Herbert Schlosser, the NBC executive who championed the groundbreaking sketch show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and oversaw the launch of “Saturday Night Live,” died Friday in Manhattan. He was 95.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Herb Schlosser,” NBC said in a statement. “His ingenuity, creativity and integrity as president and CEO of NBC during the ’70s made an indelible mark on the network and its legacy, including bringing Johnny Carson to ‘The Tonight Show’ and helping to shape what ultimately became ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
As president of NBC in 1974, Schlosser was looking for programming that could replace reruns of “The Tonight Show” on weekends. His concept became “Saturday Night Live” — a show that would tape the same day and have a different host each week while it would “seek to develop new television personalities” — a concept that has stayed remarkably similar 46 years after its launch.
“Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels told the New York Times, “We wouldn’t have been on the air without him.” ‘Live’ was his idea, not mine.”
He also oversaw rock and pop music performance series “The Midnight Special,” which ran Friday nights from 1973 to 1981,
Schlosser was a lawyer and came out of NBC’s business affairs department, where he negotiated deals for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and deals with talent such as Bob Hope.
As vice president for programs on the West Coast, Schlosser developed some of the early shows featuring Black talent, including “Julia” and “The Flip Wilson Show.”
Despite complaints about the show’s racy humor, Schlosser was a champion of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which premiered in 1968.
After working as an attorney, he joined the NBC fold in 1960. Among his early notable assignments was negotiating the deal to bring Johnny Carson to NBC to replace Jack Paar as “Tonight Show” host.
After becoming chief executive of NBC, he headed up entertainment operations for NBC’s parent company, RCA. He became chairman of the Museum of the Moving Image, where he remained until 2013.
Schlosser was born in Atlantic City, N.J. and graduated Princeton and Yale Law.
He is survived by his wife Judith, son Eric, an author, a daughter, Lynn, a former television executive, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.