Craig Zadan, the prolific producer known for his touch with stage, TV and film musicals including NBC’s recent return to live event productions and three Academy Awards telecasts, has died. He was 69.
Zadan died Monday night at his Hollywood Hills home of complications from a recent shoulder replacement surgery, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt announced Tuesday.
“We are stunned that the man behind so many incredible film, theater, and television productions — several of them joyous musicals — was taken away so suddenly,” Greenblatt said. “Craig’s distinguished career as a passionate and consummate producer is eclipsed only by his genuine love for the thousands of actors, directors, writers, musicians, designers, and technicians he worked with over the years. His absence will be felt in our hearts and throughout our business.”
Zadan had a long producing partnership with Neil Meron in Storyline Entertainment, which was recently renamed Zadan/Meron Productions. The two were known for shepherding high-end movies and miniseries for broadcast and cable networks, ranging from dramas such as “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story” and “Flint” to musical productions ranging from Bette Midler in “Gypsy” for CBS in 1993 and Whitney Houston in “Cinderella” (ABC, 1997) to NBC’s string of successful live musicals starting with 2013’s “The Sound of Music Live,” which was a sleeper blockbuster. Zadan and Meron also produced the 2002 Oscar best picture winner “Chicago.”
The pair’s most recent effort for NBC, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert,” which aired on Easter Sunday, is up for 13 Emmy Awards next month. “Flint,” the duo’s telepic for Lifetime about the water contamination crisis in Flint, Mich., is up for best TV movie.
Zadan was known for his exuberance and for his dedication to the old-school job of producing. He was a student of theater, film, and TV who loved to up the showmanship factor in all of his projects. The duo were key members of the team behind the NBC drama “Smash,” set in the world of Broadway.
Zadan and Meron executive produced the Academy Awards telecast for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and ABC from 2013 to 2015. The pair were behind the 2007 film adaptation of the musical “Hairspray,” a title they also brought to NBC for a live production in 2016. Zadan and Meron were most recently at work on assembling a live production of “Hair” for NBC in 2019.
On Broadway, Zadan and Meron produced revivals of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” in 2012 and “Promises, Promises” in 2011. Earlier in his career, Zadan penned “Sondheim & Co.,” a biography of the famed composer Stephen Sondheim.
Other TV productions Zadan steered with Meron include biographical miniseries on Judy Garland, the Beach Boys, and the Three Stooges for ABC in 2000 and 2001. For CBS, they delivered biopics on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and Lucille Ball (2003’s “Lucy,” starring Debra Messing). In 2003 the pair’s production of “The Reagans” for CBS ignited a firestorm of controversy among conservatives who objected to the portrayal of former President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan as insensitive to the AIDS crisis. The production wound up airing on CBS’ sibling cable network Showtime.
Zadan was a producer on the hit 1984 movie “Footloose,” and he and Meron delivered a remake of the property as a Lifetime movie in 2011.
All told, Zadan and Meron productions have earned six Oscars, 17 Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, two Peabody honors, and a Grammy.
Born in Miami, Zadan attended Hofstra University before launching his entertainment career in New York in the 1970s. He met Meron in the mid-1970s when Meron was a student at Brooklyn College who booked Zadan for an appearance at the school to promote “Sondheim & Co.”
Zadan is survived by his partner, Elwood Hopkins.