Fade To Black: Television’s 2015 Honor Roll

Michael KingLeonard NimoyThroughout the year, TVNewsCheck has reported the deaths of outstanding men and women who shaped television as actors, lawmakers, producers, business people, journalists and on-air personalities. Here is a selection as Part 4 of our Year in Review Special Report. Read all of the 2015 Year in Review stories here.

Arthur R. Taylor, 80, a former corporate wunderkind who became president of CBS at 37, unloaded an underperforming network-owned property, the New York Yankees, and then, as a sometimes nettlesome overachiever, was fired by William S. Paley, the imperious CBS chairman and founder. After he was fired from the network, Taylor became the founding president of a premium cable channel that was the predecessor of A&E. He died on Dec. 3.

Fred Thompson was a Tennessee-trained lawyer, prosecutor, hard-driving Senate counsel at the Watergate hearings, and even a fleeting presidential hopeful. He had a later career as a movie and TV actor with a long run on NBC’s Law & Order. He was 73 when he died on Nov. 1.

John D. Backe, 83, was a former bomber pilot who rose to become chief executive of CBS, returning it to first place among primetime television viewers in the late 1970s before being ousted in a power struggle with the network’s unforgiving founder, William S. Paley. He died Oct. 22.

Marty Ingels, 79, appeared in some movies and a number of television show episodes, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Phyllis Diller Show and Bewitched. He co-starred with John Astin in the in the 1962-63 ABC comedy I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster. Ingels also did voice work for hundreds of cartoons, commercials and video games. He was married to singer and actress Shirley Jones for nearly 40 years. He died Oct. 21.

Pierson Mapes, 78, worked twice for NBC. For five years beginning in 1963, he held sales services and affiliate relations positions. He then went to Blair Television for seven years. He returned to NBC in 1978 as VP of network planning and was named president in 1982. He held that post until his retirement in 1994. He died Sept. 17.

Stanton Cook, 90, who molded Tribune Co. into a modern, diversified media corporation that broke with its conservative past by calling for the resignation of President Richard Nixon, bought the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team and established itself as the largest operator of independent TV stations in America, died Sept. 3.


Wayne Dyer, the self-help author and speaker whose inspirational pledge shows raised millions of dollars for public television stations, died in his sleep of a heart attack Aug. 29 at home in Maui, Hawaii. He was 75. Dyer’s 10 fundraising specials for public TV brought in more than $200 million for stations, making Dyer “one of PBS’s most successful fundraisers,” according to a statement from Hay House, his publisher.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward, a reporter and cameraman, respectively, for CBS affiliate WDBJ Roanoke, Va., were shot to death on live television during an otherwise innocuous story on Aug. 25. The killer, Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, worked for WDBJ as a reporter before being fired after an apparently stormy few months in 2013.

Bud Yorkin was a ground-breaking TV producer who worked with partner Norman Lear to direct and co-produce breakthrough 1970s TV sitcoms including Maude and The Jeffersons along with All in the Family. He was 89 when he died on Aug. 17.

Frank Gifford, 84, a versatile football star on both offense and defense in an era when NFL players were starting to specialize, went on to a successful second career as a broadcaster on ABC’s Monday Night Football. Gifford hosted Wide World of Sports, covered several Olympics and announced 588 consecutive NFL games for ABC. His wife, Kathie Lee Gifford, is a host for NBC’s Today.

Lela Swift, 96, rose from the secretarial pool at CBS to become a pioneering force for female TV directors, died Aug. 4. Swift went from go-fer to an assistant director job on the network’s Studio One in 1948, to directing nearly 600 episodes of Dark Shadows and winning three Daytime Emmys over 14 years of helming the soap opera Ryan’s Hope.

Larry Israel, 95, a veteran media executive who served as president of The Washington Post Co. from 1973 to 1977, and led an expansion of the company’s radio and television holdings, died July 29.

Peg Lynch, who wrote and starred in Ethel and Albert, one of television’s earliest situation comedies (it aired on ABC, CBS and NBC over its three-year run). Lynch eventually wrote nearly 11,000 scripts for radio and television without the benefit of a writer’s room committee (or even a co-writer). She died on July 24 at age 98.

Marty Messinger, 66, CBS Corp.’s first chief compliance officer and the longtime chief legal officer for the CBS Television Stations group, died July 19.

Marlene Sanders, 84, was the first woman to anchor a primetime network newscast, for ABC, in 1964, when she substituted for Ron Cochran, who had lost his voice that night. She was also the first network TV female journalist to report from Vietnam, in 1966, and the first female vice president of a news division, ABC, in 1976. She died July 14.

Glenn R. Jones borrowed $400 against his Volkswagen in 1967 and turned it into a cable television empire that influences the way we learn today. In a career that spanned five decades, Jones built Jones Intercable into one of the 10 largest cable television operators in the U.S. He later founded what would become the first online university to receive accreditation, Jones International University. He died at 85 on June 7.

Danny Villanueva, 77, a former pro football player who co-founded Univision and helped turned it into a powerhouse in Spanish-language TV, died June 18.

Ralph Roberts, 95, jumped into the fledgling cable TV industry in 1963 by spending $500,000 to buy American Cable Systems, a company in Tupelo, Miss. He then acquired other cable systems, changed the name of the company to Comcast and ran it until he was in his 80s. He died June 18.

James Lee, the JPMorgan Chase vice chairman, was a force behind some of the media industry’s biggest deals. Usually referred to as “Jimmy,” Lee was NBCUniversal’s lead banker when GE sold it to Comcast, advised News Corp during its purchase of Dow Jones, and helped to manage IPOs for Facebook and Twitter. He also advised Comcast for its aborted plan this year to buy Time Warner Cable. He was 62 when he died on June 17.

Michael King, half of the hard-charging brothers whose King World Productions distributed syndicated television sensations such as Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy and The Oprah Winfrey Show, died May 27 at 67. When King and his older brother Roger inherited the television syndication company from their father, who died in 1972, the business was foundering. The company claimed one product — distribution rights to The Little Rascals — and Michael King, working out of the kitchen of his uncle’s New Jersey home, managed to gross $150 per week by peddling Spanky and Alfalfa to TV stations. The company struck gold in 1983 when it paid $50,000 to Merv Griffin for the rights to Wheel of Fortune. The brothers traveled the country, lining up a roster of top markets to air the glitzy game show starring Vanna White and Pat Sajak, and Wheel swiftly became the highest-rated syndicated program in history. Griffin awarded the pair the distribution rights to a revival of Jeopardy, and profits soared. King World Productions went public two years later.

Ralph Meador, 95, a long-time media broker, died May 25. After building radio stations in Europe during World War II and running his own TV stations, he founded the brokerage firm of R.E. Meador & Associates in 1970.

Anne Meara, 85, a TV and film actress and comedian who was the wife of Jerry Stiller and mother of Ben Stiller, died May 23. Meara was twice nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting role on Archie Bunker’s Place, along with two other Emmy nods, most recently in 1997 for her guest-starring role on Homicide. She won a Writers Guild Award for co-writing the 1983 TV movie The Other Woman.

Ed Fouhy, 80, was an executive at ABC, CBS and NBC, starting as producer of CBS Morning News in 1966. He won five Emmys and covered stories worldwide, whether traveling with Walter Cronkite for President Nixon’s 1972 trip to China or producing the 1988 and 1992 presidential debates.

Kalee Scolatt, the 34-year-old news director of Cowles Publishing-owned ABC affiliate KTMF Missoula, Mont., was one of two people murdered May 6 by a man who then killed himself.

Jayne Meadows, 95, the actress and TV personality who often teamed with her husband, Steve Allen, died April 26. Though best known as the wife of the beloved TV host — and the sister of Honeymooners star Audrey Meadows — Jayne Meadows had a solid career in her own right. She appeared on Broadway and in movies, gained three primetime Emmy nominations as a TV actress and was a staple of talk shows and game shows.

Robert Schuller‘s evangelical Protestant ministry was a product of modern technology. Schuller began broadcasting the Hour of Power in 1970. In 1980, he built the towering glass-and-steel Crystal Cathedral to house his booming TV ministry, which was broadcast live each week from the cathedral’s airy and sunlit 2,800-seat sanctuary. At its peak, in the 1990s, the program had 20 million viewers in about 180 countries. He died April 2 at age 88.

Sam Simon, 59, a creative force behind The Simpsons who left the show after its fourth season in a lucrative arrangement that allowed him to spend much of the rest of his life giving his money away, died March 8.

Leonard Nimoy, 83, Star Trek’s Mr. Spock died Feb. 27. Although Nimoy followed his 1966-69 Star Trek run with a notable career as both an actor and director, in the public’s mind he would always be Mr. Spock. His half-human, half-Vulcan character was the calm counterpoint to William Shatner’s often-emotional Captain Kirk on one of television and film’s most revered cult series.

Carl E Lee, a broadcasting pioneer, worked for 60 years in the radio and television broadcasting industry and was president and CEO of Fetzer Broadcasting Co., died Feb. 22. He was 96.

Bob Simon, 73, the longtime 60 Minutes correspondent, died Feb. 11 in a car crash. Simon joined CBS News in 1967 as a reporter and assignment editor, covering campus unrest and inner-city riots. He also worked in CBS’s Tel Aviv bureau from 1977 to 1981 and in Washington as its Department of State correspondent. Simon had been contributing to 60 Minutes on a regular basis since 1996. He also was a correspondent for 60 Minutes II.

Sanford “Sandy” Socolow, 86, who as Walter Cronkite’s right-hand played a key role in the anchorman’s coverage of the biggest news of the 1960s and ’70s, including the space launches, Vietnam War and Watergate, died Jan. 31. Socolow began a 30-year career at CBS on the morning news as a writer in late 1956 and soon found himself writing for a midday news program fronted by the up-and-coming Cronkite. When Cronkite retired in 1981, Socolow remained in charge of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather for nine months before being moved to London to become bureau chief, where he was overseeing all the news gathering in Europe and the Middle East. In 1984, he returned stateside and joined 60 Minutes, producing stories for, among others, Safer, Diane Sawyer and Harry Reasoner. He left CBS News in 1988.

Joe Franklin, who became a New York institution by presiding over one of the most compellingly low-rent television programs in history, one that even he acknowledged was an oddly long-running parade of has-beens and yet-to-bes interrupted from time to time by surprisingly famous guests, died Jan. 24. He was 88.

Peggy Charren, a children’s television activist who is credited with revolutionizing children’s programming, died Jan. 22. Frustrated with the vapid quality and hyper-commercialization of TV programs her children watched in her Newton home in the late 1960s, Peggy Charren helped found Action for Children’s Television, a grass-roots organization that brought about landmark legislation and sweeping changes in programming for young viewers. She was 86.

Tony Verna, a television director and producer who invented instant replay for live sports 51 years ago, died Jan. 18. He was 81. CBS used instant replay for the first time in the Dec. 7, 1963, Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, after Verna developed a method to cue the tape to pinpoint the play he wanted to immediately air again. He said he was looking for a way to fill those boring gaps between plays during a football telecast.

Lowell Paxson, the radio and television station owner and creator of the Home Shopping Network and Pax TV (later Ion TV), died on Jan. 9 at the age of 80. He developed an early passion for television, radio and showmanship and owned his first TV station by his early 20s. It was as the owner of WWQT-AM Clearwater, Fla., that Paxson discovered the power of selling products directly to consumer over the airwaves. In 1977, when one of his station’s advertisers could not pay his bill, Paxson accepted 118 avocado green can openers instead of money. Needing to make payroll the next day without the funds to do so, he went on the air and announced he would sell the $30 can openers for $10 each to anyone who could come to the station and pay cash. In three hours he sold them all. With partner Ray Speer, Paxson took the retailing concept to cable in Florida and built the Home Shopping Club.

Read all of the 2015 Year in Review stories here.

Comments (2)

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Joe Jaime says:

December 24, 2015 at 8:13 am

Lot a of great people…you all made wonderful contributions to our industry

Sean Smith says:

December 24, 2015 at 9:11 am

This list is a Who’s Who of broadcasting royalty. So sad to lose them. Their contributions to the changing world of communications survive them.

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