MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The man behind some of the landmark television shows of the '70s and '80s has died. Fred Silverman was the network executive who gave the green light to...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVIN' ON UP")
JA'NET DUBOIS: (Singing) Well, we're moving on up - moving on up - to the east side - moving on up to a deluxe...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS ALL AROUND")
SONNY CURTIS: (Singing) Who can turn the world on with a smile?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU!")
LARRY MARKS: (Singing) Scooby-dooby-doo, where are you? We've got some work to do now.
KELLY: So much good stuff, and the list goes on. Silverman played a role in bringing shows like "All In The Family," "Charlie's Angels" and "Roots" to the airwaves. He was 82. News of his death came from The Hollywood Reporter.
NPR TV critic Eric Deggans is here to talk about his legacy.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.
KELLY: Hi. I read that Fred Silverman was called the man with the golden gut, meaning he went with his gut, and it was always gold. How did he do it?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, first, you should understand that TV back then was very different, for some of our listeners who might not remember. There were only three major commercial broadcast TV networks, and each show drew huge audiences. And powerful producers and executives could go with their gut. They could go with their creative instincts and make TV that they were passionate about.
So Silverman joined CBS in the mid-1960s. He was a programming executive. He had this idea for an animated show about kids in a haunted house. And his higher executive said, no, that might scare kids. So he got the idea to center the cartoon on their funny dog, who he named for the way that Frank Sinatra used to scat sing. And we've got a clip of him talking about this moment in an interview with the Archive of American Television. Let's check it out.
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FRED SILVERMAN: We'll take the dog. We'll call it Scooby-Doo and move him up front, and it'll be the dog's show. And it'll be - our Abbott and Costello will be Scooby-Doo and Shaggy. And in a matter of two hours, we had revised the concept, and it worked. It just worked great.
KELLY: Two hours to come up with Scooby-Doo - amazing.
KELLY: So he did all this, and then he moved up. He ran all of CBS programming.
DEGGANS: Yeah. By 1970, he's running all of CBS programming. And this is at a time when TV is shifting from these escapist, kind of rural-set comedies like "Hee Haw," "Petticoat Junction," to more realistic comedy. So he championed "All In The Family" and the anti-war satire "M.A.S.H." Eventually, he created this Saturday night lineup that was "All In The Family," "M.A.S.H.," "Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Bob Newhart Show" and "The Carol Burnett Show" all on one night - on Saturdays.
KELLY: Wow. But his impact was not just at CBS. He also worked at other networks.
DEGGANS: Yeah. He - in fact, he was the only executive to have top programming jobs at all the big three networks at one time or another in the 1970s. So he helped develop this concept of the spinoff - you know, building a show around a popular character that's on a hit show, building a new show. So he spun off "Laverne & Shirley" from "Happy Days." He spun off "The Bionic Woman" from "The Six Million Dollar Man." And he also championed "Roots," which was TV's first sort of mega-successful miniseries.
And then he moved to NBC in 1976, where he discovered David Letterman and gave him his first show, a morning program that didn't work out too well. But later on, he became a star in late-night at the network, so eventually it worked out.
KELLY: Real quick - did he have any just total flops?
DEGGANS: Yeah. He came up with the idea for "Hollywood Squares" but didn't pick up the show, and another network got it. And he also had this legendarily bad show that he greenlit called "Supertrain" that was on NBC. Anybody who saw it knows that that was the one time when his golden gut was not so golden.
KELLY: I don't even remember it, which maybe said it all.
DEGGANS: (Laughter) Exactly.
KELLY: That is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans on the career of TV exec Fred Silverman, who died today at age 82.
Thank you, Eric. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.