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Tartikoff Award Winners Hail Mentors and Lucky Breaks: ‘You Lift as You Climb’

MIAMI — Rita Moreno sang. Byron Allen spoke for 20 minutes. Mara Brock Akil urged the crowd to thank their mentors. Betty White warbled “The Golden Girls” theme song via video. And Bob Greenblatt and Henry Winkler shared Brandon Tartikoff stories during the 16th annual Tartikoff Legacy Awards ceremony held Wednesday night at NATPE.

“My dreams are being honored tonight,” Moreno told the crowd in the Fontainebleau Hotel ballroom. Moreno’s status as an EGOT grand slam winner of the industry’s highest honors was mentioned more than once — to which Moreno added “don’t forget the Kennedy Center Honor.” Moreno was feted by Gloria Estefan, her co-star on the Netflix comedy “One Day at a Time.” In closing, Moreno sang a few lines from “Dream,” the song popularized by Frank Sinatra.

Allen gave what is likely the longest acceptance speech in Tartikoff Awards history to date, full of enthusiasm and calls family members and co-workers to also stand for applause. But the comedian-entrepreneur managed to hold the room with rollicking tales of getting into television as a teenager, and becoming an entrepreneur in the early 1990s when he realized how much money could be made in syndication.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are family and you need to know that,” Allen said. His award presenter was former Warner Bros. and Telepictures executive Dick Robertson, who inspired Allen to launch his own company in the 1990s by telling him that syndication sales of “HBO Comedy Hour” would “only” bring in about $10 million.

Brock Akil, creator of “Girlfriends,” “Being Mary Jane,” “The Game” and other series, was also full of gratitude for past mentors and co-workers who helped her become one of the industry’s most sought-after showrunners. Actress Yvette Nicole Brown was on hand to present the kudo to the producer who gave Brown a crucial guest-shot opportunity on her UPN comedy “Girlfriends.”

“You lift as you climb,” Brock Akil told the crowd. “You don’t have to wait until you get to the top.”

Winkler, the veteran actor who is enjoying a resurgence thanks to his role on the HBO comedy “Barry,” referenced his career ups and downs after he hit big early on as the Fonz from the 1970s sitcom hit “Happy Days.”

“I thought I was going to go from mountaintop to mountaintop,” Winkler said. But after “Happy Days” he had to come to grips with the fact “that I had slid right into the valley.”

Greenblatt, who just concluded a successful eight-year tenure as head of NBC, spoke of the power of television, after receiving his tribute from Sean Hayes.

“There’s nothing like putting a show in front of the whole country. That’s the power of broadcast television,” Greenblatt said. “That’s what Brandon did better than anyone else. Standing on his shoulders really means the world to me.”

(Pictured: Byron Allen, Rita Moreno, Mara Brock Akil, Henry Winkler and Bob Greenblatt)

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