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Howard Leeds, the sitcom veteran who developed The Facts of Life and produced and wrote for The Brady Bunch, Diff’rent Strokes and Silver Spoons, has died. He was 97.
Leeds died Feb. 11 at his home in Los Angeles following a long illness, his family announced.
In the late 1970s, Leeds was a producer on the hit Diff’rent Strokes, starring Conrad Bain and child star Gary Coleman, when he was asked by NBC head Fred Silverman and producer Norman Lear to come up with a spinoff.
“So we did,” he recalled in 2014. “I wrote the pilot with Ben Starr, and we did it as an episode [“The Girls School”] of our show. It was no big deal at the time. It was just, ‘Well, here we have an opportunity to do a spinoff, so we’re looking forward to doing it, and we hope it works.’ And, by God, it did, didn’t it?”
The Facts of Life debuted in August 1979 and ran for more than 200 episodes over nine seasons, from 1979-88. The comedy — which also tackled serious issues — revolved around a group of teenage girls attending a private New York boarding school. Helping them along the way was their no-nonsense, compassionate housemother Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae, who had played a wisecracking maid on Diff’rent Strokes).
Leeds created two other ‘80s popular sitcoms starring youngsters: Silver Spoons, with Ricky Schroder as the center of a wealthy clan, and Small Wonder, about a family with a cute robot daughter (Tiffany Brissette).
Earlier, Leeds had produced 92 episodes of The Brady Bunch from 1970-74 and guided such shows as My Living Doll, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir and Hello, Larry.
Leeds was born on June 27, 1919, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He and his parents came to Los Angeles, and he graduated from Fairfax High School in 1937.
After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he returned to L.A. and worked at MGM. His first credit came in 1952 as a writer on CBS’ Meet Millie, the radio hit turned TV program that starred Elena Verdugo.
He wrote for The Red Skelton Hour starting in 1953 and three years later was nominated for an Emmy Award for best comedy writing for his work on The George Gobel Show (Lear and his partner, Bud Yorkin, also wrote for that comedy).
Leeds later wrote for The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, Bachelor Father, The Bob Cummings Show, Make Room for Daddy, My Three Sons, Bewitched and Barney Miller, and for variety specials toplined by Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball and Benny Hill.
From 1976-78, he served as executive producer of drama and comedy for television and motion pictures for Reg Grundy Productions of Australia.
Survivors include his wife Joan, son John, daughter-in-law Kim and grandchildren Jenna and Erin.
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