You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Michael Dann, CBS Programming Chief in 1960s, Dies at 94

Michael Dann, the longtime CBS executive who steered the network’s winning primetime strategy in the 1960s with hokey and hip shows ranging from “The Beverly Hillbillies” to “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” has died. He was 94.

Dann died May 27 at his home in Boca Raton, Fla., according to the New York Times.

Dann held the role of CBS programming chief from 1963 until 1970, when he was replaced by his protege, Fred Silverman. Hits delivered on Dann’s watch included “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Hawaii Five-0,” “Mannix” and the venerable “60 Minutes.”

Dann’s long run at CBS was credited in part to his “uncanny ability to gauge (CBS chief) William Paley’s probable reaction to most program ideas,” according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications. Dann brought the Smothers Brothers to CBS, but then battled with the brothers and producers over the show’s liberal political bent. He famously insisted that Pete Seeger’s performance of the anti-war song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” be deleted from a 1967 episode, although Seeger returned to the show in February 1968 to perform the song in full.

Dann was known for establishing warm relations with most CBS talent and for generally preferring escapist fare, particularly sitcoms. He also championed CBS’ acquisition of Republic Pictures in the mid-1960s which came with the spacious lot in Studio City that is now the network’s West Coast headquarters.

Despite his long run at CBS, Dann cited his experience at NBC working for legendary programming exec Pat Weaver as the high point of his career. “Television was at its best then because it was new and (Weaver) was there,” Dann said in a 1998 interview with the Archive of American Television. He added that Weaver taught him about the responsibility that the new medium had to its viewers. “We had to have a report from every producer every week … about what was on their screen that they were proud of,” Dann recalled.

Born in Detroit in 1921, Dann graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in economics. He began his career on the heels of World War II as a comedy writer. In 1948 he joined NBC, first working in publicity, but quickly moving into programming, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications. He rose to the post of running NBC Entertainment under Peacock founder David Sarnoff before shifting to CBS in 1958.

By 1963, Dann was upped to head of programming. He worked under five CBS presidents during his run. Among his final moves at the Eye were to greenlight “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” although he made creators Allan Burns and James L. Brooks change the title character from a recently divorced woman to one who had just broken off an engagement; and to set a deal with producer Norman Lear to develop the comedy that would define CBS for a generation, “All in the Family.”

Dann left CBS in 1970 after clashing with then-president Robert Wood, who championed Silverman and the shift in tone that came with “All in the Family.”

Dann joined the Children’s Television Workshop during the formative years of “Sesame Street.” He worked as a consultant to Warner Cable on its pioneering QUBE programming effort. He also helped develop concepts for the Walt Disney Co.’s Epcot Center and was an advisor to ABC Video Enterprises. From 1973 to 1978 he was a lecturer in American studies at Yale University.

More TV

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA

    TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA West President, Dies at 91

    Prolific Emmy-nominated television writer Christopher Edwin Knopf, former president of the Writers Guild of America West, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on Feb. 13. He was 91. Knopf was born in New York and attended UCLA, leaving during his senior year to join the Air Force during World War II. He finished [...]

  • Jussie Smollett The Black AIDS Insitute

    Jussie Smollett Case: Two Suspects Released Without Charges as New Evidence Emerges

    After two days of questioning, the Chicago Police Department announced Friday evening that it has released two suspects in the Jussie Smollett case without filing charges. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that detectives had developed new information in the case. Police no longer consider the men to be suspects. “Due to new evidence as a [...]

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

  • Ken Jeong TV Take Podcast

    Listen: Ken Jeong on His Return to Stand-Up and New Netflix Special

    Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, talks with Ken Jeong about his Netflix comedy special, “Ken Jeong: You Complete Me, Ho,” and being a judge on Fox’s “The Masked Singer.“ Jeong started working on his new standup act after ABC canceled his show “Dr. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content