the cult-fave “My So-Called Life” during his time at ABC Prods.

Later in life, Stoddard turned to painting and had an exhibition of his works at Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Anne Dolan, and two daughters.

Here’s a clip of Stoddard discussing the surprise success of “Roots” in an Archive of American Television interview with Variety‘s Brian Lowry:

More TV


    'Chilling Adventures of Sabrina' Renewed for Seasons 3 and 4 at Netflix

    Netflix has ordered two more seasons of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” The streamer has ordered another 16 episodes of the series, which will be split into two parts like Season 1 and 2. Season 3 and 4 will begin production in 2019. Season 2 is set to premiere April 5, 2019. “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” imagines [...]

  • Songs for Screens Powered by Mac

    How The Rolling Stones' 'She’s a Rainbow' Got a Seven-Figure Synch Renaissance

    As far as Rolling Stones chart hits go, “She’s A Rainbow” is more of a cult favorite in the band’s canon, just missing the Top 40 of Mick Jagger’s biggest Billboard Hot 100 hits of all time. But by 2018 standards, it’s suddenly become a smash — based on how many high-profile sync placements the [...]

  • David Schwimmer to Star in New

    David Schwimmer to Star in New Sky Comedy Series ‘Intelligence’

    David Schwimmer will play a power-hungry NSA agent relocated to the U.K. in “Intelligence,” a new six-part comedy series for Sky in Britain. Schwimmer is best known to British audiences for his role as Ross in “Friends,” but was recently in the news after British police posted a video of a suspected thief who seemed [...]

  • Fiona Campbell Named Controller of BBC

    BBC Names Fiona Campbell as New Head of Online Channel BBC Three

    The BBC has named Fiona Campbell the new boss of its youth-skewing online channel, BBC Three, replacing outgoing controller Damian Kavanagh, who is leaving in the new year to run Endemol Shine-owned producer Tiger Aspect. Campbell has been heading up the documentary unit at BBC Studios, the U.K. pubcaster’s production division. She also worked at BBC Three [...]

  • Rüdiger Böss, ProSiebenSat.1's Longtime Hollywood Buyer,

    Rüdiger Böss, ProSiebenSat.1's Longtime Buyer in Hollywood, to Leave the Company

    Rüdiger Böss, who as head buyer for ProSiebenSat.1 negotiated the German broadcast giant’s deals with U.S. studios for many years, is leaving after more than a quarter of a century at the company. Böss is a well-known figure in the international TV business and a familiar face at major events and markets. ProSiebenSat.1 CEO Conrad [...]

  • Rebel Wilson Romantic Comedy

    Rebel Wilson to Star in Australian Drama Series 'Les Norton'

    Rebel Wilson and David Wenham will star in Australian drama series “Les Norton.” Adapted from the novels of Robert G. Barrett, the show is presented by The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Screen Australia. Set in 1985, the series will follow the exploits of a country bloke from outback Queensland, played by rising star Alexander Bertrand [...]

  • Korea's CJ ENM Acquires Scandinavian Sales

    South Korea's CJ ENM Acquires Scandinavian Sales Company Eccho Rights

    South Korean entertainment powerhouse CJ ENM has acquired a majority stake in Stockholm-based rights-management and sales company Eccho Rights. A leading entertainment and merchandising company in Asia, CJ ENM will give Eccho Rights the resources to expand its global footprint across Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Eccho Rights has offices in Stockholm, Istanbul, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content