January 23, 2018
Hall of Fame

Brandon Stoddard: Hall of Fame Tribute

An Appreciation by Ted Harbert (as told to Libby Slate)

I started working at ABC in 1977 but didn't start too closely with Brandon until 1985, when he became President of ABC Entertainment. Brandon was a mentor and a role model for me. He was the dean of television movies and miniseries and probably the most creative executive I'd ever met. I was always taken with him, both personally and professionally. He was so smart, but he was also so much fun to be around. One of the greatest joys of my career was the hours I spent with him in his office or on an airplane. We had similar views about the world. We could alternate between a serious discussion and laughing really hard. We were thrilled to be in television, and thought we owed it to ourselves, and the people around us, to have a good time doing it.

Brandon taught me how to read a script, what a story is about, and what makes a compelling character. He understood storytelling better than anyone, had impeccable taste in casting, and was a superb marketer.

One of the most wonderful opportunities he gave me was working on The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, which, at that time, were just about the biggest risks a network had ever taken. They each cost around $100 million. He put his career on the line for those shows and they ended up being both creative and ratings victories.

While president of ABC, he made an unusual 10-series deal with Steven Bochco, which had never been done before. The phenomenal success of NYPD Blue more than paid for the entire deal. Brandon was a risk-taker, but he was also a very smart businessman.

In the '80s and early '90s, we were making over 30 TV movies a year and three or four miniseries — productions such as The Thorn Birds, East of Eden, North and South. Brandon could be very commercial, but he always wanted to do upscale, smart programming for intelligent audiences — and he knew how to deliver those ratings. With comedies and dramas, there was an eclectic mix of shows. He knew that the job was to provide different kinds of programs to different audiences ... everything from thirtysomething, to Wonder Years, to Full House.

So much of what I'm doing today, I learned from Brandon — how to handle lots of different things each day and manage a large staff. But the most valuable lesson he taught me was how to treat writers and work with creative people. One of the most difficult problems a network executive has is that most writers would rather not be sitting in a room with them listening to notes. So the job is to find a way to give notes that the writer wants to hear; make them believe that you can actually help their script. Brandon was simply the best at this. Because of Brandon's training, I was able to form my own relationships with the best television writers and actors in Hollywood ... from Steven Bochco, to Ed Zwick, and the other people on our shows. Brandon's career was unparalleled ... just extraordinary. He's extremely humble; he didn't seek out headlines or profiles — he just wasn't interested. He was only interested in the product. I can't think of anyone who would be better qualified to be in the Hall of Fame.

Brandon Stoddard joined ABC Television in 1970 as director of daytime programs and until 1995, held positions throughout the entertainment division. He served as president of ABC Entertainment from 1985 to 1989. Known for his focus on high-quality programming, he is particularly remembered for developing such miniseries as Roots, The Winds of War and  The Thorn Birds, which became the three most-watched miniseries in television history, as well as War and Remembrance, Rich Man, Poor Man and  Roots: The Next Generation. Among the series created during his time at ABC were thirtysomething, The Wonder Years, China Beach, Roseanne, Full House and Twin Peaks. He was also responsible for The Day After, the most-watched television movie in history.

Ted Harbert, who worked with Stoddard for many years at ABC, is now chairman of NBC Broadcasting, NBCUniversal.

This tribute originally appeared in the Television Academy Hall of Fame program celebrating Brandon Stoddard's induction in 2014.

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