Lin Bolen, the first female VP of programming at a TV network and an influential force in daytime television fare, has died. She passed away on January 19 at the age of 76 in a hospital in the San Fernando Valley, according to friend and former game-show host Jim MacKrell.
Bolen worked for NBC in the 1970s and was responsible for commissioning the long-running game show Wheel of Fortune. She also is credited with bringing long-form narrative to soap operas, expanding them to hour-long formats.
It was long rumored that the ruthless Faye Dunaway character of Diana Christiansen in the 1976 satirical film Network was based on Bolen, something Bolen denied.
She was appointed VP of daytime programming at NBC in 1972, rising to become the VP of programming in Sept. 1975. NBC thrived under her leadership, becoming the No. 1 network in ratings.
Some of her moves were controversial. Bolen ended the 11-year run for Jeopardy!, citing its older demographics and stodgy host Art Fleming, and also killed the 15-year-old game show Concentration. Instead, she pivoted to a new concept from creator/producer Merv Griffin, a casino-like game called Wheel of Fortune that debuted in 1976. It became a huge hit.
Merv Griffin remembered Bolen in his Simon & Schuster memoir, Merv: Making The Good Life Last. He described her as a “hard-driving” and “difficult” woman, with whom he had many “bitter fights.” Still, he noted, “I developed a gruding respect for her talent and determination. She wanted to put her own stamp on NBC’s daytime lineup, and if that meant throwing out a few babies along with the bathwater, then so be it.”
Bolen left NBC in 1976 to form her own, self-named production company focused on creating and developing game shows, movies of the week, and theatrical films for networks and studios. Among its show was Stumpers!, hosted by Allen Ludden (which lasted 13 weeks before cancellation), and W.E.B., a show that looked seriously at the men who ran network television. It, too, was canceled after 13 weeks, done in by its slot against the ABC hit Charlie’s Angels.
She fared better in television movies. The Christmas Coal Mine Miracle, starring Kurt Russell and Melissa Gilbert, was the highest-rated movie of the year for NBC.
Survivors include a stepson, Jordon Wendkos. No details on memorial services have been made public.