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Home / News / The Industry / TV executive Thomas Sarnoff dies in Woodland Hills

TV executive Thomas Sarnoff dies in Woodland Hills

by City News Service
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Television executive Thomas W. Sarnoff, whose six-decade career recast the former NBC Entertainment Corp., impacted famous TV brands and created family-friendly touring events while guiding the industry’s professional associations, has died, it was announced Thursday.

Sarnoff died Sunday at the age of 96 at the Motion Picture & Television Fund’s nursing home in Woodland Hills, according to Jim Yeager, a Television Academy spokesman.

The youngest son of radio and television pioneer and RCA/NBC media mogul David Sarnoff was born Feb. 23, 1927, in New York City. According to family lore, he was television’s “first live star” as a test subject for the RCA/NBC World’s Fair demonstration of television in the 1930s.

From 1965-1977 Sarnoff was staff executive vice president, West Coast, and president of NBC Entertainment Corp., reporting to the president of NBC. During that tenure, he negotiated contracts for NBC’s famed Burbank facility and production deals with world-renowned NBC talents such as Bob Hope as well as the historic deals with Colonel Tom Parker for Elvis Presley’s iconic television specials.

He was also responsible for the production and worldwide touring of live, all-family arena shows including “Peter Pan” and “Disney on Parade,” the latter in partnership with the company then known as Walt Disney Productions.

“The highlight of my career at NBC was building a close-knit and very efficient organization on the West Coast that served NBC very well for many years,” Sarnoff once said.

Following his career with NBC, Sarnoff created Sarnoff International Enterprises Inc., producing the “Yabba Dabba Doo” live-arena tour featuring Hanna-Barbera characters. The company revived the popular clay-animated character Gumby in association with creator Art Clokey and produced a 1987 half-hour series. He also served as executive producer of three “Bonanza” television movies and a retrospective.

Sarnoff rose through NBC’s executive ranks when he joined the network in 1952 after paying his dues with a stint at ABC as television took off post-World War II. He also worked at MGM learning film techniques that he would later apply to his work in television and his oversight of film productions for NBC Productions and California National Productions.

Renowned for his participation and active leadership in the television industry and in community affairs, Sarnoff most notably was a champion and leader of both the Television Academy and Television Academy Foundation for five decades.

From 1973-1974 he served as chairman of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences — before the organization’s 1977 split into the Los Angeles-based Television Academy, which oversees the prime-time Emmy Awards, and the New York-based National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which oversees Daytime, News and Sports Emmys.

He served on the Television Academy’s executive committee for the board of governors and in the 1990s took on the chairmanship of the Television Academy Foundation, for which he was named chair emeritus in perpetuity. Sarnoff also chaired the Television Academy’s council of former chairs for a number of years.

In 1997 Sarnoff received the Syd Cassyd Founder’s Award from the Television Academy, an award honoring a very select few Television Academy members who have made a significant, positive impact on the Academy through their service over many years of involvement.

In addition, Sarnoff served on the boards of the American Film Institute, Hope Enterprises and Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. He was a member of the national board of trustees of the National Conference of Christians and Jews — now known as the National Conference for Community and Justice.

In 2021 Sarnoff was preceded in death by Janyce, his wife of 67 years. He is survived by sons Daniel and Timothy; daughter, Cynthia Sarnoff-Ross; nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Information about memorial services were not immediately available.

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