September 07, 2011

Donald Taffner, Sr., Innovative Executive and Co-Founder of International Television Academy

Taffner brought U.K. series to American television, including Three's Company and Too Close for Comfort.

Donald Taffner, Sr., a producer and executive and co-founder of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, died September 6, 2011, in New York City. He was 80.

According to news reports, the cause was heart failure related to a possible aneurysm or clot.

Taffner, who founded DLT Entertainment in 1963, established the business to represent foreign broadcasters seeking American programming. He later changed course and focused on selling foreign shows to U.S. networks.

His most notable successes included the successful transfer of British television series to American audiences. The British comedy Mad About the House was remade for U.S. television as Three’s Company, and the British comedy Keep It in the Family was remade for the U.S. as Too Close for Comfort. Taffner also imported The Benny Hill Show for American TV.

In addition to co-founding the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Taffner served the organization as an executive committee member and secretary. In 1986, he received the International Emmy Founders Award.

Upon his passing, the International Academy released a statement on behalf of Bruce Paisner, the president and CEO; Fred Cohen, chairman; and Camille Bidermann-Roizen, executive director that said: “The Academy has lost a true supporter and a dear friend. We extend our deepest condolences to Don Jr., daughter Karen Butler, family, friends and colleagues. We will observe a moment of silence in remembrance of Don at our next Board & Members Meeting in Los Angeles on September 16.”

A longtime New Yorker, Taffner attended St. John’s University in the 1950 while working in the mailroom at the William Morris agency. He eventually moved into the agency’s television division, and later oversaw the New York office of Paramount.

Along with his wife, Eleanor, Taffner was a major donor to St. John’s. Their contributions included funds for the 2005 construction of Taffner Field House, the home of the school’s basketball teams.

Eleanor Taffner died in September of 2010.

Survivors include his son, daughter and three grandchildren.

St. John’s will hold a tribute ceremony for Taffner on Saturday, September 17, followed by a lunch at the Field House.

On August 26, 2008, Donald Taffner had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the one-and-a-half-hour interview, conducted in New York City, by John Fitzgerald, Taffner talked about his work in the television division at the William Morris Agency in the 1950s, commenting on the shows that the agency packaged in those days.

He went on to discuss his move to Paramount, running its New York office and selling such series as the adventure program Mr. Garlund. He then described his founding of DLT Entertainment in the early 1960s, representing broadcasters overseas in the purchase of U.S. shows.

He later detailed his company’s association with Thames Television and described the tradition of programming on the BBC. He chronicled the packaging of The Benny Hill Show to market it for American television, and commented on Mr. Hill himself.

Taffner also recounted the adaptation of several British sitcoms into successful American series, including: Three’s Company, Too Close for Comfort and Check It Out! He spoke about his later work in live theater and series Mystery Wheel of Adventure, As Time Goes By and My Family.

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