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Leonard Goldberg, the respected network executive and film and television producer behind such landmark projects as Charlie’s Angels, Broadcast News, Brian’s Song and The Simpsons, has died. He was 85.
The Emmy Award winner, often credited for developing and introducing the made-for-TV movie format, died Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center from injuries resulting from a fall, a publicist announced.
Most recently, Goldberg, as president of Panda Productions, was an executive producer on the hit CBS cop drama Blue Bloods, starring Tom Selleck, and served on the CBS board of directors from 2007-18.
“Leonard Goldberg was a friend of mine for almost 50 years,” David Geffen said in a statement. “He was a pioneer in broadcasting … he was talented, creative, inventive, warm and devoted to his family. He gave many people their first job in TV including Barry Diller and Michael Eisner. I will miss him.”
“Though the word is so often misused, Leonard Goldberg was the mentor of mentors to me and so many others — he gave you confidence and support and the leeway to make mistakes and he had the sure sense of himself to let you shine,” Diller added. “He gave me my first job and nurtured a wrangly kid into something of an executive, and he was decent, kind and clever and a first class citizen.”
During his many decades in show business, Goldberg worked at ABC from 1961-69, advancing to head of programming; served as vp production at Screen Gems (now Columbia Pictures Television) from 1969-72; partnered with producer Aaron Spelling from 1972-84; and was president of Twentieth Century Fox from 1987-89. He launched Panda and Mandy Films in 1984.
The Brooklyn native and graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania shared an Emmy for outstanding drama special for Something About Amelia, a 1984 ABC telefilm about incest that starred Ted Danson and Glenn Close. He was nominated three other times (1977, ’78 and ’80) for outstanding drama series for producing Family, the ABC hit that starred Sada Thompson and James Broderick. The critical favorite amassed 17 noms during its five-season run.
Goldberg, inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Hall of Fame in 2007, also earned a Peabody Award for the tearjerker Brian’s Song, the ABC telefilm about the cancer death of Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo (played by James Caan). He set that project in motion while serving as a production head at Screen Gems.
With Spelling, Goldberg produced some of TV’s biggest hits, including Charlie’s Angels, Hart to Hart, The Rookies and its spinoff S.W.A.T., Starsky and Hutch, Fantasy Island, T.J. Hooker and Family.
“I met Len 40 years ago on a show called Charlie’s Angels,” actress Jaclyn Smith said. “He was an important part of the richest years of my career. It was this shared history that became a wonderful friendship. I have the greatest respect for him not only professionally but more importantly as a loving family man. Len, you are now truly surrounded by angels.”
Spelling/Goldberg Productions also produced more than 35 movies for TV, including the 1976 project that brought John Travolta to national attention, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, and the 1977 ratings sensation Little Ladies of the Night, which starred David Soul and Louis Gossett Jr. and centered on the lives of young prostitutes.
During his tenure as head of Fox, Goldberg oversaw production on such hit films as seven-time Oscar nominee Broadcast News (1987) with William Hurt and Holly Hunter; Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) with Oscar winner Michael Douglas; Die Hard (1988) starring Bruce Willis; and six-time Oscar nominee Working Girl (1988) with Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver and Melanie Griffith. He helped get The Simpsons off the ground in 1989.
Independently, Goldberg produced such features as WarGames (1983), Sleeping With the Enemy (1991), The Distinguished Gentleman (1992), Double Jeopardy (1999) and the Charlie’s Angels films.
Goldberg also produced the highly regarded Alex: The Life of a Child, a 1986 TV movie based on a book by Frank Deford, and with Martin Starger, the 1999 TV adaptation of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters.
At ABC, Goldberg was instrumental in the decision to have The Fugitive end with a definitive conclusion. At the time, long-running series just faded away, but he felt viewers deserved to learn whether the man on the run (David Janssen) ever found out who killed his wife.
“Our viewers invested four years with Richard Kimble,” Goldberg recalled telling his bosses in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “He’s become real to them. And they want to know what happens to him.”
Part 2 of the finale was seen in a then-record 72 percent of the homes watching television that night.
As head of ABC Daytime, Goldberg introduced such shows as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game and Dark Shadows and mentored such newcomers as Diller and Eisner (he hired Diller directly from William Morris who, in turn, plucked Eisner from CBS).
Ultimately, Goldberg’s heart was not in the corporate executive offices.
“I became a producer because I wanted to get closer to the creative process,” he said in a 1986 interview with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. He also said at the time that his favorite project was Family.
“What a joy; except for a few instances, a very happy company,” said Goldberg. “No one threatening to quit unless they got more money or tearing up scripts and refusing to do them. I would have done it for nothing, though I didn’t say so at the time.”
He was similarly sanguine about motion-picture executives, once noting, “Most [movie] executives have very little relationship to the audience. The creative executive who wants to make a movie because he thinks it’s going to be a great movie is rare indeed.”
Goldberg also produced such films as California Split (1974) with Elliott Gould and George Segal, Baby Blue Marine (1976), All Night Long (1981) and Aspen Extreme (1993).
In December 2015, he and his wife, author Wendy Goldberg (her sister is ICM agent Toni Howard), donated $10 million to UCLA Health Sciences to support migraine research. They endowed several programs at Penn, and in 2012, the couple were honored by Cedars-Sinai with the inaugural Hollywood Icon Award in recognition of their achievements in film, television and charitable endeavors.
In addition to his wife, Goldberg is survived by his daughter, Amanda, an author; stepsons Richard, a producer, and John, the mayor of Beverly Hills; their spouses; and five grandchildren.
“Leonard was one of the finest people I have ever known,” Sherry Lansing said. “He was highly intelligent and had a great sense of humor. Above all, he was nice to everyone he met — and was admired and loved by them in return. His films and television series will live forever.
“He also was that unique individual who achieved great success and had a balanced life. He had an extraordinary marriage, wonderful children and grandchildren. He was a great friend, and I will miss him every day for the rest of my life.”
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