September 13, 1937 |
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Network Television executive, TV show producer|
Fred Silverman (born September 13, 1937 in New York City) is an American television executive and producer. He worked as an executive at the CBS, ABC and NBC networks, and was responsible for bringing to television such programs as the series Scooby-Doo (1969–present), All in the Family (1971–1979), The Waltons (1972–1981), and Charlie's Angels (1976–1981), as well as the miniseries Roots (1977) and Shōgun (1980).
Early life and career
Silverman graduated from Syracuse University, where he was a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, and then earned a Master's degree from the Ohio State University. He went to work for WGN-TV in Chicago, Illinois, overseeing program development and children's programming, as well as at WPIX in New York City. His masters thesis analyzed ten years of ABC programming and was so good it got him hired as an executive at CBS at the age of 25 in 1963. There, he took over responsibility for all daytime network programming and later, took charge of all of entertainment programming, day and night. Silverman married his assistant, Cathy Kihn, and they had a daughter, Melissa, and son, William.
In 1970, Silverman was promoted from vice-president of program planning and development to Vice President, Programs - heading the entire program department at CBS. Silverman was responsible for the "rural purge" of 1971, which eventually eliminated many popular country-oriented shows, such as Green Acres, Mayberry R.F.D., Hee Haw and The Beverly Hillbillies from the CBS schedule. In their place, however, came a new wave of classics aimed at the upscale baby boomer generation, such as All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, M*A*S*H, The Waltons, Cannon, Barnaby Jones, Kojak and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.
Silverman had an uncanny ability to spot burgeoning hit material, especially in the form of spin-offs, new TV series developed with characters that appeared on an existing series. For example, he spun off Maude and The Jeffersons from All in the Family, and Rhoda from Mary Tyler Moore (as well as The Bob Newhart Show from MTM's writers). In early 1974, Silverman ordered a Maude spin-off titled Good Times; that show's success led Silverman to schedule it against ABC's new hit, Happy Days, the following fall.
In other dayparts, Silverman also reintroduced game shows to the network's daytime lineups in 1972 after a four-year absence; among the shows Silverman introduced was an updated version of the 1950s game show The Price Is Right, which remains on the air nearly four decades later.
After the success of The Price Is Right, Silverman would establish a working relationship with Mark Goodson and Bill Todman in which most of their game shows would appear on CBS, including a revival of Match Game.
Under Silverman's tenure, CBS also ended the practice of wiping and saved as much of their recorded content as possible, while other networks recycled tapes constantly to save money.
On Saturday mornings, Silverman commissioned Hanna-Barbera to produce the series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and the character Fred Jones is named after Silverman. The success of Scooby-Doo led to several other Hanna-Barbera series airing on CBS in the early 1970s.
Move to ABC
Ironically, he was named president of ABC Entertainment in 1975, putting him in the awkward position of saving Happy Days, the very show that Good Times had brought to the brink of cancellation. Silverman succeeded in bringing Happy Days to the top of the ratings and generating a hit spin-off from that show, Laverne & Shirley.
At ABC, Silverman also greenlit other popular shows such as The Bionic Woman (a Six Million Dollar Man spin-off), Family, Charlie's Angels, Donny & Marie, Three's Company, Eight Is Enough, The Love Boat, Soap, Fantasy Island, Good Morning America, and the award-winning mini-series, Roots. These moves brought ABC's long-dormant ratings from third place to first place. However, Silverman was criticized during this period for relying heavily on escapist fare (it was Silverman who conceived the infamous Brady Bunch Hour with Sid and Marty Krofft in late 1976) and for bringing T&A or "jiggle TV" to the small screen with numerous ABC shows featuring buxom, attractive, and often scantily-clad young women (such as the popular Battle of the Network Stars).
ABC Daytime had mediocre ratings, so in order to increase them, Silverman hired Gloria Monty to produce the ailing General Hospital. He gave Monty thirteen weeks to increase the serial's ratings or it would be cancelled. He later expanded General Hospital and One Life To Live to hours, and created a 3 1/2 hour afternoon serial block. Among game shows, Silverman introduced Goodson-Todman's Family Feud to the network. ABC also abandoned wiping under Silverman's watch, ending the practice in 1978, shortly before his departure.
During Silverman's time at ABC, he overhauled the network's Saturday morning cartoon output, dumping Filmation (which had produced the failed Uncle Croc's Block) and replacing it with content from Hanna-Barbera, including a continuation of Scooby-Doo.
Move to NBC
Although Silverman's tenure at ABC was very successful, he left to become President and CEO of NBC in 1978. His three-year tenure at the network proved to be a difficult period, marked by several high-profile failures such as the sitcom Hello, Larry, the variety show Pink Lady, the drama Supertrain, and the Jean Doumanian era of Saturday Night Live (Silverman hired Doumanian after Al Franken, the planned successor for outgoing Lorne Michaels, castigated Silverman's failures on-air).
Despite these failures, there were high points in Silverman's tenure at NBC, including the launch of the critically lauded Hill Street Blues (1981), the epic mini-series "Shogun" and The David Letterman Show (daytime, 1980), which would lead to Letterman's successful late night program in 1982. Silverman had Letterman in a holding deal after the morning show which kept the unemployed Letterman from going to another network. However, Silverman nearly lost his then-current late night host, market leader Johnny Carson, after Carson sued NBC in a contract dispute; the case was settled out of court and Carson remained with NBC in exchange for the rights to his show and a reduction in time on air. 
Silverman also developed successful comedies such as Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, and Gimme a Break!, and made the series commitments that led to Cheers and St. Elsewhere. Silverman also pioneered entertainment reality programming with the 1979 launch of Real People. His contributions to the network's game show output included Goodson-Todman's Card Sharks and a revival of Password, both of which enjoyed great success in the morning schedule, although he also canceled several other relatively popular series, including The Hollywood Squares and High Rollers, to make way for The David Letterman Show (those cancellations also threatened Wheel of Fortune, whose host, Chuck Woolery, departed the show in a payment dispute during Silverman's tenure, although the show survived). Silverman also oversaw the hiring of Pat Sajak as the new host of Wheel of Fortune, a position Sajak holds to this day, although Silverman himself objected to Sajak's hiring. On Saturday mornings, in a time when most of the cartoon output of the three networks were similar, Silverman oversaw the development of an animated series based on The Smurfs; the animated series The Smurfs ran from 1981 to 1989, well after Silverman's departure, making it one of his longest-lasting contributions to the network. He also oversaw a revival of The Flintstones.
In other areas of NBC, Silverman revitalized the news division, which resulted in Today and NBC Nightly News achieving parity with their competition for the first time in years. He created a new FM Radio Division, with competitive full-service stations in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington. During his NBC tenure, Silverman also brought in an entirely new divisional and corporate management, a team that stayed in place long after Silverman's departure. (Among this group was a new Entertainment President, Brandon Tartikoff, who would help get NBC back on top by 1985.) Silverman also reintroduced the peacock as NBC's corporate logo.
Foundation of The Fred Silverman Company
In 1981, Silverman left NBC and formed The Fred Silverman Company (formerly Intermedia Entertainment) to produce shows to sell to television. The company would generate several hits including the Perry Mason TV movie series (1985–1994) Matlock (1986–1995), Jake and the Fatman (1987–1992) In the Heat of the Night (1988–1995) Father Dowling Mysteries (1987–1991), and Diagnosis: Murder (1993–2001). Most of these continue to run in syndication. Most of these series were co-produced with Dean Hargrove and Viacom Productions.
During the game-show revival that followed the success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Silverman resurrected 1950s game show Twenty One for NBC in 2000. A few years later, he returned to ABC in an advisory capacity.
In 1995, he was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of excellence and innovation in creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television. In 1999, Silverman was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.
- Bedell, Sally (1981). Up the Tube: Prime-Time TV in the Silverman Years. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-51385-7.
- Barbera, Joseph (1994). My Life in "Toons": From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century. Atlanta, GA: Turner Publishing. pp. 163–173. ISBN 1-57036-042-1.
- Shales, Tom (2003). Live From New York, p. 191. Back Bay Books.
- "Rent-a-Judge". Time Magazine. 1981-04-20. Retrieved 2007-08-07.
- Griffin, Merv. Merv: Making the Good Life Last. New York: Pocket Books, 2003, page 101
- Fred Silverman at the Internet Movie Database
- Fred Silverman Archive of American Television Interview
|Vice President, Programs CBS Television Network
|President, ABC Entertainment
|President, CEO NBC