Veteran industry exec dies at 77

Daniel Melnick's resume includes ABC, MGM, Columbia

Daniel Melnick, who oversaw programming at ABC in the early 1960s and headed production at MGM and Columbia during the '70s, died Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 77.

Melnick's son, composer Peter Melnick, said his father recently underwent surgery for lung cancer.

The eclectic array of projects with which Daniel Melnick was involved ranged from the wise-cracking TV series "Get Smart" to the tense feature "Straw Dogs" and from the film compendium of MGM's greatest hits "That's Entertainment" to the then-groundbreaking gay drama "Making Love" and the Steve Martin comedies "Roxanne" and "L.A. Story."

With David Susskind, he won an Emmy for best dramatic program in 1967 for a production of "Death of a Salesman," starring Lee J. Cobb.

Moving from MGM to Columbia in 1977 at the invitation of studio president David Begelman, Melnick was at Columbia during one of the most tumultuous periods in its history. When Begelman was ousted in the wake of an embezzlement scandal, Melnick briefly served as president of Columbia.

At the same time, along with then production vp Sherry Lansing, who first worked with him at MGM, he was involved in developing such movies as "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "The China Syndrome," which tapped into current events to become critical and boxoffice hits.

Melnick's marriage to Linda Rodgers, daughter of composer Richard Rodgers, ended in divorce in 1971.

Something of a bon vivant, he cultivated the image of a man about town. He was a regular at Ma Maison during that Hollywood hot spot's heyday. Melnick also participated in a regular poker game, the Gourmet Poker Club, that attracted such players as Martin, David Chasman, Barry Diller, Johnny Carson, Neil Simon and Carl Reiner.

Born in New York on April 21, 1932, Melnick scored one of his earliest jobs as a staff producer at CBS. Moving to ABC, he became vp in charge of programming, developing and scheduling such programs as "The Fugitive," "The Untouchables," "Ben Casey" and "The Flintstones."

Partnered with Susskind and Leonard Stern in Talent Associates in the later part of the '60s, he is said to have suggested the idea of a TV show that combined the dash of James Bond with the ineptitude of Inspector Clouseau. Out of that, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created "Get Smart."

It also was at Talent Associates that he produced 1971's "Straw Dogs," directed by Sam Peckinpah.

After his stints at MGM -- where he found gold in the studio's vaults with the "That's Entertainment" franchise -- and Columbia, Melnick went on to exec produce such films as "All That Jazz," "Altered States" and "Footloose."