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Miami Beach – At the 12th anniversary Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards on Wednesday evening, Jay Leno, the last of the half dozen honorees to appear, spoke from the heart about what Tartikoff had meant to him.
Tartikoff , who died in 1997 at age 48, had been head of NBC Entertainment when Leno was first starting his career, back when the comedian first appeared on The Tonight Show, which then starred Johnny Carson.
“I had done The Tonight Show with Johnny and my first shot went really well,” recalled Leno, “the second shot was O.K. The third shot I kind of rushed, and it didn’t really take off.”
“When you were involved with Johnny as a comedian, “ continued Leno, “show biz was kind of the opposite of real life. Being polite and nice doesn’t get you anywhere. You’ve got to be a smart ass and my natural inclination was to be a smart ass. But with Johnny it was ‘yes sir.’…It didn’t really work that well.”
“Then I started doing the Letterman [NBC late-night] show and around my contemporaries I could talk and I could throw it back and forth,” explained Leno. “So Brandon saw this and he asked me to come in. He said what do you want to do for the network? You have ideas for promos? I remember we did a series of things I wrote, funny ways to introduce the fall season… And then the guest-hosting thing came along and that was all because of Brandon. That’s why I am so grateful to him.”
Honoree Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, said he was always sorry he did not get to meet Tartikoff, because they shared a lifelong love of television.
He praised Tartikoff for taking NBC from last place when he arrived to six years as the top rated network, and for “loving the shows and the people who make the shows.”
In his introduction of Sarandos, Bruce Rosenblum, who is head of TV for Legendary and chairman of the TV Academy, praised Sarandos for “single-handedly rewriting the rules for television by putting his shows on all at once…and refusing to release ratings information, which may be a good thing.”
Sarandos recalled that Tartikoff was able to take risks and change his world because he had the support of his boss, Grant Tinker. “I do have a Grant Tinker of sorts,” said Sarandos, “Reed Hastings [CEO of Netflix] who gives me room to succeed and fail.”
“He’s not the kind of person,” said Sarandos, “who built a company that would test things to death rather than try something new and that is what has been so inspiring.”
Steve Blue, executive vp of production and operations for NBCU Cable, provided the introduction for honoree Linda Bell Blue, who for 19 years was executive producer of Entertainment Tonight, a period during which the show became the highest rated entertainment news magazine, where it has stayed to this day.
Blue has been married to Linda Bell Blue for 29 years, who he praised as “one of the most formidable producing talents in the history of our business.”
Bell Blue said that she loved being part of the E.T. team and working “to create, to compete and to win.”
She introduced Bill Applegate who was her first boss in television 35 years ago when he hired her at a station in San Francisco to produce news. “He was one of the toughest guys I ever worked for,” she said, “and I think he was one of the reasons for my success.”
She also praised Tartikoff noting “he found great joy in our business and I do too.”
Honoree Jonathan Murray, chairman, Bunim/Murray Productions, the reality powerhouse behind the Real World, Project Runway, Keeping Up With The Kardashians and many other shows said he grew up in Syracuse, New York, loving television so much he used to get TV Guide listings sent to him when he was ten-years-old.
“My father dined out at cocktail parties for many years,” said Murray, “telling people how they tried to stop me from watching television – but it worked out alright.”
Murray went on to a career first in local TV, then working for a firm in New York that represented TV stations and as a show producer. “I still love the business of making and selling television shows,” said Murray. “There’s nothing more thrilling than getting a 22 episode order in the room [selling a show pitch to a network]. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does, it’s thrilling.”
Gustavo Cisneros and his daughter Adriana Cisneros were honored for building the Cisneros Group of Companies into one of the largest privately held media conglomerates in the world, and a dominant player in Spanish language and Portuguese language TV in Latin America and Hispanic TV in the U.S.
Gustavo is in the process of turning the reins of the company over to his daughter, who was seen in an introductory video showing off their full-service production facility in Miami where 50 shows can be in production at once, and often are.
“Standing up here together accepting this award is very special in so many ways,” said Gustavo Cisneros. “It is a tribute to my father Diego, who founded our company. He had the vision 55 years ago to set us on the path to be a great media company. I know that he would be so very proud of how far we have taken our organization.”
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