Dawn of cable TV visionary executive Edward Blair dies at 94

Dawn of cable TV visionary executive Edward Blair dies at 94

Edward Blair, who brought Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig and other Looney Tunes characters to generations of Saturday morning TV viewers before becoming a prime mover in the rise of cable television and turning Time Warner Cable into an industry giant, is of Died on Tuesday. He turned 94 a day earlier at his home in East Hampton, NY.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Magda Blair.

A former journalist who began his career in newspapers and radio, Mr. Blair was an innovator who anticipated industry-changing technologies and the need for fresh content to serve the emerging cable television market. At ABC and later Warner Bros. Television, he gained a reputation for imaginative but also practical strategic thinking that helped usher in a new television era.

From 1986 to 2000, he was president of the Warner Bros. division, which developed basic cable networks such as Nickelodeon, MTV, and The Movie Channel. He was credited with achieving record-breaking sales of old films and old television series that were re-released, surpassing the income earned by those productions when they were first released.

In 1961, while still at ABC, Mr. Blair saw the future of vintage Looney Tunes cartoons, the animated shorts made by Warner Bros. and shown in movie theaters in the 1930s and ’40s. They licensed them and then repackaged them as Saturday morning TV viewing for kids. This move turned Looney Tunes and similar cartoons into consistent profit-makers for both ABC and Warner Bros.

Later, as president of Warner Bros. Animation, he created dozens of variations of Looney Tunes programming for cable and broadcast networks, as well as films and television specials featuring the cartoon characters.

“My tendency was always to look forward, not back,” Mr. Blair said in an interview for this obituary in 2015. “I saw radio coming, so I got off the newspapers. I saw television coming, and I couldn’t get into it fast enough.”

He joined ABC in the early 1950s and spent the next 14 years at the network. While he believed that the medium could be used for social good, he also understood that commercial television had to reach the largest possible audience and turn a profit.

“I think of media as important not in the self-conscious terms of ‘do good,’ but in the social fabric,” he said. “You only had so many hours in the day, so I focused on doing things that did good as well as doing good.”

Mr. Blair was head of ABC’s daytime programming in 1964, when civil rights advocates including Harry Belafonte criticized the absence of black actors on the network’s popular soap operas. ABC soon began integrating its daytime lineup.

“We knew that the soap opera audience was probably 30 percent black women,” he recalls, “so it worked not only socially but also economically.”

Mr. Blair’s greatest contributions came at Warner Bros. New York parking lot legend Steven J. Answering the call from Ross, who had purchased the Warner Bros. studio in 1969, Mr. Blair signed on to run the New York programming and sales office. As Mr. Ross built the company, Mr. Blair became a trusted advisor, shaping the company’s strategy to move into cable television and new digital media.

He helped guide the company into partnerships with American Express and later Time Inc. In 1990, Warner Cable became Time Warner Cable. (It was acquired by Charter Communications in 2016, becoming the nation’s second-largest cable operator after Comcast.) Until he retired from Time Warner in 2005, Mr. Blair continued to explore new digital media markets, including On-demand content was also included. Distributed via the Internet. Even at the age of 80, he continued to consult with the company.

Leo Hindery, media entrepreneur and former chairman and CEO of AT&T Broadband, said in an interview that Ed was there at the birth of the cable industry. “This is an industry of huge egos, but Ed had none of that. He was one of the true pioneers.”

Edward Blair was born on October 16, 1929 in New York City to Philip and Cecil (Richter) Blair. His family lived in a small apartment near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx before moving to the Laurelton section of Queens, where he grew up. His father, the son of Viennese immigrants, trained as a lawyer but became an insurance broker. His mother, a housewife, had immigrated from Belarus.

Edwards, who attended public schools, got his first taste of journalism as a high school stringer for city newspapers including The New York Times.

In 1947, he enrolled at Syracuse University as a radio major. There, he joined the campus radio station and worked on a program written by future Times columnist William Safire, with future pop music TV host Dick Clark as the announcer.

Mr. Blair and Mr. Safire became lifelong friends. Mr. Blair introduced him to Helen Belmar Julius, a model, pianist and jewelry designer who became Mr. Safire’s wife. Mr. Safire later returned the favor and introduced Mr. Blair to French-language journalist Magda Palaci, who became Paris Match bureau chief in New York. They married in 1973. She is his only survivor.

In the summer of 1949, Mr. Blair and Mr. Safire, working in New York, made a joint decision to leave college. “We would meet for lunch several times a week and look at each other and ask, ‘Why go back? ”We have the jobs we were going there to get,” Mr. Blair recalled. He returned to Syracuse in 1994 and earned his degree.

Mr. Blair began his TV career at Channel 5 in New York, a station owned by the DuMont Television Network. From there he moved to ABC, where his work in strategic planning helped him recognize the coming impact of cable television. Frustrated with the lack of vision at ABC, he left in 1968 to “go into the program business to fill these new channels,” he said.

After joining Warner Bros., he worked closely with Gustav Hauser, who created the innovative cable system Cubby for Warner Bros. In 1977, Cubby, based in Columbus, Ohio, introduced pay-per-view programs, special-interest cable networks and interactives. Services.

“We had to create things that Ed knew a lot about,” Mr. Hauser, who died in 2021, said in an interview in 2015. “We were starting something very new, the first attempt at doing pay TV. This was the beginning of the modern cable business and Ed loved it.”

For Mr. Blair, QB’s success underlined his philosophy about the coming wave of change. “Our approach was that the software drives the hardware,” he said, “and I took the McLuhanese approach – although content is king, form is emperor. Technology determines content.

Running the Warner Bros. division responsible for licensing older films and television shows to cable and broadcast outlets, Mr. Blair worked with a growing list of start-up cable and pay-TV outlets, including HBO. As a member of Mr. Ross’s Strategy Committee, he gained broad industry influence while representing the company during a period of rapid growth and innovation.

As president of Warner Bros. Animation and knowing Steven Spielberg’s deep affection for the Looney Tunes characters, he also collaborated with the director on three animated series, including “Steven Spielberg Presents Tiny Toon Adventures”.

Mr. Blair’s book on Thanksgiving was a New York Times best seller in 2003. Its preface was written by his longtime friend William Safire, author and Times columnist.Credit…through the publisher

Moving away from television in 2003, Mr. Blair produced best selling book, “Thanksgiving Ceremony: New Traditions for America’s Family Feast,” with an introduction by Mr. Safire, an ode to his favorite holiday. Mr. Blair said, “My view is that everything that is embodied in this country is in that holiday and should be celebrated accordingly.”

He remained committed to Syracuse University. In 2005, its popular Center for Television Studies, part of the SI Newhouse School of Public Communications, was renamed. Blair Center for Television and Popular Culture Thanks to Mr Blair for his huge donation.

In addition to East Hampton, he also owned a home on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

In an interview, Mr Blair attributed his success to “feeling as if you are doing the right thing, being efficient, getting the work done, not getting lost in idealism, remaining very practical and very quantitative but Looking forward, not backward.”

He said he received as much guidance from management theorist Peter Drucker as he did from John Maynard Keynes, who overturned conventional thinking in economics.

“I don’t quote Drucker,” said Mr. Blair, “I quote Keynes: The difficulty is not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ideas.”

Alex Traub Contributed to the reporting.

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