One of the true pioneers of TV miniseries and documentaries, Wolper died Tuesday night from congestive heart failure at age 82. Wolper transformed the miniseries into event programming, particularly when he was the executive producer of Roots, the eight-segment ABC miniseries adaptation of the Alex Haley book that smashed ratings record and had half the country watching in early 1977. Wolper also produced the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles; and he produced such game-changing documentaries as the Mike Wallace-narrated 1958 The Race for Space (which was Oscar-nominated), The Making of the President 1960 and The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau specials.
His programs won 50 Emmys and two Academy Awards, along with five Peabody Awards.
Wolper grew up in New York and after attending USC, really got his producing career off the ground with the space documentary, which he self-syndicated because networks were reluctant to bite. Wolper developed an affinity for event programming and really hit his stride with the advent of miniseries that included Roots and its spinoffs, The Thorn Birds and North and South. Aside from the Olympics, he produced a special on the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, and also produced hit sitcoms like Chico and the Man and Welcome Back, Kotter.
Wolper tapered off his TV output when the demand for movies and minis waned. He didn’t spend as much time making features, but those credits include Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the Curtis Hanson-directed drama L.A. Confidential. Wolper is survived by his wife, Gloria, and his children.