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Foundation Officers

Leonard H. Goldenson, ; Honorary Chairman (In Memoriam)

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Leonard H. Goldenson

Though the ABC television network was created in 1943 as an off-shoot of the old NBC Blue Network, it is widely considered to have begun operating in its modern form in 1953, when it merged with the United Paramount Theaters to avoid bankruptcy. The architect of that merger was Leonard H. Goldenson, considered to be the founding chairman of ABC as we know it.

His story belongs to the early history of American television, and it begins in 1933, when Goldenson reorganized Paramount Pictures' troubled New England theaters into profitable ventures.

A young, ambitious attorney with two Harvard degrees, Goldenson had been reared in a small Pennsylvania town called Scottdale. Born there on December 7, 1905, he grew up surrounded by movies, largely because his father, a clothing-store owner, had a side interest in the local movie theater.

The reorganization of Paramount's New England theaters took him four years, during which he learned all he could about the theater business. In 1938, he was assigned full responsibility for the studio's seventeen hundred theaters.

He rose quickly through the Paramount ranks: a vice-president in 1942, a director in 1944. In 1950, after movie studios were required by federal antitrust decree to separate from their theater operations, Goldenson was elevated to the presidency of the newly created United Paramount Theaters. It was in this position that he engineered the merger of United Paramount and ABC.

"I felt television had a great future," Goldenson recalled before his 1987 Hall of Fame induction. Paramount already owned one of America's first commercial TV stations (WBKB-TV in Chicago), which provided Goldenson with a firsthand look at television's potential. His assessments led him to actively pursue the merger between the faltering ABC network and the largest movie theater chain in the nation.

After the merger received FCC approval, Goldenson was named president of the new American Broadcasting-United Paramount Theaters. Beginning his effort to achieve parity with CBS and NBC, he recruited such talent as Walt Disney, who was looking for a way of financing his dreamed-of theme park, Disneyland.

The television show Disneyland, which premiered October 27, 1954, went on to become ABC's first major hit series. It marked the first time a Hollywood movie studio ventured into television programming.

Goldenson then convinced Warner Bros. to provide programming for ABC; the series Cheyenne became another hit and helped launch a TV-western trend.

Another programming milestone, ABC's Wide World of Sports, which first aired in 1961, helped establish the network as the leading sports medium of the time.

Elected ABC chairman and chief executive officer in 1972, Goldenson began to build a top-notch management team. Through that team, which included Fred Silverman as programming chief, he launched a more concerted effort to reach the eighteen-to-forty-nine age group.

"CBS and NBC had an old-age bias," Goldenson recalled, "but we went after the young families of America, because they more readily switched their dials to something new."

ABC-TV chalked up its first profit in more than a decade in 1972, making it the primary contributor to the American Broadcasting Companies' record revenues of $869.4 million, up 15 percent from 1971, with net earnings of $35 million, up more than 50 percent.

By 1973, with its spectacular coverage of the previous year's Munich Olympics still reverberating throughout the industry, the network began its gallop to narrow the ratings between itself and the CBS/NBC Goliath.

The team Goldenson built finally hit the jackpot in 1976. "In the swiftest and most unnerving shakeup in television history, ABC, the perennial last-place network, shot past NBC and toppled CBS's twenty-year dominance in the industry." That's how Women's Wear Daily described ABC's streak to the finish line.

By 1979 Fortune magazine was citing ABC's accomplishment as one of the most noteworthy business achievements in twentieth-century America. Dun's Review hailed the network as one of the five best-managed companies in the nation.

The network was bought by Capital Cities in 1986, creating Capital Cities-ABC. That company was bought in 1995 by the Walt Disney Company.

Leonard H. Goldenson was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987.

Goldenson died December 27, 1999, at age ninety-four. The Television Academy's Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre was named in his honor.

Though the ABC television network was created in 1943 as an off-shoot of the old NBC Blue Network, it is widely considered to have begun operating in its modern form in 1953, when it merged with the United Paramount Theaters to avoid bankruptcy. The architect of that merger was Leonard H. Goldenson, considered to be the founding chairman of ABC as we know it.

His story belongs to the early history of American television, and it begins in 1933, when Goldenson reorganized Paramount Pictures' troubled New England theaters into profitable ventures.

A young, ambitious attorney with two Harvard degrees, Goldenson had been reared in a small Pennsylvania town called Scottdale. Born there on December 7, 1905, he grew up surrounded by movies, largely because his father, a clothing-store owner, had a side interest in the local movie theater.

The reorganization of Paramount's New England theaters took him four years, during which he learned all he could about the theater business. In 1938, he was assigned full responsibility for the studio's seventeen hundred theaters.

He rose quickly through the Paramount ranks: a vice-president in 1942, a director in 1944. In 1950, after movie studios were required by federal antitrust decree to separate from their theater operations, Goldenson was elevated to the presidency of the newly created United Paramount Theaters. It was in this position that he engineered the merger of United Paramount and ABC.

"I felt television had a great future," Goldenson recalled before his 1987 Hall of Fame induction. Paramount already owned one of America's first commercial TV stations (WBKB-TV in Chicago), which provided Goldenson with a firsthand look at television's potential. His assessments led him to actively pursue the merger between the faltering ABC network and the largest movie theater chain in the nation.

After the merger received FCC approval, Goldenson was named president of the new American Broadcasting-United Paramount Theaters. Beginning his effort to achieve parity with CBS and NBC, he recruited such talent as Walt Disney, who was looking for a way of financing his dreamed-of theme park, Disneyland.

The television show Disneyland, which premiered October 27, 1954, went on to become ABC's first major hit series. It marked the first time a Hollywood movie studio ventured into television programming.

Goldenson then convinced Warner Bros. to provide programming for ABC; the series Cheyenne became another hit and helped launch a TV-western trend.

Another programming milestone, ABC's Wide World of Sports, which first aired in 1961, helped establish the network as the leading sports medium of the time.

Elected ABC chairman and chief executive officer in 1972, Goldenson began to build a top-notch management team. Through that team, which included Fred Silverman as programming chief, he launched a more concerted effort to reach the eighteen-to-forty-nine age group.

"CBS and NBC had an old-age bias," Goldenson recalled, "but we went after the young families of America, because they more readily switched their dials to something new."

ABC-TV chalked up its first profit in more than a decade in 1972, making it the primary contributor to the American Broadcasting Companies' record revenues of $869.4 million, up 15 percent from 1971, with net earnings of $35 million, up more than 50 percent.

By 1973, with its spectacular coverage of the previous year's Munich Olympics still reverberating throughout the industry, the network began its gallop to narrow the ratings between itself and the CBS/NBC Goliath.

The team Goldenson built finally hit the jackpot in 1976. "In the swiftest and most unnerving shakeup in television history, ABC, the perennial last-place network, shot past NBC and toppled CBS's twenty-year dominance in the industry." That's how Women's Wear Daily described ABC's streak to the finish line.

By 1979 Fortune magazine was citing ABC's accomplishment as one of the most noteworthy business achievements in twentieth-century America. Dun's Review hailed the network as one of the five best-managed companies in the nation.

The network was bought by Capital Cities in 1986, creating Capital Cities-ABC. That company was bought in 1995 by the Walt Disney Company.

Leonard H. Goldenson was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987.

Goldenson died December 27, 1999, at age ninety-four. The Television Academy's Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre was named in his honor.

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