Joe Bellon, Innovative CBS News Exec and 'America's Funniest Home Videos' Producer, Dies at 87

Courtesy of Hugh Talman/Greg Bellon
Joe Bellon

He employed emerging technologies to create revenue out of existing product lines, formats and footage.

Joe Bellon, a pioneering CBS News executive who found lucrative new markets for news and entertainment programs and later was instrumental in the creation of America's Funniest Home Videos, has died. He was 87.

Bellon died Friday at his home in Port Washington, New York, of complications from leukemia, heart and kidney failure, his son, Greg Bellon, told The Hollywood Reporter.

In 1969, while serving as director of business affairs for CBS News, Bellon — who, his son said, believed that all businesses have assets that could be developed outside their main product lines — proposed a new venture for making and marketing by-products from CBS News broadcasts. He was named head of the new operation and given two years to succeed.

Led by Bellon, CBS News put morning newscasts and 60 Minutes segments on the in-flight programs of U.S. airlines; created scores of products for schools and libraries as well as an audiocassette subscription series of news materials; and used correspondents as narrators to repackage material for books, phonograph recordings and videocassettes.

His noteworthy projects included one that recorded the epic Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 with Walter Cronkite and another about the career of another legendary CBS newsman, Edward R. Murrow, narrated by Robert Trout. 

Bellon also helped license more than a dozen books based on CBS programming, including works by Charles Kuralt, Eric Sevareid, Daniel Schorr and Charles Osgood.

He reshaped the documentary series Twentieth Century into a World War II videocassette product that produced stunning profits for CBS' Columbia House home video unit. Years of CBS News' coverage of the Vietnam War was turned into another video series.

Bellon also cut costs at the news division by using videocassettes and satellites to deliver footage.

His success prompted CBS to launch a worldwide marketing operation that developed and marketed programming from all units in its broadcast group, including the entertainment division. Bellon then developed a home video line of I Love Lucy shows, a big moneymaker.

In China to help CBS News forge a film-exchange agreement with Central China Television in 1983, Bellon gave CCTV rights to broadcast programs like NBA games — seen in that country for the first time — but mandated that they include commercials that CBS sold to international advertisers.

In 1985, Bellon departed CBS and entered the worldwide television distribution business with the launch of Bellon Enterprises.

Working on behalf of Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc., Bellon saw a TBS program that used superbly shot animal footage for a quiz program. He thought to license this footage and format to TV stations and programs around the world for each to produce shows in their own language and with their own talent. Working in the U.S. with producer Vin Di Bona, he sold the idea to ABC, and Animal Crack Ups aired for three years.

Bellon Enterprises, working again on behalf of TBS, then licensed an idea using funny home videos to Di Bona and ABC. That became the long-running America's Funniest Home Videos, which debuted in 1989.

Bellon Enterprises also represented Kuralt and helped him develop a videocassette series of his "On the Road" stories. It also served as his literary representative.

Bellon retired in 1993, and his son took over the company. Greg Bellon later developed the concept for American Ninja Warriors.

Born and raised in Astoria, New York, Joseph Bellon attended Notre Dame and St. John's University School of Law. After an internship at the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, he worked for the Justice Department in Washington, then served three years with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander.

Survivors include his wife, Marie; children Eugene, Greg and Marianne; and grandchildren Robert, Margaret, Genevieve, Jonathan, Rosemarie, Nick, Christina and Julianna.