Brandon Stoddard, Former ABC Entertainment President, Dies at 77

Brandon Stoddard - H 2014
AP Images/Invision

Brandon Stoddard - H 2014

Known as the "father of the miniseries," he oversaw such landmark programs as 'Roots' and 'The Winds of War'

Brandon Stoddard, the former president of ABC Entertainment, who oversaw such landmark miniseries as Roots and The Winds of War, died at his home in Bel-Air on Monday following a long battle with cancer. He was 77.

A television executive who consistently broke new ground for the medium, Stoddard was inducted into the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame in March. Speaking of the challenge he faced when he took over the network, he once told the Los Angeles Times, "I was disappointed with what ABC had on the air. I was intrigued with taking a network and moving it into another direction and what the hell would happen if you did that. Would it work? Would anyone care? It was intriguing.”

"Brandon was a true maverick who was instrumental in transforming prime time television," said Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, ABC's parent company, "His influence continues, and he will be missed by everyone who had the good fortune to know him."

Stoddard joined ABC in 1970 as its director of daytime programs and then moved on to various positions at the network until he was named president in 1985, a post he held until 1989, when he resigned saying, “It’s just not fun anymore.” Celebrated as the “father of the miniseries,” he developed multi-episode shows that were usually ratings grabbers. In addition to Roots and The Winds of War, they included The Thorn Birds, Rich Man, Poor Man, Masada, East of Eden, Roots: The Next Generation and North and South.

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Primetime shows that were created during his time at the network included Thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, China Beach, Full House and Roseanne. Stoddard also was responsible for the creation of such cutting-edge shows as Twin Peaks and Max Headroom. And as president of ABC’s first in-house production company, which he headed from 1989 to 1995, he shepherded such series into production as the award-winning My So-Called Life.

Earlier in his career, Stoddard also played a key role in the creation of the movie of the week. The Day After, a film about a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union, became the highest rated television film in history when it aired in 1983. During his time at ABC, the network also aired such notable movies of the week as Something About Amelia, Friendly Fire, The Dollmaker, The Women’s Room and Attica.

Stoddard, who never abandoned his East Coast roots, was raised in Southport, Conn., and attended Deerfield Academy and Yale University, where he first tried his hand at acting. Deciding against pursuing an acting career, he briefly attended Columbia University Law School before moving into advertising with a job at BBDO Advertising, advising clients on which programs to sponsor. That, in turn, led to his joining ABC.

In 1979, he also started a motion picture division within ABC called ABC Motion Pictures, Inc., serving as its president as it released such theatrical features as The Flamingo Kid, Silkwood and Oscar-winner Prizzi’s Honor.

Following his years at ABC, Stoddard taught from 2002 to 2001 at the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC’s School for Cinema and Television.

Stoddard is survived by Mary Anne Dolan, his wife of 30 years; two daughters, Alexandra Brandon Stoddard, a news correspondent in Washington, D.C., and Brooke Stoddard, a design consultant in New York City; and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be planned at a future date.