UPDATED with memorial service details at bottom.
John Litvack, one of the top TV current executives of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, died March 21 from respiratory failure, a complication from a cardiac surgery he had undergone earlier in the year. He was 69. Often referred to as the dean of current programming, Litvack had a rare career path where he frequently switched back and forth between being an executive and working as a director and producer.
Born in Newton, MA, Litvack graduated from Columbia University and landed his first job at CBS, holding cue cards on Captain Kangaroo. He rose through the ranks from a grip to assistant cameraman, cameraman, assistant director and a director on daytime soaps. He was a soap helmer from 1968-1975, working on The Guiding Light, The Edge Of Night and Search For Tomorrow. He is credited with helping innovate the look of soaps, try to make them more cinematic.
Litvack got did his first executive gig at CBS where he served as director of daytime programming from 1975-1978 before going back to direct As The World Turns. Litvack served as VP Current Programming at MGM TV from 1979-1981 before joining NBC for a five-year tenure as VP Current Drama Series and VP Drama Development at NBC Studios. He worked on some of NBC’s biggest hits of the decade including Hill Street Blues, St Elsewhere, Miami Vice, A-Team, Remington Steele, Amazing Stories and Knight Rider. He became close with such producers as Steven Bochco, David Milch, Stephen J Cannell and Bruce Paltrow.
Litvack then returned to producing, serving as co-executive producer on the final season of Hill Street Blues and doing a development deal with MTM.
In 1989, Litvack joined Disney just as the company was building up its TV operation. He served as SVP Current Programming for Disney TV from 1989-1997, overseeing such series as The Golden Girls and Home Improvement. He also helped develop the comedy Boy Meets World. During that time, he also helped start the Archive of American Television.
Litvack then spent seven years at the WB as EVP Current Primetime Scheduling, helping launch the new network. He oversaw Dawson Creek, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, 7th Heaven, Charmed, Felicity, Popular, Everwood and Smallville, working closely with such creators/producers as Aaron Spelling, Greg Berlanti, JJ Abrams, Ryan Murphy, Kevin Williamson, Miles Millar and Alfred Gough.
“John truly loved television,” said Jordan Levin, who worked with Litvack at the WB. “He was committed to his programs, producers, and colleagues, he was incredibly passionate about making everything the best it could be, and he loved to groom and mentor younger creators and executives.”
Litvack left what would be his last executive job in 2004. He segued to a co-executive role on Smallville until 2008, followed by a consulting producer stint on Fox’s Fringe, produced by Abrams. Six years ago, Litvack mostly retired while continuing to occasionally help on projects.
Litvack is survived by his two sons, TV writer Cameron (V, Gang Related) and neurosurgeon Zachary; and three grandchildren. His family is planning a private burial. There will likely be a memorial next month. (UPDATE, April 1: A memorial has been set for April 10 in Beverly Hills at the Palm, located at 267 N. Canon Dr. Organizers describe it as more of an “Irish wake” than memorial service.)