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Herb Lazarus, the veteran TV distribution executive who spent nearly 70 years in the business, including the past 27 with Carsey-Werner, died Tuesday in Los Angeles, a spokesperson for the company announced. He was 88.
At Carsey-Werner Television Distribution, where he most recently served as international TV president, Lazarus put into place massive deals globally — many still in place today — for such hits as That ’70s Show, Roseanne, The Cosby Show, 3rd Rock From the Sun, A Different World, Cybill, Grace Under Fire and Grounded for Life.
“Herb was so warm and fun to be around, but when it came to getting business done, he was among the greats of the industry,” Carsey-Werner Television president and COO Robert Dubelko said in a statement. “Everyone here is extremely sad but can’t help but smile recounting his poker-playing face and the countless laughs it delivered to all of us.”
Added Alexandra Taylor, Carsey-Werner’s London-based executive vp international: “He saw the lighter side of our business and always said that we were lucky it didn’t involve decisions of life and death.”
She recalled an incident at MIPCOM in which a Belgian buyer apologetically notified him at the last minute he couldn’t make a planned lunch.
“Herb’s reaction was to ask the buyer to put out his hand,” Taylor said. “Both the buyer and I wondered what on Earth was about to happen. Herb produced his wallet and started putting euro notes in the buyer’s hand, saying, ‘This is the money we’re saving by not taking you out — please take it.'”
The youngest of three children, Lazarus was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 5, 1935. He attended James Madison High School and landed a job at age 19 in the mailroom at New York-based Television Programs of America with the help of the brother of Al Capp, creator of the Li’l Abner comic strip. He moved to the shipping department, where he sent 16mm prints around the U.S.
Following the purchase of TPA by Independent Television Corp. in 1958, Lazarus became its sales coordinator. He then worked for Lassie owner TeleSynd and 20th Century Fox Television as an assistant to Alan Silverbach, then running domestic and international TV operations there.
Lazarus graduated to an international vp post at Fox before moving into a similar position at Columbia Pictures. In 1973, he came to Los Angeles and five years later launched the international distribution firm Silverbach-Lazarus Corp. with his former boss.
He and Silverbach would partner in two other iterations of their company following acquisitions by Metromedia and London Weekend Television through 1993. Later, Lazarus segued to TV producer Stephen J. Cannell’s distribution operation as a vice president and joined Carsey-Werner in 1996.
Survivors include his wife of 66 years, Shelley; sons Sid and Michael; and grandchildren Sam, Karly and Faith.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Donations can be made to the Robert David Lazarus Pulmonary Unit (named for his son, who died in 2005) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
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