It’s arduous to consider now, however it took till 1996 for the printed networks to lastly rent their first-ever feminine leisure president, when ABC recruited Jamie Tarses away from NBC to take the job. There had been a handful of different ladies in highly effective slots, together with Lucie Salhany, who was briefly chair of the Fox Broadcasting Co. earlier than launching UPN. But till streaming upended the enterprise, “leisure president” was essentially the most seen, and arguably a very powerful, management job at a community. And till Tarses, it had been all males.
Tarses’ rise at ABC coincided with the beginning of my profession as a cub reporter, overlaying the community TV enterprise in Los Angeles, and one in all my first duties was to chronicle the tenure of the younger trailblazer. But from the beginning, Tarses was confronted with many in Hollywood seeking to tear her down — be it rivals jealous of her age, or the sexism that persists at the moment however was nonetheless rampant in 1996.
Tarses was the wunderkind who was behind a lot of NBC’s “Should See TV” success, together with “Mates” and “Frasier” — and he or she got here from TV royalty, as her father Jay Tarses is a well-known TV author (“The Bob Newhart Present,” “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd”). It’s simple to overlook now, however Tarses’ rise additionally fueled the second that the networks’ chase for younger demographics kicked into excessive gear. Family rankings all of a sudden didn’t matter anymore, because the “Mates” phenomenon led webheads to focus their efforts on the elusive adults 18-49 bracket. And Tarses was a demo whisperer: ABC, struggling within the rankings, hoped to regain some luster by bringing in a new crop of young-skewing sequence to the community — particularly comedy.
She delivered. 1997 wasn’t a lot of a profitable yr for broadcast TV, however the few exhibits that succeeded included ABC’s “Dharma & Greg” and “Two Guys, a Woman and a Pizza Place.” Tarses, nonetheless, was ceaselessly second-guessed by then-ABC Inc. president Bob Iger — a former ABC Leisure president himself — and felt stifled by Iger’s insistence to usher in chairmen above her, as if she couldn’t deal with the job on her personal.
After which there was that notorious New York Occasions Journal piece. Simply days earlier than ABC’s summer time 1997 Tv Critics Affiliation press tour, Lynn Hirschberg’s opus “Jamie Tarses’ Fall, As Scheduled,” printed. Hirschberg was given free reign at ABC, and what she got here again with was unflattering, to say the least. It churned the rumor mill, resulting in what should still be essentially the most raucous and crowded press tour government session in historical past.
Tarses saved a low profile at the tour till then, avoiding different panels and steering away from the community’s night occasions. When she did make a transient look, both to make use of the restroom or journey to her room, a variety of reporters tried to chase her down. I don’t suppose I’ve seen something prefer it earlier than or after at TCA.
When it lastly got here time for the exec session, with Tarses and ABC leisure chairman Stu Bloomberg, the panel itself was principally calm. Tarses known as the media protection of all of it “somewhat peculiar,” and it was.
The photograph, above, was taken of the reporters surrounding Tarses after the exec session (together with sure, that’s me and my colleague Cynthia Littleton standing subsequent to one another at the underside left), and it appeared on the entrance of USA As we speak’s Life part the following day — as if anybody outdoors of Hollywood’s insular TV enterprise would care. It additionally was the first-ever “press gaggle” that now persists as a TCA custom after nearly each session to at the present time. Credit score to then-Fox Leisure president Peter Roth, who later that week known as the cruel highlight on Tarses “obscene.”
Tarses’ tenure lasted two extra years, till 1999, and its different success tales included the critically acclaimed “Sports activities Night time.” In the long run, her style was maybe a bit too slim for ABC, however broadcast-network TV as a complete had began its lengthy descent into erosion (even execs at No. 1 NBC have been beginning to see declines) and nobody knew what labored anymore.
Tarses confronted the scrutiny of being a younger lady in methods most of her rivals didn’t (though, having shattered the glass ceiling, within the following years Nancy Tellem turned leisure president at CBS and Susanne Daniels was named co-head of leisure at The WB), but in addition labored at a community that noticed fixed shuffle. Tarses and Bloomberg managed to work effectively collectively, however the closing straw was when ABC merged its leisure division with its studio, and Lloyd Braun was named co-chairman with Bloomberg above Tarses. (Quickly, Bloomberg can be gone too, and finally so would Braun. So goes the principally revolving door of community toppers.)
Because the New York Occasions’ Invoice Carter famous in 1999, however has maybe been misplaced to reminiscence over time, NBC arguably misplaced its means in comedy after Tarses left for ABC, and Tarses departed the Alphabet community in significantly better form (and prepared for a younger-demo future, which it capitalized on within the 2000s) than when she arrived. She doesn’t get sufficient credit score for that, maybe on account of these salacious headlines (and, truthful sufficient, maybe how she dealt with that scrutiny).
But freed from the press microscope as an leisure president, Tarses reinvented herself as a profitable producer, having landed many exhibits on the air in subsequent years. Some former community toppers disappear after leaving that gig, however Tarses in some ways turned much more profitable doing extra of what she did greatest: Taking sensible creators’ concepts and serving to flip them into TV exhibits. That notably included a number of exhibits for Turner, together with “My Boys,” “Males at Work,” “Hawthorne” and “Franklin & Bash.” She helped shepherd one of many biggest comedies of the 2010s, ABC’s gone-too-soon “Pleased Endings.” And Tarses was busy proper as much as her passing, through Amazon Prime Video’s “The Wilds” and Disney Plus’ “The Mysterious Benedict Society.”
I bear in mind having lunch with Jamie someday within the late 2000s, and marveling at how she survived these practically 4 years and had managed to maneuver on to her profitable producing profession. She was rightfully press-shy after these years, and most well-liked by no means to be within the highlight, the byproduct of an expertise that I believe sadly scarred her for good. I believe we have been all blissful to see her thrive within the years since then. Earlier than the tragic information of her passing, usually after I watched an episode of “Pleased Endings” (which you must — it’s a incredible present) I thought of how glad I used to be to see Jamie get her “blissful ending.” Not solely was Jamie Tarses a trailblazer, however she continued to have an effect on a medium she cherished.