UPDATED WITH VIACOM STATEMENT
Ralph M. Baruch, the former CBS vice president who once described himself as the father of Viacom, died Thursday at his home in New York City at age 92. His death was confirmed by his daughter Michele Baruch Jeffery to The New York Times.
Baruch, inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame in 2006 (see video) served as Viacom’s President and Chief Executive Officer from 1971 to 1983, and as Chairman and a member of the Office of the CEO from 1983 until July 1987. He later served as a consultant to the company.
“Ralph Baruch was a true pioneer and a giant in the media industry,” Viacom said in a statement today. “We are privileged and honored to carry on his legacy.”
According to The Cable Center, Baruch began his career in radio and joined the DuMont Television Network in 1950. He moved to CBS in 1954, progressing from Account Executive to the position of CBS Group President, prior to the inception of Viacom. He was a co-founder, Chairman and Chairman Emeritus of the National Academy of Cable Programming and received the Academy’s first Governor’s Award for his contributions to the development of cable programming. He also was a founder of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and in 1999 was awarded an Emmy by the Academy.
Baruch, whose extraordinary life story was chronicled in the 2007 memoir Television Tightrope: How I Escaped Hitler, Survived CBS and Fathered Viacom, was general manager of CBS Enterprises when CBS, under orders from the Federal Communications Commission, spun off its cable and syndication operations into the publicly owned Viacom. The network placed Baruch at the top as president and CEO, and Viacom was soon expanding to include the new Showtime as well as the channel that would become Lifetime.
Also during his tenure, Viacom acquired Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, which encompassed, among other entities, MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon. Two years after that 1985 expansion, Vicacom was purchased by Sumner M. Redstone for $3.4 billion.
Baruch’s memoir, written with Lee Roderick, tracked a fascinating life that began as Rudolph Maximilian Baruch on August 5, 1923 in Frankfurt, Germany. His father Bernard was a lawyer who ran afoul of Nazi Party; the Baruchs fled to France before emigrating to New York in 1940.
During the 1940s and early ’50s, Baruch worked as an engineer at a recording studio and a TV channel salesman, among other jobs, before joining CBS Films as an account exec in 1954, steadily rising through the network ranks. According to the Times, he helped persuade Congress to deregulate the cable industry in the mid-1980s. He was vice chairman of Carnegie Hall from 1997 to 1999, and a founder of the National Academy of Cable Programming, C-Span and the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Baruch is survived by his daughter Michele; wife Jean; three daughters (Eve, Renee, Alice) from his first marriage to Elizabeth Bachrach, who died in 1959; and three grandchildren.