Jamie Kellner Dies: TV Executive Who Helped Launch Fox & The WB Was 77

Jamie Kellner Dies: TV Executive Who Helped Launch Fox & The WB Was 77

Jamie Kellner, an extremely well-respected TV executive who helped launch Fox and The WB broadcast networks, has died at the age of 77.

At Fox, Kellner developed The Simpsons, Married…With Children, In Living Color, Beverly Hills 90210 and Cops. While at The WB, he developed Dawson’s Creek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, and 7th Heaven, which he created with Aaron Spelling and Brenda Hampton.

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While at the Frog Network, Kellner helped launch the careers of Greg Berlanti, JJ Abrams, Kevin Williamson, and Joss Whedon, and comedians like Jamie Foxx, Steve Harvey, and The Wayans Bros.

Berlanti paid tribute to the late executive, saying, “I don’t think there’s another person in the history of TV that can say they helped start two new major broadcast networks (Fox and The WB). Jamie Kellner was a titan and a visionary in our industry and yet he will be remembered by anyone lucky enough to work for him as an executive or as a showrunner as a warm, funny, charismatic, creative and kind mentor, friend, husband and Dad. He dedicated his life in TV to fostering and betting on generations of talent both in front of and behind the camera. I know I speak for so many others when I say my life was changed by the Camelot-esque home he created for all of us who worked at The WB. He will be greatly missed.”

Kellner also predicted the TV future that we now occupy. In 2002, he was memorably asked to comment on the development of DVRs and how it would give TV viewers the ability to fast-forward through commercials. At the time, one in five people who own a DVR like TiVo or ReplayTV said they never watched commercials.

”The free television that we’ve all enjoyed for so many years is based on us watching these commercials,” said Kellner, who was the CEO of Turner Broadcasting at the time. ”There’s no Santa Claus. If you don’t watch the commercials, someone’s going to have to pay for television and it’s going to be you.”

The former executive is credited with reshaping and modernizing CNN to compete against upstarts Fox and MSNBC. He also oversaw TNT, TBS, TCM, Cartoon Network, TNT Sports, the Atlanta Braves, Hawks, and NHL Thrashers.

Before becoming president of Fox at its launch, Kellner was at Orion, where he worked alongside Arthur Krim and conceived a partnership with Lorne Michaels to buy the rights to the original seasons of Saturday Night Live. The idea was to recut the 90-minute shows of the NBC sketch show into 30-minute episodes for syndication. Following the idea’s success, Barry Diller and Rupert Murdoch hired Kellner as the network’s first president.

“The TV industry lost a historically significant entrepreneur and executive,” said Sandy Grushow, who worked for Kellner at Fox as an EVP and eventually the President of Entertainment. “That he happened to have been a sweetheart of a guy and close friend and former Fox colleague makes the loss even more profound. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that he had the courage and, as it turns out, foresight to take his chips off the table in the prime of his career then go pack 10 lifetimes of adventure into one, with his beautiful wife Julie by his side. The only other silver lining is that a few weeks back, I got to tell him how much I respected that decision. We could all learn a thing or two from Jamie Kellner’s remarkable life and the audacious choice(s) he made. That’s the gift he left behind.”

“My first meeting with Jamie happened at Fox where I had just started as an assistant,” added Mike Clements, who worked as a comedy exec for Kellner at Fox and The WB. “We were all summoned to the commissary to say farewell to the man who did the actual building of the network. Blah blah Rupert and Diller … Jamie did the real work. He gave a funny and gracious speech and then proceeded to thank and shake the hand of every employee in attendance. The next time I would shake that hand was my first day as an exec at The WB, which also happened to be the first day of the programming retreat in Montecito. As a valet took my car, there was Jamie handing me a Mai-Tai and welcoming me to the team and his beautiful home. Thus began a great chapter in my life, where under his leadership, we were all encouraged to find the next generation of talent behind and in front of the camera… a chapter where I had incredible bosses, a kick-ass and super smart partner in comedy crime and colleagues who were talented, passionate and cared… a place where everyone seemed to have a common goal… a place where I have made some lifelong friendships… enjoyed many laughs, fun times and thanks to Jamie… some really nice wine. I will have to raise a glass of something else tonight but do so with huge amounts of gratitude in honor of one of the true greats in our business.”

Kellner retired at the age of 57 after leading Turner. He turned down offers to return to work and left the entertainment industry to pursue his passions, such as sailing, playing golf, and launching a winery in Santa Ynez Valley called Cent’Anni.

Kellner is survived by his wife of 38 years, Julie, daughter Melissa, son Christopher, and three grandchildren, Jake, Scarlett, and Oliver.


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