Ralph Baruch, Pioneering Executive at Viacom, Dies at 92

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Ralph Baruch

He helped the company spin off from CBS in the early 1970s and served as its president, CEO and chairman before being ousted by Sumner Redstone.

Ralph Baruch, a pioneering executive at Viacom who guided the company’s spinoff from CBS in the early 1970s, has died. He was 92.

Baruch, who served as Viacom’s president and CEO from 1971-83 and as its chairman until July 1987, died Thursday at his home in New York City, his family announced.

A native of Frankfurt, Germany, Baruch began his communications career in radio and joined the DuMont Television Network in 1950. He moved to CBS in 1954, progressing to CBS Group president, and was instrumental in spinning off Viacom from CBS in 1971. (Viacom was then the home of the network’s syndication business.)

Under his watch, Viacom grew by acquiring cable television systems; launching Showtime, The Cable Health Network (now Lifetime), MTV, Nickelodeon, The Movie Channel and VH1; and buying back the half of Showtime that had been sold to Warner Bros.

Baruch, though, was ousted when shareholder Sumner Redstone won a takeover battle and wrested control of Viacom in 1987 in a deal valued at $3.4 billion.

“It was a terrible feeling,” he said in a 2010 interview with the Archive of American Television. “I saw everything that I had built go down the drain, a complete change to a company that I had built, [because of] one man whose greed dictated that he wouldn’t make me part of it.”

Baruch and his family fled the Nazis in 1933 and relocated in Paris, where he was educated. In 1940, they had to escape again, embarking on a three-month journey through France in which Baruch carried his grandmother through the Pyrenees mountains. Eventually, the family arrived in the U.S. in December 1940.

Baruch detailed all of this in his 2007 autobiography, Television Tightrope — How I Escaped Hitler, Survived CBS and Fathered Viacom.

“Ralph Baruch was a true pioneer and a giant in the media industry,” a Viacom spokesman said in a statement. “We are privileged and honored to carry on his legacy.”

Baruch served as vice chairman of Carnegie Hall, was a member of the board of the PBS station WNET and a trustee of the Museum of Television and Radio (now the Paley Center for Media). He also helped underwrite the fledgling cable channel C-SPAN in the late 1970s.

Baruch was a founder of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and served on its board and executive committee. In 1985, the IRTS honored him with its prestigious gold medal, and in 1999 he received an International Emmy, presented to him by Walter Cronkite.

Survivors include his wife of 52 years, Jean, and daughters Eve, Renee, Alice and Michele.

 

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