TV programmerMichael Dann

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After receiving a degree in economics and a stint in the Army, Dann went into broadcasting. After various jobs, he landed a job with CBS to head the programming department, where he proved he had a knack for the job. He bought hit after hit for the network, including CBS Playhouse, The Dick Van Dyke Show, 60 Minutes, and The Carol Burnett Show. And even though he “hated” the shows that earned CBS the nickname “the Hillbilly Network,” he also brought in Petticoat Junction, Hee Haw, and Green Acres — all of which got great ratings and, of course, profits. “By and large I operated under a principle I was trained in,” he said later, “and that was that there was no such thing as a good program executive with low-rated shows or a bad program executive with high-rated shows.”

Dann also bought The Mary Tyler Moore Show for the network in 1970, but made a mistake with it: he made creators James L. Brooks and Allan Burns rewrite Moore’s character, who had originally been written as divorced, insisting that they make her endlessly single. “Huge mistake,” he said later. “We should have let her run wild, let her be divorced, be normal, have a couple of affairs.” The show was still a huge hit, winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series three years in a row. Another show he brought in was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967). “I didn’t even know who they were when I put them on,” he said later. It was also a huge hit, but created controversy by openly being against the Vietnam war. CBS’s censors hated the show, and the network canceled it over Dann’s objections. “It was the most talked about, important variety program ever done,” he said later. “The loss of the Smothers Brothers was a blow to freedom of expression.” A new network president ordered Dann to cancel shows that were more popular with older viewers, including The Red Skelton Show and The Jackie Gleason Show. “Just because the people who buy refrigerators are between 26 and 35 and live in Scarsdale, you should not beam your programming only at them,” he said, shortly before he quit the network. But before he left, he bought one more show: All in the Family. Dann died May 27 at his Boca Raton, Fla., home. He was 94.

From This is True for 5 June 2016