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July 11, 2013

James Loper, Public Television Pioneer and Longtime Television Academy Executive

After a distinguished career with Los Angeles station KCET, Loper guided the Television Academy and its Foundation from 1984 until 1999.

James Loper, a distinguished public television executive who later served 16 years as executive director of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, died July 8, 2013, in Pasadena, California. He was 81.

The cause of death was not announced.

Loper led the staffs of the Television Academy and the Television Academy Foundation from 1984 through 1999. Highlights of his tenure included the addition of Fox as a fourth partner in the rotating schedule of networks that broadcast the Primetime Emmy Awards and the expansion of the Primetime Emmys to include cable programming. He also oversaw the Academy’s move into its North Hollywood headquarters.

In addition, he worked with the Academy's then-chairman, Richard Frank, on TV All-Stars to the Rescue, an animated special targeting the dangers of drugs and substance abuse, produced by the Academy Foundation and Southern Star Productions and financed by McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities. The special was originally simulcast on April 21, 1990, on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, as well as most independent stations and a number of cable networks.

Another landmark event during Loper's stewardship was the Superhighway Summit, a theory-and-practice primer on the nascent yet burgeoning digital revolution, which drew leaders from the worlds of entertainment, business, academia and politics — including then-Vice President Al Gore — held at UCLA's Royce Hall on January 4, 1994.

Loper also directed the creation of the Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television.

In 2003, Loper himself was interviewed by the Archive for three hours of reflection on his life and work.

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Loper earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Arizona State University in 1953. Four years later he completed a master’s at the University of Denver. In 1959 he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a PhD at USC. He completed his doctorate in 1966, balancing his studies with a thriving professional career.

In his early years as a USC student, he joined the Committee for Educational Television, a group seeking to establish a public broadcasting station in Los Angeles. Success came in 1964 with the launch of KCET, where Loper was hired as director of educational programming. He remained with the station for nearly 20 years, many of them in charge — first as vice president and general manager, and as president from 1971 to 1983.

At KCET, he was a key participant in the launch of such landmark series as Hollywood Television Theater, which debuted in 1970 with The Andersonville Trial, a play directed by George C. Scott; Visions, a series that began presenting works by new playwrights in 1976; and Cosmos, a 1980 miniseries co-produced with its host, astronomer Carl Sagan. All three won Peabody Awards. Loper left KCET in 1983 and joined the Television Academy the following year.

In a statement acknowledging Loper's passing, Al Jerome, president of KCETLink, as the station is now known, said, "Jim Loper left an indelible mark on the history of KCET and public television. It was my pleasure to speak to Jim’s classes at USC each year and to watch first-hand how he would emphasize the distinctive value of public media and why it always needed to be nurtured and supported. Public media has lost a true champion, but Jim’s passion for our mission will still guide us as we chart our new course.”

After leaving the Television Academy in 1999, Loper returned to USC, where he joined the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, with which he had been affiliated for many years. In 2004, USC endowed the James L. Loper Lecture in Public Service Broadcasting, an annual address related to noncommercial media, delivered by a major figure in broadcasting. Recent speakers have included journalist Judy Woodruff, talk show host Tavis Smiley and former National Public Radio CEO Vivian Schiller.

In a tribute on the USC website, Abigail Kaun, associate dean of academic programs and student affairs at USC Annenberg, said, “Jim gave the many, many students who came through his classes a very special insight into the history of television in the United States, particularly public television. He was able to do that because of his own unique experiences and access and leadership in the area of public television."

“I worked here at the same time he taught for us,” Kaun added. “He was a gentleman, very kind and devoted to his students.”

Price Hicks, who worked with Loper at both KCET and the Television Academy, remembers him as an unfailingly supportive mentor and leader who made a point of advocating on behalf of women in the television industry at a time when few others did.

Hicks, who was hired by Loper as an intern, went on to a long career as producer of such KCET programs as CityWatchers.

“There were very few women producers in L.A. at the time — two or three of us," said Hicks. "He was always making sure those opportunities existed for us."

Hicks later followed Loper to the Television Academy, where she served as director of Educational Programs and Services. At the Academy, she recalled, "He was equally supportive. Our department grew enormously under his tutelage."

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times upon Loper’s passing, John Leverence, the Television Academy’s senior vice president, awards, said, “He was a person of great industry distinction,” adding that the addition of cable programming to the Primetime Emmy Awards “was a very important contribution that was done with his usual astuteness and extraordinary personal grace.”

Survivors include his wife, daughter, son and six grandchildren.

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