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Fred Silverman, the television producer and executive who was the head of programming at one time at each of the Big 3 broadcast networks, died yesterday from complications from cancer. He was 82.
Born on Sept. 13, 1937 in New York City, Silverman caught the eye of CBS executives after they read his nearly 600-page master’s thesis analyzing the ABC network from 1953 to 1959.
As the only person to ever oversee entertainment for three networks, Silverman was dubbed “the man with the golden gut” by Time magazine, for his ability to pick shows that would strike a chord with the audience.
At CBS, Silverman was instrumental in pivoting CBS away from safe programming aimed at rural America, such as “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Hee Haw” and “Green Acres” to more contemporary fare, including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “All in the Family” (and the various Norman Lear sitcoms) and “MAS*H.” In 1975, Silverman moved to ABC, where he resume included “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Love Boat,” “Three’s Company,” “Soap” and “Fantasy Island.”
At NBC, in 1978, Silverman discovered David Letterman and debuted award-winning crime drama “Hill Street Blues” during his tenure. But not everything he did was a success and after leaving NBC, Silverman went into television production. Some of the shows he produced included “Matlock, “In the Heat of the Night”” and “Diagnosis Murder.”
Silverman briefly returned to the network fold in the early 2000s as an adviser at ABC, and he was still selling shows until about a decade ago.
Silverman was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame in 1999. He married his secretary at CBS, Catherine Ann Kihn, in 1971, and they had two children, Melissa and Billy. They survive him, as does his daughter-in-law, Anna.