Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Lives On Through NATPE Award Winners

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A quintet of notable names in television accepted the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award at NATPE on Wednesday.

It was the 17th annual edition of the awards, but this year’s class collectively displayed one of the strongest connections of any group of honorees with the late NBC executive. Actress Christine Baranski, ABC Entertainment chief Karey Burke, Power creator Courtney Kemp, Telemundo Global Studios Marcos Santana and CNN boss Jeff Zucker shared the spotlight. The awards banquet at Miami’s Fontainebleau Hotel provided ample chance for reminiscing.

Zucker managed to mostly avoid politics, though a tribute reel featured a clip of President Donald Trump lambasting the press as “the enemy of the state” and showed the CNN boss articulating a “fight for truth.” He acknowledged the timing of the event was inopportune, as the political world — especially his network — is immersed in impeachment drama. “It’s almost as if NATPE said, ‘Let’s pick the worst night ever to honor Jeff,'” he cracked.

Brandon Tartikoff in 1986 Associated Press

A Miami native, Zucker acknowledged a table full of friends and family that came out to support him. He also recalled seeking out Tartikoff for advice early in career. Tartikoff became NBC’s head of entertainment at age 32; Zucker was all of 26 when he became exec producer of Today. Tartikoff, of course, battled several rounds of cancer before succumbing at age 48. Zucker had his brush with it at age 31.

Warren Littlefield, who succeeded Tartikoff at NBC, delivered a thorough and deeply felt introduction to Burke. He recalled Tartikoff, during NBC’s fallow days, printing up beach towels with the names of all nine primetime shows that had failed soon after their premieres. “He both laughed at and celebrated our disaster,” Littlefield. The bookend came during the network’s higher-flying days later in the 1980s. The beach towels then bore the slogan, “Patience Rewarded.”

Burke was a recent college graduate working in NBC’s secretarial pool then and remembered Tatrtikoff talking her out of going to law school. Soon thereafter she managed to secure a job as a junior exec in NBC’s drama department.

“I was completely enamored with television,” she recalled, but didn’t have a clue as to how the industry worked. After she rushed to buy Ann Taylor suits and wear eyeglasses she didn’t need and look “serious” and older than her age, she was given crucial advice by Littlefield. “To Warren, just being my authentic self was enough,” she remembered. “It’s not about the suits we wear … it’s about the stories we tell.”

As Power star and producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson looked on, Courtney Kemp was brought to the stage by Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer

“I was young in the age of ‘Must See TV,'” she said of the Tartikoff era. Even so, experiencing shows like A Different World, LA Law and Miami Vice “shaped my worldview,” she said. In them, Kemp said she found “faces that looked like my own. The power of that representation has never faded away. … I never met Brandon Tartikoff, but without him, there is no Power.”

Baranski, who also has a notable Tartikoff connection, having starred in NBC staples like Law & Order and Frasier —  was introduced by Good Wife and Good Fight co-creator Michelle King. “She not only knows her lines; she makes them better,” King marveled. Baranski gave a crisply effusive speech and deployed her trademark sardonic tough by observing of her spinoff-spawning Good Wife character. “Who knew I was playing Nancy Pelosi?”)

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