Fred Silverman

Fred Silverman (born September 13, 1937) is an American television executive and producer. He worked as an executive at all of the Big Three television networks, and was responsible for bringing to television such programs as the series Scooby-Doo (1969–present), All in the Family (1971–1979), The Waltons (1972–1981), and Charlie's Angels (1976–1981), as well as the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man (1976), Roots (1977) and Shōgun (1980). For his success in programming wildly popular shows, Time magazine declared him "the man with the Golden gut" in 1977.[1]

Fred Silverman
Born (1937-09-13) September 13, 1937
OccupationNetwork Television executive, Television producer
Spouse(s)Catherine Ann Kihn (m. 1971; 2 children)


Early life and career

Silverman was born in New York City, the son of a Jewish father and a Roman Catholic mother.[2] He graduated from Syracuse University, where he was a member of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, and then earned a master's degree from the Ohio State University. After university, he joined WGN-TV in Chicago, Illinois, overseeing program development and children's programming, as well as at WPIX in New York City. His masters thesis analyzed ten years of ABC programming and was so good it led to his being hired as an executive at CBS at the age of 25 in 1963.[3] There, he took over responsibility for all daytime network programming and later, took charge of all of entertainment programming, day and night. Silverman married his assistant, Cathy Kihn, and they had a daughter, Melissa,[3] and son, William.


In 1970, Silverman was promoted from vice-president of program planning and development to Vice President, Programs - heading the entire program department at CBS.[3] Silverman was promoted to bring a change in perspective for the network, as it had just forced out the previous executive in that position, Michael Dann; Dann's philosophy was to draw as many viewers as possible without regard to key demographics, which the network found to be unacceptable, as advertisers were becoming more specific about what kind of audience they were aiming for. To boost viewership in demographics that were believed to be more willing to respond to commercials, Silverman orchestrated the "rural purge" of 1971, which eventually eliminated many popular country-oriented shows, such as Green Acres, Mayberry R.F.D., Hee Haw and The Beverly Hillbillies from the CBS schedule. In their place, however, came a new wave of classics aimed at the upscale baby boomer generation, such as All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, The Waltons, Cannon, Barnaby Jones, Kojak and The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.

Silverman had an uncanny ability to spot burgeoning hit material, especially in the form of spin-offs, new television series developed with characters that appeared on an existing series. For example, he spun off Maude and The Jeffersons from All in the Family, and Rhoda from Mary Tyler Moore (as well as The Bob Newhart Show from MTM's writers). In early 1974, Silverman ordered a Maude spin-off titled Good Times; that series success led Silverman to schedule it against ABC's new hit, Happy Days, the following fall.

In other dayparts, Silverman also reintroduced game shows to the network's daytime lineups in 1972 after a four-year absence; among the shows Silverman introduced was an updated version of the 1950s game show The Price Is Right, which remains on the air over four decades later. After the success of The Price Is Right, Silverman had established a working relationship with Mark Goodson and Bill Todman in which most of their game shows would appear on CBS, including a revival of Match Game.

On Saturday mornings, Silverman commissioned Hanna-Barbera to produce the series Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, and the character Fred Jones is named after Silverman. The success of Scooby-Doo led to several other Hanna-Barbera series airing on CBS in the early 1970s.

Move to ABC

Silverman was named president of ABC Entertainment in 1975,[4] putting him in the awkward position of saving Happy Days, the very show that Good Times had brought to the brink of cancellation. Silverman succeeded in bringing Happy Days to the top of the ratings and generating a hit spin-off from that show, Laverne & Shirley.

At ABC, Silverman also greenlit other popular series such as The Bionic Woman (a Six Million Dollar Man spin-off), Family, Charlie's Angels, Donny & Marie, Three's Company, Eight Is Enough, The Love Boat, Soap, Fantasy Island, Good Morning America, long form pioneer Rich Man, Poor Man and the award-winning miniseries, Roots. These moves brought ABC's long-dormant ratings from third place to first place. However, Silverman was criticized during this period for relying heavily on escapist fare (it was Silverman who conceived the infamous The Brady Bunch Hour with Sid and Marty Krofft in late 1976) and for bringing T&A or "jiggle TV" to the small screen with numerous ABC shows featuring buxom, attractive, and often scantily-clad young women (such as the popular Battle of the Network Stars).

ABC Daytime had mediocre ratings, so in order to increase them, Silverman hired Gloria Monty to produce the ailing General Hospital. He gave Monty thirteen weeks to increase the serial's ratings or it would be cancelled. He later expanded General Hospital and One Life to Live to a full hour, and created a 312 hour afternoon serial block. Among game shows, Silverman introduced Goodson-Todman's Family Feud to the network.

During Silverman's time at ABC, he overhauled the network's Saturday-morning cartoon output, dumping Filmation (which had produced the failed Uncle Croc's Block) and replacing it with content from Hanna-Barbera, including a continuation of Scooby-Doo. ABC abandoned the wiping of video-taped programs under Silverman's watch in 1978, as CBS had done while he was at that network.

Move to NBC

Although Silverman's tenure at ABC was very successful, he left to become President and CEO of NBC in 1978. In stark contrast with his tenures at CBS and ABC, his three-year tenure at the network proved to be a difficult period, marked by several high-profile failures such as the sitcom Hello, Larry, the variety shows The Big Show and Pink Lady, the drama Supertrain, and the Jean Doumanian era of Saturday Night Live. (Silverman hired Doumanian after Al Franken, the planned successor for outgoing Lorne Michaels, castigated Silverman's failures on-air in a way that Silverman took very personally.[5])

Despite these failures, there were high points in Silverman's tenure at NBC, including the launch of the critically lauded Hill Street Blues (1981), the epic mini-series Shōgun, and The David Letterman Show (daytime, 1980), which would lead to Letterman's successful late night program in 1982. Silverman had Letterman in a holding deal after the morning show which kept the unemployed Letterman from going to another network (NBC gave Letterman a $20,000 per week [$1,000,000 for a year] to sit out a year). However, Silverman nearly lost his then-current late night host, market leader Johnny Carson, after Carson sued NBC in a contract dispute; the case was settled out of court and Carson remained with NBC in exchange for the rights to his show and a reduction in time on air.[6]

Silverman also developed successful comedies such as Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life and Gimme a Break!, and made the series commitments that led to Cheers and St. Elsewhere. Silverman also pioneered entertainment reality programming with the 1979 launch of Real People. His contributions to the network's game show output included Goodson-Todman's Card Sharks and a revival of Password, both of which enjoyed great success in the morning schedule, although he also canceled several other relatively popular series, including The Hollywood Squares and High Rollers, to make way for The David Letterman Show (those cancellations also threatened Wheel of Fortune, whose host, Chuck Woolery, departed the show in a payment dispute during Silverman's tenure, although the show survived). Silverman also oversaw the hiring of Pat Sajak as the new host of Wheel of Fortune, a position Sajak holds to this day, although Silverman himself objected to Sajak's hiring.[7] On Saturday mornings, in a time when most of the cartoon output of the three networks was similar, Silverman oversaw the development of an animated series based on The Smurfs; the animated series The Smurfs ran from 1981 to 1989, well after Silverman's departure, making it one of his longest-lasting contributions to the network. He also oversaw a revival of The Flintstones.

In other areas of NBC, Silverman revitalized the news division, which resulted in Today and NBC Nightly News achieving parity with their competition for the first time in years. He created a new FM Radio Division, with competitive full-service stations in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington. During his NBC tenure, Silverman also brought in an entirely new divisional and corporate management, a team that stayed in place long after Silverman's departure. (Among this group was a new Entertainment President, Brandon Tartikoff, who would help get NBC back on top by 1985.) Silverman also reintroduced the peacock as NBC's corporate logo in the form of the proud 'N' in 1979; the logo was used until 1986.

Foundation of The Fred Silverman Company

In 1981, Silverman left NBC and formed The Fred Silverman Company (formerly Intermedia Entertainment) to produce shows to sell to television. The company would generate several hits including the Perry Mason TV movie series (1985–1994), Matlock (1986–1995), Jake and the Fatman (1987–1992), In the Heat of the Night (1988–1995), Father Dowling Mysteries (1987–1991) and Diagnosis: Murder (1993–2001). Most of these continue to run in syndication. Most of these series were co-produced with Dean Hargrove and Viacom Productions.

During the game-show revival that followed the success of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Silverman resurrected the 1950s game show Twenty One for NBC in 2000. A few years later, he returned to ABC in an advisory capacity.

In 1995, he was awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of excellence and innovation in creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television.[8] In 1999, Silverman was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.


  1. "The Man with the Golden Gut". TIME. September 5, 1977. Retrieved February 12, 2016.
  2. New York Times: "TV's Man for All Networks" by Lawrence Van Gelder January 21, 1978
  3. Barbera, Joseph (1994). My Life in "Toons": From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century. Atlanta, GA: Turner Publishing. pp. 163–173. ISBN 1-57036-042-1.
  4. Smith-Shomade, Beretta E. (January 10, 2013) "Watching While Black". Rutgers University Press, p. 21, 280 pages. Retrieved August 20, 2014.
  5. Shales, Tom (2003). Live From New York, p. 191. Back Bay Books.
  6. "Rent-a-Judge". Time Magazine. 1981-04-20. Retrieved 2007-08-07.
  7. Griffin, Merv. Merv: Making the Good Life Last. New York: Pocket Books, 2003, page 101
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-06-30. Retrieved 2011-05-10.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further reading

  • Bedell, Sally (1981). Up the Tube: Prime-Time TV in the Silverman Years. New York: Viking Press. ISBN 0-670-51385-7.
Business positions
Preceded by
Michael Dann
Vice President, Programs CBS Television Network
Succeeded by
Lee Currlin
Preceded by
Martin Starger
President, ABC Entertainment
Succeeded by
Anthony Thomopoulos
Preceded by
Herb Schlosser
President, CEO NBC
Succeeded by
Grant Tinker
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