Dennis Johnson, a TV programming exec and producer who was among the first African-Americans to rise through the Big Three network ranks, died Dec. 23 while on vacation in St. Barts. He was 68.
A Virginia native and graduate of Temple U., Johnson had a nearly 20-year run at Showtime. He got his start as an NBC page working on “The Tonight Show” in 1969. He advanced through several posts in the Peacock’s comedy development department before moving to ABC as VP of programming in 1975.
In 1978, Johnson joined the Osmond family’s production shingle, Osmond Television. He held a variety of posts there and at other production companies until he joined Showtime in 1984 as director of current programming for the pay cabler and its Movie Channel sibling.
While at Showtime, he established a program for black filmmakers and served as president of the National Assn. of Minorities in Cable. He rose to senior VP of programming during his long run at the cabler, which ended in 2002.
Johnson segued into producing movies, telepics and specials including 2002’s “Keep the Faith, Baby” and the 2008 feature “Hope and Redemption: The Lena Baker Story” starring Tichina Arnold. He was exec producer on the concert special “From the Heart: The Four Tops’ 50th Anniversary Celebration.”
After his retirement, Johnson was an active volunteer at Hollywood’s First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. He also volunteered through the Sherry Lansing Foundation as a mentor for minority high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Johnson’s survivors including his partner of 27 years, veteran publicist Russ Patrick, and a sister.
A memorial service is being planned for later this month.