Michael Dann, who steered CBS programming in the 1960s with hits such as The Beverly Hillbillies and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died Friday at his home in Boca Raton, FL, the New York Times reports. He was 94.
Dann began his television career at NBC, where he created, along with Pat Weaver, programs such as Today and Tonight. He went on to CBS, rising to head of programming in 1963. Dann proved to be a shrewd marketer, beginning with CBS’ broadcast of movie Born Free, promoting it in the Saturday morning cartoon block, with an introduction by Dick Van Dyke. It went on to become the third-highest-rated television program in history, behind The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Birds.
One of his biggest challenges turned out to be the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, which Dann slotted in the 9 PM Sunday hour in an effort to boot NBC’s Bonanza from the top of the ratings. Debuting in 1967, the show was a hit but sparked controversy because of its anti-Vietnam stance, alienating many affiliates in the South. It also ran into trouble with CBS censors and was canceled in 1969.
“It was the most talked-about, most important variety program ever done,” Dann said in an interview with the Archive of American Television. “The loss of the Smothers Brothers was a blow to freedom of expression.”
Other programs during Mann’s tenure at CBS included The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Mission: Impossible, Gulligan’s Island, Hawaii Five-O, Mannix and 60 Minutes. He left the network in 1970 after new president Robert Wood came on board, but before exiting, Dann had acquired iconic series All in the Family, which became a hallmark of a new era for CBS.
Here is a clip of Dann’s 1998 interview with the Archive of American Television: