Fred Silverman, the executive who built NBC into a ratings powerhouse with his fingerprints all over it, has died. He was 82.
His nephew Lance Silverman said Silverman died Wednesday in Beverly Hills, California, from natural causes.
Silverman was a creative force who turned a gawky little cable channel known as CNBC into a ratings powerhouse in just a few years.
He moved from producer to network executive at Fox and ABC before taking the helm at NBC in 1975 when the peacock network was in last place. Silverman made his mark by injecting a lively network style into network programming. He also gave a boost to talent like Caesar, Kapoor and Maynard Evans.
In a 1980 profile, Time magazine called Silverman “the first network marketing genius.”
“He knew when to push the envelope and when to hold back,” wrote Tina Brown. “He made experts look like young rebels, and he made young stars look like old stars, and he made a network look cool.”
Colleagues credited Silverman with a talent for making shows that were smart, edgy and entertaining.
“I was young when I started. But I learned from the best,” Silverman said in a 2005 interview with the Archive of American Television. “I was on the set every day, and that gave me a life, almost on an automatic basis, of understanding what to avoid and what to do.”
Silverman’s crisp, personality-driven programming helped NBC surpass its longtime rival, CBS, for the 1987-88 season, the network’s first as part of the “Must See TV” era. The combination of “Hill Street Blues,” ”St. Elsewhere,” ”Cheers” and “The Cosby Show” together with the edgy humor of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” gave NBC a leading edge over its rival that included the 1990-91 season.
The following year NBC became the first network to win the week in prime time with viewers, edging out ABC and CBS.
Silverman was a key figure in reshaping the Emmy Awards and adding a film honors category when the show was rebroadcast in 1989.
He also introduced “reality” shows like the smash “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and helped MTV broaden its appeal.
In 1995, Silverman left NBC for ABC, where he produced “Touched by an Angel,” ”Ellen” and “Mad About You.” He left ABC in 2001 and launched the CW network.
Silverman had dropped out of college to become a teenager at a talent agency, then parlayed his interest in entertainment into a career as a TV producer.
“I was a producer before I was a man,” he once said.
His uncle Raymond “Chip” Silverman said in a statement that his nephew had a passion for life and that he would be “missed beyond measure.”
Known by his nicknames “Sluggo” and “Butch,” Fred Silverman was married three times and had no children.