Social Icons

Social Connect

Robert M. Bennett

  • Birthplace: Altoona, Pennsylvania
  • Birthday: April 27
Date of passing: 
November 29, 2016

Obituary

Robert M. Bennett was a broadcast executive who rose from success in several local markets — most notably at WCVB-TV in Boston — to become president of Metromedia Broadcasting, progenitor of Fox Broadcasting. For his contributions to the field, he received the President’s Award of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE), and in 1994 he was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1994.

Robert M. Bennett was a broadcast executive who rose from success in several local markets — most notably at WCVB-TV in Boston — to become president of Metromedia Broadcasting, progenitor of Fox Broadcasting. For his contributions to the field, he received the President’s Award of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE), and in 1994 he was inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame in 1994.

At the pinnacle of his tenure in the industry in the 1980s, Bennett guided the nation’s then-largest broadcast station group as president of Metromedia Broadcasting and as a partner and member of the office of the President of Metromedia Inc. with media titan John Kluge.

The Metromedia entertainment empire included television stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Houston, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., as well as 13 AM/FM radio stations in ten major metropolitan areas, Harlem Globetrotters, Ice Capades, and Metromedia Producers, which distributed most of famed producer Aaron Spelling’s television series, along with Metromedia’s own network made-for-television movies and award-winning miniseries. In his first year as head of Metromedia Broadcasting, the company’s stock rose from $45.00 per share to more than $500 per share, the highest price then recorded on the New York Stock Exchange.

He championed and captained the launch of such nationally successful shows as Fame, Three’s Company, Small Wonder and Star Search.

Initially identified as the Metromedia Network, the lineup of stations carrying this and other programming from Metromedia in 1983-85 three nights per week basically constituted what later became known as the “Fourth Network”. When Rupert Murdoch acquired Metromedia in 1985, he utilized the core strength of the Metromedia stations and its already existing lineup of primetime programs and affiliates to form the Fox Network.

Bennett served as the point person for Metromedia’s multiple public and private equity placements, and, in 1982, he, Kluge and two other partners took the company private in what was then recognized as the world’s largest leveraged buyout.

The Altoona, Pennsylvania, native began his career in 1948 as a page for CBS Radio in Hollywood. Four years later became a salesman for Los Angeles station KTTV, and from 1958 to 1966 he was its vice president and director of sales. Rising through Metromedia’s broadcast division, he served as vice president and general manager of its television station (WTTG-TV) in Washington, D.C., and, from 1969 to 1971, the country’s largest and most successful independent station, WNEW-TV, New York.

In 1972, the Federal Communications Commission, for the first time in its history, awarded a television license to a new group of operators in Boston, and Bennett was chosen to lead the group. He emerged as that station’s principal architect, builder, manager and owner. WCVB-TV, from the start, was conceived as a model of what local television broadcasting could be in America. It produced more than 60 hours of locally produced programming at a time when most stations were content simply to run local news and occasional documentaries.

Among WCVB-TV’s award-winning original productions were: an ABC Network movie, Summer Solstice, set in a picturesque New England community and starring Henry Fonda (in his last film appearance) and Myrna Loy; a situation comedy (The Baxters) developed for national syndication with legendary Hollywood television producer Norman Lear; another situation comedy (Park Street Under, which was set in a subway bar in Boston and followed the lives of an ex-Red Sox pitcher as bartender, an outspoken waitress, et al.), from which Paramount Television and the NBC Network reportedly developed the long-running hit Cheers; and more than 200 national and international award-winning documentaries, dramas and magazine/talk shows.

WCVB received the prestigious Peabody Award as America’s finest television station, and was recognized by The New York Times as “probably America’s best television station.”

In 1981 the station was sold to Metromedia for $220 million, eclipsing the highest price ever paid for a television station in the country. It became the flagship station for the Metromedia broadcasting group. In 1985, Bennett arranged and directed the sale of WCVB-TV to the Hearst Corporation for $450 million, which was then cited as the new high-water mark for any television station sale in the U.S. 

Bennett was a business partner of Paul Rich, CEO of BoPaul Media, for 40-plus years, dating back to the time in 1973, when he hired Rich to run the syndication arm of WCVB-TV, where Bennett was president and general manager. Rich was part of Bennett’s executive team at Metromedia, running Metromedia Producers from 1981-85; and then they co-owned Trans Atlantic Entertainment from 1992 to 1996 before selling the company’s assets to Lakeshore Entertainment. From 2000 to 2009 Rich and Bennett co-owned Bennett Media Worldwide, with Rich as CEO.

In the early 1980s, Bennett guided the nascent New England chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences as its founding president.

Bennett later served as chairman of the board of Bennett Productions in Los Angeles, one of the country’s leading high-definition television production and post-production companies. He and his son, Casey, founded the company in the mid-1980s. Its introduction of a weekly television series, The Extremists, in 1991, marked Bennett Productions as a pioneer of extreme sports television coverage worldwide. The company produced and continues to distribute worldwide 88 half-hour episodes of the original series, along with more than 300 hours of other programming. Bennett Productions also developed its own digital channel Edge TV.

In addition to his Hall of Fame induction, Bennett received many other professional accolades recognizing his personal contributions to the field. In 1985, he was presented one of the broadcast industry’s highest honors, the President’s Award of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE). Upon receiving the tribute, he was cited as “a distinguished, inspired, dedicated leader…willing to take a chance, a man who encourages his colleagues to experiment, to try new ideas, even to risk failure.”

Bennett died on November 29, 2016, in Newport Beach, California. He was 89.

Show more

Bob-Bennett-bio-450x600.jpg

Bob Bennett

Bob Bennett

Photo credit: 
Casey Bennett

Main