Herbert Schlosser, a longtime NBC executive who oversaw the development of Saturday Night Live and was credited with bringing Johnny Carson to The Tonight Show has died at his home in New York City. He was 95.
NBC released the following statement:
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Herb Schlosser. His ingenuity, creativity and integrity as president and CEO of NBC during the ’70s made an indelible mark on the network and its legacy, including bringing Johnny Carson to ‘The Tonight Show’ and helping to shape what ultimately became ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
The Johnny Carson saga and “Saturday Night Live” were tied together. In 1974, Schlosser was president of NBC and learned that Carson no longer wanted reruns of his show on the weekends. His financial clout made pleasing him imperative.
So Schlosser went to work, and wrote a memo early in 1975 proposing an original program that would be carried live from NBC’s headquarters at Rockefeller Center. The show would be “young and bright,” with a “distinctive look, a distinctive set and a distinctive sound”; would “seek to develop new television personalities”; and would have a different host each week. The show debuted on Oct. 11, 1975 and after a few bumps in the road, became an enduring cultural force.
Earlier in his career, Schlosser worked in NBC’s business affairs department, negotiating contracts for the 1964 Olympics and talent deals with the likes of Bob Hope, whose specials were a staple of NBC programming.
From there, he rose to become VP for programs on the West Coast. Based in Burbank, he was a key in the development of “The Flip Wilson Show” and “Julia,” two of the earliest primetime shows starring Black performers. He also hired the first woman and the first Black person as VPs in the department.
Born in Atlantic City, N.J. in 1926, Schlosser served in the Navy, then attended Princeton and Yale Law School.
He started his career with a Wall Street firm specializing in insurance work, but quickly moved to Phillips Nizer Benjamin Krim & Ballon (now called Phillips Nizer LLP), a Manhattan firm with many film and television clients.
From there, he joined California National Productions, a film, merchandising and syndication subsidiary of NBC. He later became its chief operating officer before moving to NBC’s business affairs department in 1960. He quickly climbed the ladder, becoming an EVP by 1972, president a year later, and then named president of the National Broadcasting Company, the network’s corporate parent, in 1974. By 1977, he was the CEO.
Schlosser was moved out in 1978, replaced by Fred Silverman, who had the reputation of being a hitmaker at ABC. NBC had been a third-place network without a new hit, damaging Schlosser.
But Schlosser was not down for long. He became an EVP at RCA, developing software for the SelectaVision videodisc. He rose three years later to become head of all RCA entertainment, which included RCA Records, but not the TV division.
Schlosser left that in 1985 and became a senior adviser at Wertheim & Company, a Wall Street investment bank, and chairman of the Museum of the Moving Image, a Queen, NY project. He remained there as either chairman or co-chairman until 2013.
Survivors include his wife, Judith (Gassner) Schlosser, a son, Eric, the author of “Fast Food Nation”, a daughter, Lynn Jacobson, a former television executive, and five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. No memorial plans have been announced.
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