Donald Taffner Sr., Who Brought 'Three's Company' and Other British Shows to America, Dies at 80

The influential executive produced such hits as "Three's Company," "Too Close for Comfort" and "The Benny Hill Show."

Donald Taffner Sr., an inventive executive who was responsible for bringing Three’s Company, Too Close for Comfort and The Benny Hill Show to American TV audiences, died Tuesday. He was 80.

Taffner’s daughter Karen Butler told St. John’s University newspaper The Torch that doctors believe the cause of death was a “cataclysmic heart event, like an aneurysm or clot.”

Taffner and his wife, Eleanor, were St. John’s benefactors, most notably contributing to the 2005 construction of Taffner Field House, the home of the school’s basketball teams. Eleanor died last year.

With Three’s Company — adapted from a British series, Man About the House —  Taffner approached Thames Television executives and laid out his plan. “We’re not going to sell the format (in America], we’re going to produce the format,” he told The Archive of American Television in a 2008 interview.

“I find the properties, put them together, help get it started, let the creative elements work on the properties, and when they were finished with it, sell the properties so that we get the maximum out of all of it. But I leave the creative people, more or less, to do it themselves.”

ABC bought Taffner’s pitch for Three’s Company, and the then-risque show about a man (John Ritter) rooming with two women was a huge hit for ABC, with the sitcom running for eight seasons starting in 1977 and spawning two spinoffs.

Taffner followed that same formula with Too Close for Comfort. That sitcom, which starred Ted Knight and Nancy Dussault and ran from 1980-87 on ABC and then in syndication (Taffner took over production when the network canceled the show), was adapted from another Thames show, Keep It in the Family.

Taffner was a recipient of a Founders Award Emmy in 1986 from the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences “for setting new levels of creativity in the worldwide exchange of television programs.”

Taffner’s DLT Entertainment also was behind 1980s series Check It Out! which starred Don Adams; BBC sitcom My Family, one of the longest-running series in British TV history; and cartoons featuring the Beatles, Crazy Cat, Barney Google and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.

In 1963, Taffner founded DLT to represent overseas broadcasters looking for American shows to fill their lineups, but he later switched that strategy to sell overseas shows to U.S. networks.

While attending St. John’s in the 1950s, Taffner worked in the William Morris mailroom and then in its television division before moving to Paramount to run its New York office.

St. John’s will hold a tribute ceremony for Taffner on Sept. 17, followed by a lunch at the Field House.