The distributor through his Colbert Television Sales of Tic Tac Dough, The Joker’s Wild and other shows; mentor of a generation of TV programmers; and father of Program Partners’ Ritch Colbert died Friday morning at age 85. His contributions to the syndication business included introducing strip programming in prime access.
Pioneer TV syndicator Dick Colbert, who mentored a generation of TV sales and programming executives, died from cancer early this morning at his home in Boulder Creek, Calif. He was 85.
Colbert is the father of Ritch Colbert, who followed his father into the business and now runs his own shop, Program Partners.
Among Colbert’s many contributions to the syndication business was the introduction of first-run strip programming in prime access during the 1970s.
Born Richard Goldberg on July 16, 1924, in San Francisco, Colbert was the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father was a veteran of World War I and a printer in San Francisco who moved his family to Boulder Creek during the depression. Colbert returned to the small lumber town in the Santa Cruz Mountains and considered it home in his later years.
At 17, Colbert began his career as a poster clerk in the San Francisco branch of Universal Pictures. After a brief stint in the army, he returned to the movie industry with branch positions in Salt Lake City, Portland and Seattle.
In the early 1960s, he made the move to TV, joining ZIV International, a syndication pioneer. From there, he worked for Screen Gems and later Four Star Television, which was founded by Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino and David Niven.
As president of distribution at Four Star, he began a more than 40-year association with Arthur Gardner, producer of such TV series as The Rifleman and Big Valley.
In the mid-1970s, Colbert partnered with legendary game show impresarios Jack Barry and Dan Enright to form Colbert Television Sales.
As an independent syndicator, CTS innovated many of the sales, marketing and production strategies now common in TV. Among its most popular offerings: The Joker’s Wild, hosted by Jack Barry, and Tic Tac Dough with Wink Martindale.
The Joker’s Wild was the show that led the transition of prime access from checkerboard to strip programming.
“First and foremost, Dick Colbert was a good person,” said Martindale in an e-mail to TVNewsCheck. “If he was your friend, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for you. I was fortunate to call him friend for many years. Needless to say, he will be missed….just as he was loved.”
CTS boasted a dynamic and effective sales force, which at one time included his son Ritch as well as Roger, Michael and Bob King.
“The King brothers credit me with teaching and mentoring them,” Colbert writes in Fridays with Art, a collection of remembrances about the early days of TV programming. “But I contend that my main contribution was preventing Roger and Bob from killing each other.”
Throughout the 1980s, Colbert continued his association with Barry and Enright until he facilitated the sale of their library to Sony in the early 1990s.
Throughout his life, Colbert’s greatest passion was his pursuit of an International University that would pull the best and brightest from every nation, bring them together in education and collaboration and send them back to their homelands to work for peace and cooperation among nations.
Colbert is survived by his longtime significant other Patte Barry; his children, DJ Colbert, Ritch Colbert, Mary Colbert and Marcia Tremblay; his former wife Jean Colbert; and grandchildren Emma Baughman, Noah Baughman and Nicole Tremblay.
The date and place of the memorial service will be announced.
The family suggests donations in Colbert’s memory to the Hospice of Santa Cruz County, 940 Disc Drive, Scotts Valley, CA 95066, or a hospice of their choice.