Jane Fonda, one of five honorees at NATPE’s 15th Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards, has a take on television that may surprise longtime fans of her film career: “If you have something important to say, television is where to go.”
The actress delivered the line after Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos presented her with the award, a nod to the streaming giant’s support of Grace & Frankie and her re-teaming with Robert Redford, Our Souls at Night.
Fonda told Sarandos, “I would not be getting this award if you hadn’t given me a life in television.” She recalled an era in the mid-20th century when studios feared the emergence of TV. “TV did make movies change,” she said. But now, with the influx of top-tier writers and talent, “If you have something important to say, television is where to go.”
Sarandos gushed, “One of the great honors of my life is to be here tonight and be with my friend, Jane Fonda. My brave hero.” When he listed The Electric Horseman as his favorite Fonda film, TV monitors in the ballroom captured her mouth open and eyes wide.
Along with Fonda, the awards went to actor Tom Selleck, producer Greg Berlanti, TNT and TBS chief Kevin Reilly and Cesar Conde, chairman of the NBCUniversal International Group and NBCUniversal Television Enterprises. The 90-minute program, which is not televised or streamed, featured speeches that struck heartfelt notes and went longer than any Emmy acceptance would.
Selleck ruminated on his long career and his approach to the craft of acting, deadpanning with a face so straight the joke was barely perceptible, “Forgive me if we’re here a couple of hours. I believe I deserve this.”
He recalled his work on Magnum, P.I., his first full-blown show business job, as a bit strenuous at first as he experimented constantly. Eventually, he realized, “The audience doesn’t want to see the work. It should, in fact, look easy.”
Conde, who has led NBCUniversal’s Hispanic efforts to a turnaround in the ratings, noted that even with an explosion of entertainment choices, “Spanish is still the No. 1 choice in Hispanic media. Hispanics are tech-savvy and multi-platform. Television continues to be incredibly important to this audience. To them, television is more than entertainment, more than aspiration. It’s a lifeline to information and a reflection of who they are.”
Berlanti, who has 11 shows on the air and has become a hugely valuable asset for Warner Bros., gave a playful shoutout to Selleck during his otherwise stirringly sincere remarks. He thanked Tartikoff, the legendary NBC programming czar, for filling the NBC schedule with so many influential shows. Then he addressed Selleck: “As a closeted gay kid growing up in the ’80s, I would like to thank you for popularizing men wearing short shorts.”
Tartikoff died in 1997, the year Berlanti started working in television. In that spirit of ships passing, he quoted an anecdote from when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s casket was being saluted by two men as it was rolled through Warm Springs, Ga. When one of them collapsed in grief, the other asked, “What’s wrong? Did you know the president?” And the grief-stricken man answered, “‘No. But he knew me.’ I felt that way about Brandon Tartikoff.”
Reilly hit several heartwarming notes as well. His speech hit a high note, at least for industry sorts, when he aimed yet more darts at NBC, where he had worked first as a young exec under Tartikoff and then as president in the 2000s, presiding over its swan dive from the top of the ratings.
The Turner exec remembered taking a moment on his first day back at the network to fully take stock of the fact that he was sitting in Tartikoff’s former office. “And then I went out the side door,” he murmured, “as I had watched Brandon do so many times before, and I walked right off that cliff, through Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride down to the bottom of a shit-heap, which became one of the great learning experiences of my life and one that I was happy to leave in the rear-view mirror. It was about as much fun as a shit-heap can be. And I learned that sometimes you shouldn’t make a major career decision completely from the heart.”