OBITUARY: Fred Silverman, a Palisadian and a Legendary Television Executive at Three Networks

September 13, 1937 – January 30, 2020

Riviera resident Fred Silverman, 82, died from cancer at his home on January 30. He was a legendary and influential programming executive, who worked for CBS, ABC and NBC.

Raised in Rego Park, Queens, New York, he was the only child of a Jewish father, TV and radio repairman for Sears, and a Roman Catholic mom, a housewife.

Silverman graduated from Forest Hills High School and Syracuse University, then earned his master’s degree at Ohio State.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Silverman wanted to be a director, but an advisor suggested that he “really ought to consider programming,” Silverman recalled in a TV Archive interview. “It requires a real knowledge of the business, and it is kind of creative, because you’re picking the shows.”

His 600-page master’s thesis was an analysis of ABC programming practices from 1953, when the network had few hits, until 1959, when programs like “The Untouchables” and “77 Sunset Strip” were popular. He said he tried to analyze what the factors were for the meteoric rise of the network.

Silverman’s first job was editing commercials at Tribune’s WGN-TV in Chicago in 1961. Two years later he moved to WPIX in New York and oversaw “Bozo’s Circus,” a live program. In the afternoon he aired films for kids under Family Classics.

At age 25, Silverman became the director of daytime programs for CBS, and in 1970, he was put in charge of everything on air for CBS. He convinced CBS President Bob Wood to run “All in the Family” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” on Saturdays. “Mash” was moved to Tuesdays and “Beverly Hillbillies,” “Green Acres” and “Petticoat Junction” replaced.

During Silverman’s tenure, “Maude,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “One Day at a Time” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Rhoda, “Kojak and “The Waltons” pushed CBS into first place.

In 1975, Silverman left to become president of ABC Entertainment and took it to number one in primetime with shows such as “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Love Boat,” “Family,” “Donny & Marie,” “Three’s Company,” Eight Is Enough,” “The Bionic Woman,” “Mork and Mindy” and “Good Morning America.”

Silverman is credited with reinventing the television miniseries with “Roots,” which won Peabody and Emmy awards.

In 1978, Silverman went to NBC as president and CEO. Although he was responsible for hits such as “Diff’rent Strokes,” “The Facts of Life,” “Cheers” and “Hill Street Blues,” he exited that company in 1981 because NBC finished with its worst season in history.

He formed The Fred Silverman Company to produce shows to sell to television, including “Perry Mason TV,” “Matlock,” Jake and the Fatman,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Father Dowling Mysteries” and “Diagnosis Murder.”

He received the Women in Film Lucy Award in 1995 for excellence and innovation in works that enhance the perception of women in TV. Silverman was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1999.

He is survived by his wife, Catherine Ann Kihn; two children, Melissa and Billy, and daughter-in-law Anna.

A private service will be held for immediate family and a celebration of his life will follow. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made in his name to the Motion Picture & Television fund for emergency medical assistance.

 

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