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Brandon Tartikoff

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Brandon Donald Tartikoff (13 January 194927 August 1997; age 48) was the Chairman of Paramount Pictures from 1991 to 1992.

Tartikoff was actually brought in initially on 2 May 1991 as "President Motion Picture Group" as replacement for David Kirkpatrick by interim Paramount President Stanley R. Jaffe who himself had to stand in for recently fired Frank Mancuso, Sr. (City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures, 1997, p. 4) Tartikoff found himself thrust in the midst of a tumultuous period of an intense power struggle at the top of Paramount Pictures, at the time scoffingly referred to by the press as the "The Studio Shuffle" [1], brought forth by a string of disappointing, yet very expensive, movie releases (which included Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) leaving the studio deeply in the red, only aggravated by a worldwide recession. One of his very first assignments was to oversee the tail-end of the already troubled production of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which entered the final stages of post-production at the time. As a matter of fact, his immediate predecessor Kirkpatrick had been fired over the circumstance that he had actually canceled The Undiscovered Country, only to have the decision reversed by Jaffe, when he took over from Mancuso and subsequently "canceled" Kirkpatrick himself. Still, by the time Tartikoff was able to see The Undiscovered Country to its premiere in early December 1991, most of the studio turmoil had died down. (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 393-394)

Informed that this was to be the last Star Trek movie, Tartikoff was reported saying, when he saw a rough cut at an early screening, "Why does this have to be the last one?", foreshadowing things to come. (Cinefantastique, Vol 22 #5, pp. 52, 54)

A few months later, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry passed away, and Tartikoff together with Director Nicholas Meyer took it upon themselves to devise a commemorative closing title card, which however was met with utter disdain by Spock Performer and Story Writer of the film, Leonard Nimoy, even though he himself had no love lost for Roddenberry,

"Very late in the game, I found out that Nick Meyer and Brandon Tartikoff, who'd just arrived at the studio, were meeting to decide how the dedication should read. I thought to myself, "Where do these people get off?" I think, maybe, Nick might have waved at Gene Roddenberry one day. I don't think the two ever had a real sit-down face-to-face meeting. And Brandon Tartikoff? He had nothing at all to do with the making of this picture. By the time he arrived at the studio, we had already had our final cut in the can. So these were the people, of all people, who were deciding what the dedication to Gene Roddenberry should say. Again, nobody told me anything.

"So when I found out about that, I called up John Goldwyn, who'd become our new studio executive on the picture, replacing Teddy Zee, and I vented on him. I said, "I think it's absolutely disgusting that these two kids are running around in a playpen they don't even own. It's not even their territory. Why aren't you people talking about this to somebody who's connected to the picture? Someone who's had a relationship with Gene? Why not have this thing put together by somebody who knows exactly who Gene was, and what he was? How dare you arbitrarily slap something onto the top of a film as if it were some box office decision? How dare you guys?" At that point he sort of sighed into the phone and halfheartedly asked, "Well, how would you like it to read, Leonard?" After expressing myself on how badly I thought of the situation had been handled, I hung up on him.

"He rang me back for days, but I wouldn't take his calls. What fun to get angry. I handled it badly, but I'm too old and too rich. I'm at the point in my life where I can afford myself the luxury of saying, "I don't give a shit. If it kills my relationship with the studio, so be it." That's the way it went down. And ultimately, the argument over that dedication was really over whether to keep it simple or make it more complex. Tartikoff wanted something elaborate and flowery, but Nick thought that might be a little distasteful, a little flittery. Nick came up with the verbiage for the final dedication." (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 395-396)

No matter how Nimoy felt, by the time The Undiscovered Country hit the theaters on 5 December 1991, Jaffe had to return to his regular position as Vice-President of Paramount Communications (formerly Gulf+Western, and owner of Paramount Pictures), and decided on that occasion to move Tartikoff forward as the new Chairman of the Board, and President of Paramount Pictures. With the success of the six Star Trek films and Star Trek: The Next Generation, Tartikoff subsequently approached Rick Berman and asked him to create a third live action Star Trek series to launch into syndication. Berman and Michael Piller returned with series notes that they had previously discussed with Gene Roddenberry, and worked up a proposal, which Tartikoff later approved, for what would become Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (Trek: The Unauthorized Behind-The-Scenes Story of The Next Generation, DS9 Season 1 DVD special "A Bold New Beginning")

However, him ordering a third live-action Star Trek television series, entailed far more than just doing that. Berman had recounted that he had a series of meetings with Tartikoff, starting in the summer of 1991. As a former television network executive, Tartikoff was acutely aware that even the most successful series had a limited, economical life-span for a variety of reasons, ranging from psychological cast fatigue, through naturally increasing production costs – if only for the annually inflation adjusted production staff wages as ordained by the Hollywood Unions, and not in the least for star cast salaries habitually inflating exponentially with each sequel – , to increased competition with itself for scarce syndication time-slots the longer a series runs. Together with Berman, Tartikoff decided upon an optimum Star Trek series run of seven seasons, meaning that The Next Generation had at that time only three seasons left to go. Though enamored with the Original Crew movies, Tartikoff was well aware that they too had run their course, if only for the age of the cast, but figured this was the perfect time to pass the baton to "the next generation", thereby starting a new Star Trek movie franchise. He instructed Berman to start looking into that, and have a movie ready at the end of The Next Generation television series (by which time the new Deep Space Nine series had to be up and running for two seasons), preferably one in which, one way or another, featured the transition of the Original Crew to The Next Generation Crew. Given his marching orders, Berman was sent on his way to his most daunting year in his career, 1994. For all intents and purposes, it was Tartikoff who had come up with the leap-frogging seven-season format of the modern Star Trek television franchise, and the start of The Next Generation movie franchise, though he had to leave the actual production start in February 1993 and oversight of what was to become the first Next Generation film, Star Trek Generations, to his immediate successor Sherry Lansing, due to his premature departure. (Star Trek Movie Memories, 1995, pp. 399-403; Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Continuing Mission, pp. 154-157; [2])

Ironically, it had been co-producer of The Undiscovered Country, Ralph Winter, who at the completion of the movie had already made similar musings. Though understandably proud of what he and the creative team had achieved, he had second thoughts on Harve Bennett's "Academy"-project, which would have featured an entirely new cast but was scrapped in order to make The Undiscovered Country, reasoning in hindsight that it would have instituted a long-term studio strategy for a sustainable Star Trek live-action production line, as opposed to the somewhat chaotic, spur-of-the-moment planning as hitherto employed. "With a long term plan you could milk this forever.", Winter had mused. (Cinefantastique, Vol 22 #5, p. 35) Even Winter could not have foreseen that he was to have his wish fulfilled so soon, as Tartikoff was to exactly do, what Winter had imagined.

By initiating a third Star Trek television series, Tartikoff had actually reverted his stance he originally had in the fall of 1986, when Paramount's Television Group President John S. Pike had approached him as head of NBC (the network that had aired Star Trek: The Original Series), to air a new science fiction television series, The Next Generation, that was in development at the time. On that occasion Tartikoff had declined, as interest in science fiction for television was at an all time low at the time (after The Next Generation started its run, it was for years the only new science fiction series being aired). (William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge)

Upon his passing, Tartikoff was tributed by Deep Space Nine's production staff with an "In Memory of" closing title card in the season six opening episode, "A Time to Stand".

Career outside Star TrekEdit

A Freeport, New York, native, Brandon Tartikoff was a graduate of the Lawrenceville School and Yale University, where he contributed to campus humor magazine The Yale Record. While at Yale, Tartikoff developed a keen interest in television management and production, working as an account executive and sales manager at such stations as WNHC-TV in New Haven, Connecticut, as well as in Hartford, Connecticut. And even while he was on vacation, Tartikoff spent his holidays in Los Angeles looking for a job in network television. Upon graduating from Yale, he found gainful employment in advertising and local television at a series of local stations, including WLS-TV in Chicago, Illinois.

In 1976, Tartikoff took a position at television network ABC but switched less than a year later over to NBC, becoming a program executive. In 1980, Tartikoff was appointed the president of NBC Entertainment, thereby becoming the youngest executive to have ever helmed the network at the time of his appointment, holding that position until 1991. He was responsible for bringing NBC out of a ratings slump with innovative programming such as The Cosby Show, by Paramount Television (under the auspices of Rick Berman) produced Family Ties and Cheers (whose cast members included Kelsey Grammer and Kirstie Alley, and in which Tartikoff himself had a cameo in the 1993 episode, "It's Lonely on the Top", befittingly as a bar patron), and most notably the acclaimed comedy series Seinfeld (whose regular cast included Jason Alexander and whose season nine episode "The Butter Shave", also carried the "In Memory of" closing title card, as featured in the Deep Space Nine episode, even though he no longer worked for NBC).

He also took on a very active role in the production of Saturday Night Live (among the new cast members whose hiring he approved was Charles Rocket), and hosted the opening show of its ninth season on 8 October 1983, while Joe Piscopo was a member of the cast. In that episode, Tartikoff exhibited a great sense of humor as he allowed the production staff to ruthlessly poke fun at him, by rolling closed captions of his less than successful decisions as a television executive for five minutes, while he glowingly (and seemingly oblivious) presented, and praised his staff of the new season of Saturday Night Live. His tenure on NBC won Tartikoff a 1991 Television Critics Association Award in the category "Career Achievement".

On 29 October 1992, having been less than two years in the employment of Paramount, Tartikoff resigned his position, retiring entirely from the motion picture industry. While at the time, rumors abounded that he could not abide to work under his less than flexible mentor Jaffe, the actual reason was that he wanted to take care of his young daughter Calla, who had sustained critical injuries in a car accident. (City of Dreams: The Making and Remaking of Universal Pictures, 1997, p. 4)

In 1994, Tartikoff returned to the television industry, now as a producer on such productions as the series The Steven Banks Show and Last Call, as well as the television movies, XXX's & OOO's (1994), Best Defense, OP Center (both 1995), Tribe TV (1997) and Blade Squad (1998). Shortly before his death he created the television series Beggars and Choosers, which ran for one season after his death, and served as executive consultant for another, Second Noah. In addition, Tartikoff shortly served in 1994 as chairman of New World Entertainment. Just prior to his death, Tartikoff also served as the chairman of the AOL project "Entertainment Asylum," to build the world's first interactive broadcast studio. Aside from this he also made guest appearances, either as himself or in a role as extra, in such series as Night Stand, Dave's World and Arli$$.

Together with author Charles Leerhsen, Tartikoff has written an autobiography, The Last Great Ride, which was published by Random House on 13 October 1992.

Tartikoff died in 1997 from complications of Hodgkin's lymphoma. The disease had plagued him throughout his life, having beaten it on two earlier occasions, the last time in 1982. He was survived by his wife Lilly (a well-known activist, socialite and restaurateur, whom he had married in 1982), and their two daughters, Elizabeth Justine and Calla Lianne, who had made a largely complete recovery from her severe accident, and who later started a restaurant with her sister.

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