Norman Horowitz, a colorful and outspoken syndication executive who headed that area at MGM/UA, Columbia Pictures Television and Polygram, died Tuesday at his home in Beverly Hills after a heart attack. He was 82.
Horowitz served as president-CEO of MGM/UA Telecommunications, following stints at Columbia, CBS/Viacom and founding the TV unit at Polygram. He was responsible for selling numerous shows into syndication, from firstrun offerings to lucrative reruns of programs like “Barney Miller,” “Starsky and Hutch” and “Soap.”
In one of his favorite anecdotes, Horowitz saw the pilot to “Barney Miller” after producer Danny Arnold had sold it to ABC, acquiring the distribution rights for about $100,000. The project returned millions over the years to the studio.
Known for his outspokenness and sense of humor, Horowitz would often pitch a show to stations by saying he was confident it would be a huge hit, “unless it isn’t.”
Horowitz remained active after leaving the syndication business, serving as a consultant. But he also soured on the growth of the major studios, in the 1990s forming a cooperative with other TV veterans to serve as expert witnesses for clients who were suing their studios for not being forthcoming about the profits from shows, usually because of self-dealing from one arm of the company to another.
“The only true test of what any of these things are worth is a marketplace test,” he said at the time. “The studios place themselves in an untenable position, because they won’t allow the program to go where it belongs, which is the highest bidder.”
Horowitz also found an outlet by contributing thoughts about the media business to the Huffington Post, and distributing reminiscences about his time working in television to friends and former colleagues. One of his major concerns was consolidation of the industry, and what he saw as an abdication by federal regulators.
“Courtesy of the government . . . broadcasting has been encouraged to be run as a powerful, semi-monopoly by a half-dozen companies,” he said in a 2001 interview. “The little syndicator is going to be out of business.”
Born in the Bronx, he enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War and began his career at Screen Gems in the 1950s.
Horowitz is survived by his son, Steven, a partner at Inner Circle Sports; daughter-in-law Katie Danziger; and their children, Jake, Jilly and Josie; his daughter, Eileen Horowitz Bastianelli, and her daughters, Lola and Maya; and his ex-wife, Florence. A memorial is being planned for this summer.
Donations may be sent to the New York chapter of the March of Dimes