80 Years of The Hollywood Reporter

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Three decades ago, Brandon Tartikoff transformed NBC with an assist from Bill Cosby.

When robert Greenblatt takes over at NBC, he should be inspired  by the fact that three decades ago, a predecessor had taken the then-last-place network and scored 68 straight wins in the weekly Nielsen ratings race. And the record, which became known simply as “The Streak,” came to an end only when ABC carried two World Series games. Brandon Tartikoff was 31 when he took over NBC programming in 1981. When he arrived, the network was in third place in those pre-Fox days. A sampling of the shows he shepherded that made his 1988-89 streak possible: Cheers, The Cosby Show, L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues, The Golden Girls and Miami Vice; and the next year, he put Seinfeld on the air. The New York Times quoted a TV executive as saying at the time: “Brandon was Mozart. Everyone else was Salieri.” He became for NBC what Irving Thalberg had once been for MGM. But he did have some down days. The much-reviled Geraldo Rivera special on Satanism was a ratings stunt he always regretted, and after leaving NBC in 1991, his 16 months atop Paramount didn’t go well. But it’s safe to say network television will never see a programmer of his skill again, at least not one with such a warm, easygoing charm masking a relentless competitiveness. He died in 1997 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 48.