Barnett was an executive producer for Adam, a 1983 film about the kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh and the attempt by his parents (including later reality crime drama host John Walsh) to pass national child protection laws in its wake.
At the end of each broadcast of the film, missing children’s photographs and descriptions were displayed along with a telephone number for tips on their whereabouts. Some 37 children were found as a result. President Ronald Reagan provided a voiceover on the photographs segment for the 1985 airing.
Barnett began her career as an associate producer and general manager for Alexander H. Cohen in New York, working on television specials, films and Broadway shows. In 1974, she moved to California and opened a casting company with Linda Otto.
Otto/Barnett Associates cast more than 100 network pilots, movies of the week, and series. Their efforts also cast an old high school friend named Billy Crystal as one of the leads in the Soap television series.
Barnett followed her casting career by becoming the head of movies for NBC, where she put The Burning Bed in development, as well as the award-winning Special Bulletin. She then departed for full-time producing with the Landsburg Company, where she made Adam and Unspeakable Acts, both changing the face of docudramas for television, as well as the baseball movie Long Gone for HBO, which went on to become a cult sports film.
In 1989 Joan Barnett partnered with Jack Grossbart and began a 15-year period of production that included Last Wish, Something to Live For: The Alison Gertz Story, Any Mother’s Son, and Unforgivable. All were true stories that had impact in changing laws and raising important information on critical issues.
Any Mother’s Son, about homophobia in the Navy won the GLADD Award for Best Television Movie in 1998.
Barnett retired in 2005 to be near family in Boston. During that time she was actively involved with Planned Parenthood, where she served on the board.
Survivors include her sister, Bette, niece Jennifer, nephew Evan (Julia), and their children.