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NBC Entertainment Boss Almost Quit in 1982

April 16, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Asked what has been his lowest moment in his battle for television ratings supremacy, NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff thought for a few seconds. ″There were so many of them,″ he said.

Tartikoff inherited a third-rated prime-time lineup in 1980 when he was hired by Fred Silverman, then NBC’s chief executive. NBC remained in the ratings cellar until the network jumped to second in the 1984-85 season and, finally, to No. 1 this season.

In industry circles, Tartikoff is famous for sprouting germs of ideas and cultivating them with the right creative people. His idea for a ″Dirty Dozen″-type show became ″The A-Team.″ He suggested a series combining MTV and cops, and the result was ″Miami Vice.″

″Brandon is a tremendous judge of what the American people want to see,″ said Paul Schulman, who heads his own advertising agency.

But Tartikoff, 37, has had his share of failures. One of his most recent pet projects was ″Misfits of Science,″ about a band of cartoon-type freaks, that bombed this season.

In 1983-84, NBC’s schedule of nine new series became nine new failures. ″But that was not as devastating as some things that happened before,″ Tartikoff said.

His blackest period was at NBC’s affiliates meeting in November 1982. He had just put ″Cheers,″ ″St. Elsewhere,″ ″Family Ties,″ ″Knight Rider″ and ″Remington Steele″ on the air, with ″The A-Team″ in the wings. These shows became the foundation for NBC’s turnaround, but they hadn’t made their ratings mark yet.

He drove to Palm Springs to face ornery affiliates who were tired of hearing his light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel speech.

″I had bronchitis. My wife was about to give birth to our daughter and I wanted to be in Los Angeles,″ Tartikoff said. ″At 6 o’clock in the morning, I set out in the pouring rain for Palm Springs.

″As soon as I got there, they started busting my chops about our made-for- TV movies, daytime and prime time. I said, ’I think these shows are much better than ones we’ve put on before. It’s still going to take time.‴

The affiliates thanked Tartikoff and excused him from the room. He didn’t wait around. He drove home.

″It still was pouring rain,″ he said. ″I knew they were saying, ‘He’s a nice kid, but there’s too much on his plate.’ I resolved (to) myself that if they proposed divesting me of some responsibilities, I was going to pack it in.″

Tartikoff later learned from a station executive that a proposal had been made to take daytime programming away from him. ″But Grant (Tinker) rejected it before it ever got to me,″ Tartikoff said.

Asked about his role, Tinker, the NBC chairman, said he didn’t remember the exact scenario, but ″it’s consistent with the way I would have behaved. ... Brandon wasn’t the problem. We all were the problem.″

The rainy morning, his wife about to give birth, his own performance under fire; it all sounded like the makings of a sentimental made-for-TV movie. Tartikoff laughed at the suggestion.

″A low-rated one,″ he said.

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