The Private Files of Brandon Tartikoff

George Lucas and Lilly Tartikoff bring letters, photos and awards from the legendary NBC exec to USC.

More than a decade after his death, Brandon Tartikoff remains one of TV's most influential programmers, credited with lifting NBC from third place to first with such 1980s series as Hill Street Blues, The Cosby Show and Cheers. At the suggestion of another industry luminary, George Lucas, Tartikoff's widow, Lilly, has donated his personal files to USC, with a dedication ceremony set for Oct. 18. Included in the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Collection are more than 4,000 pieces of correspondence, photos, video and awards from his earliest days at NBC in 1979 to his final ones at Paramount in 1992 (he died in 1997 of Hodgkin's disease at age 48). "I ran into George Lucas at a USC football game two years ago and he said to me, 'Give me Brandon's legacy,' " recalls Lilly Tartikoff, who describes the process of selecting and digitizing the documents as "more meaningful than I ever imagined."


Early Letterman Love: Tartikoff sent a thank-you note to David Letterman following the future Late Night host's closed-circuit TV introduction to NBC affiliates on Feb. 21, 1980, as host of the network's morning talk show, The David Letterman Show.

Michael J. Fox's Lunch Box: Tartikoff famously resisted casting Michael J. Fox in Family Ties, telling creator Gary David Goldberg that Fox didn't have a face you'd see on a lunch box. After the Spielberg-produced Back to the Future hit big, Fox sent Tartikoff a lunch box with his picture on it and a note: "Brandon, They wanted me to put a crow in here, but... Love and Kisses, Michael J."

'MTV Cops': Having grown obsessed with MTV, Tartikoff scribbled down the words "MTV Cops" on a napkin that was given to Tony Yerkovich. The producer used it as a jumping-off point for what became Miami Vice. The series, a Don Johnson police procedural that drew heavily from music, would go on to run for five celebrated seasons.