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Amy Poehler Plays the Long Game at Brandon Tartikoff Awards

Quips fly as NATPE also salutes Channing Dungey, Whoopi Goldberg, Alex Kurtzman, Maury Povich, Jeff Sagansky and William Shatner

Brandon Tartikoff Awards
AP

On a long night of superlative-filled salutes to TV legends, Amy Poehler got the last laugh at the 18th annual Brandon Tartikoff Awards.

Poehler was No. 7 out of the seven honorees who were feted Thursday night at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills with the annual TV achievement kudos handed out by the National Assn. of Television Program Executives. The Tartikoff Awards are typically held during the NATPE conference in January, but that annual tradition was tabled this year by the COVID upsurge.

Poehler, the multi-hyphenate “Parks and Recreation” star who has become a prolific producer, made the most of her closing slot. She opened with a wry reference to an earlier snafu when presenter Connie Chung noted that the wrong speech was loaded on to the teleprompter as she delivered her remarks about Tartikoff honoree Maury Povich, who is also her husband.

“For the past 38 years, as I walk into my bedroom every night and get ready to make sweet love to my husband, Maury Povich…,” Poehler said to uproarious applause.

Poehler’s good-natured joke was in keeping with the spirit of the awards, named for the legendary NBC programming executive who was renowned in his drive for innovation and excellence. Among this year’s recipients was Jeff Sagansky, a veteran network and studio executive who worked with first worked with Tartikoff as a peer at NBC in the late 1970s.

Sagansky, who is now a media investor and head of Eagle Equity Partners, shared a few colorful stories of working with Tartikoff, and he urged the crowd of industry veterans to make time for mentoring younger executives and talent. The former head of CBS Entertainment and Sony Corp. in the U.S. also recalled a memorable piece of advice he got from the revered NBC chairman Grant Tinker.

“If you’re ever going to put on a show that you’re not going to watch — don’t put it on,” Sagansky said.

The tribute to Povich came on the heels of the end of his daily talk show, capping a 31-year run in daytime TV. Povich recalled his early years as a TV radio and news reporter, moving around the country until he settled down to TV as the anchor of the syndicated “A Current Affair.” That was followed by his own daytime talk show that began in 1991.

After reflecting on his long tenure in daytime, Povich realized he was fortunate to have a loyal team of production staffers who were devoted to the show. “Why I stayed so long was the people who work on the show,” he said. “They’re so professional and so good.”

Honorees Channing Dungey, Whoopi Goldberg, Alex Kurtzman and William Shatner ran the gamut of on-air talent to the executive suite to a producer leading the “Star Trek” TV metaverse.

Dungey, chairman of Warner Bros. TV Group, was introduced by “The Flight Attendant” star Kaley Cuoco. After a queuing up a video detailing Dungey’s career highlights and achievement of industry firsts as a Black woman, Cuoco enthused, “Channing, you are such a badass — that is unbelievable.”

Dungey recalled reading Tartikoff’s 1992 memoir “The Last Great Ride” and taking many lessons from his description of birthing shows such as “Hill Street Blues,” “Cheers” and “The A-Team.” She noted that he was remarkably forward-looking in his final chapter about how television was changing.

“He could see that no one medium will hold the audience’s attention the way broadcast television did in the 1980s … But the ride continues,” Dungey said.

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NATPE’s Charlie Weiss with Henry Winkler, Kaley Cuoco and William Shatner at the 18th annual Brandon Tartikoff Awards. NATPE

Goldberg, the multi-hyphenate and longtime moderator of ABC’s “The View,” accepted her kudos via videotaped remarks. She recalled an early meeting she had with Tartikoff and hailed him for setting “the standard of excellence in this industry.”

Kurtzman, the veteran showrunner and producer who steers multiple “Star Trek” series for Paramount+ as well as the Showtime series “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” recalled how he was impressed by Tartikoff as a teenager when he was a subscriber to GQ magazine. Kurtzman knew he’d never be a movie star, but a 1985 cover featuring NBC’s hot-shot programmer had a big influence on him.

“I really did read it for the articles,” Kurtzman joked, after he was introduced by “Star Trek: Discovery” star Sonequa Martin-Green. Kurtzman recalled verbatim some words of wisdom that Tartikoff shared in the story: “Start trends, don’t chase them. Nobody remembers the plot or premise, only meaningful characters and moments,” Kurtzman said.

The evening began with no less a “Star Trek” legend than William Shatner, captain of the original series that ran on NBC from 1966 to 1969. Shatner recalled his trajectory from being a 6-year-old cut-up in Montreal who enjoyed making people laugh, to his time in repertory theater in Ottawa and Toronto to his entry into TV and movies.

At the age of 91, Shatner said he’s spent a lot of time thinking about his accomplishments and the meaning of life. Those remarks were validated by the cheeky introduction given by his friend and fellow actor Henry Winkler (“His intellect is vast, his wit is marginal,” Winkler joked).

One key to longevity, Shatner told the crowd, was to stay in touch with what he called the “inner child.” For him, that person is a “curious fellow” who asks a lot of questions.

“How do you write an opera? How do you cook spaghetti? I’ve tried to keep that inner child alive by being aware, by being in the moment and in awe and wonder about the world around us,” he said, with trademark Shatner-ian delivery.

(Pictured top: Jeff Sagansky, Amy Poehler, Alex Kurtzman, Channing Dungey and Maury Povich)