NBC exec dies on set of 'Parenthood' pilot

Nora O'Brien was 44; production is paused

Tragedy struck NBC's pilot "Parenthood" on Wednesday night when network vp drama Nora O'Brien died unexpectedly on the Berkeley, Calif., set of the show starring Peter Krause, Maura Tierney and Erika Christensen.

Sources said O'Brien, a six-year NBC Universal veteran, died of a brain aneurysm. She was 44.

"Our hearts go out to the family and friends of our beloved colleague Nora, who was respected and cherished by so many people in the entertainment community," NBC top execs Ben Silverman, Marc Graboff and Angela Bromstad said in a statement. "She'll truly be missed by all of us."

NBC, set to unveil its fall schedule to advertisers Monday, canceled all pilot screenings slated for Thursday. Production on "Parenthood" has been shut down for two days.

O'Brien had been in the Bay Area for the production of "Parenthood," a pilot based on the 1989 movie that has been filming on location in southern Marin County.

According to the Contra Costa Times, O'Brien complained of dizziness and collapsed at about 9:20 p.m. She was pronounced dead shortly before 10 p.m. at Marin General Hospital.

O'Brien came to NBC in January 2008, when she was named vp drama programming at Universal Media Studios, which merged with the network in December. At the studio, she worked on the upcoming NBC drama series "The Philanthropist," among other projects.

O'Brien joined NBC from sister cable network Sci Fi, where she was vp original programming for four years. There, she developed episodic and longform programs including the miniseries "The Lost Room" and worked as a programming executive on "Stargate SG-1" and "Stargate Atlantis."

Sci Fi executive vp Mark Stern remembered how O'Brien was one of the first executives he brought to the cable network, having earlier crossed paths with her during postproduction of a movie.

"What was clear from the start was that she had a great passion, she was very smart and insightful, had great taste and aptitude for development and production, and her thoughts on the material were spot-on," he said. "But the most amazing thing about her was her integrity. She fought for what she believed in, and she didn't tolerate dishonesty or a lot of the bull this business can throw at you. She believed in being a straight-up honest person, and that's why so many people were touched by her and are devastated by her loss."

Thursday morning, the news of O'Brien's death quickly spread thorough the creative community.

"Nora was a delight — hard-working and fair, easy to work with, honest and open, and adored by so many of us," said Cori Wellins, head of WMA's TV literary department and a friend of O'Brien's.

Before Sci Fi, O'Brien worked for five years as vp television at Trilogy Entertainment Group, overseeing development and current programming. The Boston College graduate began her career as an associate producer for Reunion Prods. in Boston, where she wrote and produced documentary films.

Hartford, Conn.-born O'Brien is survived by her mother, Virginia O'Brien, and her six siblings, their spouses and 14 nieces and nephews.

Calling hours and funeral services are pending and will be held in West Hartford, Conn. A memorial service will be held at St. Monica's Catholic Church, with a reception to follow at Sonny McLean's in Santa Monica at a future date. (partialdiff)