Thursday, December 08, 2011

Another Witness to TV History Lost

It’s likely that not everyone was as struck as I was yesterday by reading this obituary in the Los Angeles Times:
Stanley Robertson, who broke color barriers as a pioneering black network television program executive at NBC in the 1960s and ’70s and later as a movie studio production executive, has died. He was 85.

Robertson, who had been in poor health recently, died Nov. 16 of an apparent heart attack at his Bel-Air home, said his wife, Ruby.

An associate editor at
Ebony magazine before quitting in 1954 to study telecommunications, Robertson launched his television career as a page at NBC in Burbank after graduating from USC in 1957.

Rising through the network’s music library and music rights department, he became NBC’s manager of film program operations on the West Coast in 1965. In that role, Robertson oversaw the network’s prime-time filmed series, including
Star Trek, The Name of the Game and Bill Cosby’s 1969 sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show.

In 1970, Robertson was appointed to NBC’s newly established executive position of director of motion pictures for television on the West Coast. A year later, he became NBC’s first black vice president when he was promoted to vice president of motion pictures for television.
One thing that obit doesn’t say, is that during the ’70s Stan Robertson was instrumental in bringing The NBC Mystery Movie to the air. Because of my work on a series of posts for The Rap Sheet connected to the 40th anniversary of that “wheel series,” I was interested in interviewing Robertson. William Link, the co-creator (with Richard Levinson) of Columbo and Tenafly, kindly contacted Robertson on my behalf and provided me with a telephone number for the former network exec. I called Robertson in September, hoping to do a phone interview with him, but he said he was feeling ill and asked that I first send him my questions via the regular U.S. mail. (He was apparently not an e-mail user.) I did just that, adding a note to Robertson, suggesting that we talk soon by phone.

Unfortunately, I was never able to reach him again. And now I can only send my condolences to his family.

This saddens me in more ways than one. So here’s my pitch: Before other people intimately associated with The NBC Mystery Movie become similarly unavailable, I would like to talk with them. I hadn’t intended to write the comprehensive history of that wheel series, but that’s what I find myself doing. Therefore, if anybody among the Rap Sheet’s readership knows how to contact screenwriters, producers, or actors who were involved in the 14 crime dramas that once showed under the NBC Mystery Movie umbrella, I ask that you please drop me an e-mail note here. I would like to talk with those folks.

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