Perhaps it was a combination of a strong commitment to his values, inner strength, and a keen sense of humor, but Brandon Tartikoff had the rare gift of being able to successfully elevate a failing television network from the bottom to number one for five years running and still remain one of Hollywood's most likeable characters to both industry insiders and the public. He has been called a wunderkind for becoming at age 31 the youngest person to run a television network. After a decade at NBC, he went on to become the president of Paramount Pictures and then the chairman of New World Entertainment, a company that creates television projects for syndication, cable, and the Internet. Though a busy executive and a man who had been fighting recurring bouts of Hodgkin's disease since age 23, Tartikoff found time to be with his wife, Lilly, and their daughters, Calla and Elizabeth.
A native New Yorker, Tartikoff started out at a television station in New Haven, CT, following boarding school and an education at Yale. He next moved to Chicago to work for ABC affiliate WLS where he made the station successful by devising creative promotional packages and producing and writing a comedy variety series. While there, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and underwent chemotherapy. Despite a 50-pound weight loss and the ensuing pain of radiation treatments, Tartikoff did not miss work and his cancer eventually went into remission. The young whiz got his first real break when Fred Silverman, the head of the ABC network, hired him as the manger of dramatic development at ABC in 1976. Under Silverman's tutelage, Tartikoff was quickly promoted to program executive of current dramatic programming. In 1977, the young executive was hired by NBC as their director of comedy programs. When Silverman became the network's newest president, he made Tartikoff his head of West Coast programming. In 1980, Silverman named the 31-year-old President of Programming. During their first years at the new network, Tartikoff and Silverman had trouble settling in. Offering such silly dramas and comedies as Manimal and the abysmal The Adventures of Sheriff Lobo did nothing to promote NBC to audiences. Matters changed, however, when Silverman was replaced by former MTM producer Grant Tinker. By the end of the decade, Tinker and Tartikoff had turned the ailing NBC into a 500 million dollar profit-making entertainment machine.