The Power Behind ‘SNL’ and ‘Laugh-In’ Herbert Schlosser dies at 95


Long-time NBC executive Herbert Schlosser, who left an indelible mark on the network by negotiating Johnny Carson’s first deal to host “The Tonight Show,” aired “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and hosted “Saturday Night Live.” overseeing its development”, died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 95 years old.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Judith Schlosser.

Mr. Schlosser was president of NBC in 1974 when he faced a late-night stalemate: Carson no longer wanted the network to carry repeats of “Tonight” on weekends. But pleasing Carson, the network’s top star, led to an inevitable question: What would NBC air at 11:30 on Saturday nights?

In early 1975, Mr. Schlosser wrote a memo laying out the foundations for an original televised program from NBC’s Rockefeller Center headquarters; will be streamed live or at least recorded on the same day to stay current; it will be “young and bright” with a “different look, a different set and a different sound”; “will try to develop new television personalities”; and every week there would be a different host.

“Saturday Night is an ideal time to launch such a show,” Mr Schlosser wrote. “Now those who get the Saturday/Sunday ‘Tonight Show’ reruns should welcome that, and I imagine we’ll get a lot more clearance with a new show.”

Originally called simply “Saturday Night” – “Saturday Night Live”, which followed much of Mr. Schlosser’s formula and is then, and is now, produced by Lorne Michaels — Made his debut on October 11, 1975, after Game 1 of the World Series between the Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. Mr. Schlosser, to the match in Boston Bowie Kuhn throated baseball commissioner and invited him to his hotel room to watch.

“He didn’t laugh. I thought, ‘Well, that’s Bowie,'” Mr. Schlosser recalled “Live from New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live As Told by Its Stars, Authors, and Guests” (2002), James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. “After a while he started laughing. And then he was going to really laugh. I thought, ‘If he likes it, he’ll have a larger audience than most people think.’

Schlosser, a lawyer, was a manager in NBC’s business affairs department, where, among other events, he negotiated programming contracts to run the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and talent deals such as special talent deals with comedian Bob Hope. The mainstay of NBC’s prime-time programming.

“His deals always had triggers” Mr Schlosser told the Television Academy: In an interview in 2007. With each new one, NBC had to buy a piece of land from Hope, one of the largest private landowners in California.

“We bought it, we made a capital gain and we never lost any money,” Mr. Schlosser said.

In 1966, Mr. Schlosser was appointed vice president of West Coast programs for NBC, based in Burbank, California. For six years he was involved in the development of numerous shows, including Black stars such as the popular comedian Flip Wilson’s variety show. series and a sitcom starring “Julia” Diahann Carroll as a single nurse with a son. It also recruited the first woman and first Black person to become a vice president in the department.

Mr Schlosser especially “Rowan and Martin’s Smile” A fast-paced satirical series that made its debut in early 1968. Future stars including Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin.

George Schlatter The executive producer of “Laugh-In” recalled that Mr. Schlosser had protected himself on NBC from those who found the show’s content offensive.

“Every Tuesday morning there was a parade in his office – censors, lawyers, accountants,” Mr. Schlatter said over the phone. They’d say, ‘Herb, talk to him. Then he would say to me, ‘I promised them I would talk to you. And he’d say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing.

Herbert Samuel Schlosser was born on April 21, 1926, in Atlantic City, NJ. His father, Abraham, owned a furniture store; his mother, Anna (Olesker) Schlosser, was a housewife.

After serving in the Navy, he studied public and international affairs at Princeton University and graduated in 1949. He graduated from Yale Law School two years later.

He started out as a lawyer at a Wall Street firm, but the insurance job there bore him and Phillips joined Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon (now known as Phillips Nizer LLP), a Manhattan firm with many film and television customers. This experience led to her being hired as general counsel for California National Productions, a film, sales and syndication subsidiary of NBC, in 1957. He then became chief operating officer before moving to NBC’s business affairs department in 1960.

As the department’s attorney, he spearheaded the introduction of negotiations. From Carson to NBC He replaced Jack Paar as the host of “Tonight” in 1962. At the time, Carson was on “Who Do You Trust?” with ABC. He was the MC of the game show called ABC, and ABC wanted him to fulfill the last six months of his contract.

Mr Schlosser said he agreed to pay Mr Carson $2500 a week (about $21,000 today). But when ABC delayed his departure, one of Mr. Carson’s agents made another request.

“We want more money now that you can’t get it,” Mr Schlosser said in an interview with the Television Academy. “We will stick to our price,” I said.

Mr. Schlosser rose steadily on NBC. In 1972 he was appointed vice president of the television network; promoted to president a year later; He was appointed president of the National Broadcasting Company, the network’s corporate parent company, in 1974, and CEO in 1977.

“He was supporting quality programming and had an idea that news is probably the most important thing networks do,” Bud Rukeyser, NBC’s former vice president of corporate communications, said in a phone interview. “He informed of the benefit of doubt. If the news wanted to do something in half an hour, the answer was always yes.”

But Mr. Schlosser was overthrown in 1978 and changed by Fred SilvermanAs chief of programming, he was the one who helped push ABC’s prime-time ratings to the top of the charts.

Mr. Schlosser’s position had been damaged by NBC’s inability to produce a new prime-time hit series the previous season and climb to third place.

Shortly before Mr. Schlosser left NBC, the network offered: “Holocaust” A four-part mini-series that was greenlit. It won eight Emmy Awards. He said his main contribution to the project was convincing executive producer Herbert Brodkin to rename the series to “The Family Weiss” after some of its main characters.

Mr. Schlosser didn’t have to go far for his next job: deputy general manager RCA, the parent company of NBC. His job was to develop software for RCA’s SelectaVision video disc project. Three years later, he was selected to run all of RCA’s entertainment events, which included RCA Records (but not NBC).

He left in 1985 to become a senior advisor at Wall Street investment bank Wertheim & Company and also president of the planned company. Moving Image Museum, It opened in Queens in 1988. He remained there as chairman or co-chairman until 2013.

In addition to his wife Judith (Gassner) Schlosser, Mr. Schlosser has his son Eric, author of “Fast Food Nation”; one daughter, Lynn Jacobson, a former film and television executive; five grandchildren; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Schlosser recalled that he once felt confident that “Saturday Night Live” could be a part of NBC for a long time, just like “Tonight” and “Today.” Another model of late-night success on NBC under his watch was “The Midnight Special” featuring pop and rock artists that aired on Fridays after “The Tonight Show” from 1973 to 1981.

“NBC had a tradition of being successful with shows like this,” he told the Television Academy. “To me, it was a brainstorming.”


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