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The Museum of Television & Radio Presents Leonard H. Goldenson: The Gentleman Giant

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Los Angeles, CA—The Museum of Television & Radio in Los Angeles, in celebration of the centenary year of Leonard H. Goldenson's birth and in conjunction with the dedication of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, will present the gallery exhibit Leonard H. Goldenson: The Gentleman Giant from August 23 to October 22, 2006. The exhibit, a timeline featuring memorabilia and photographs from Goldenson's personal archive, as well as original correspondence from presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan, and others, offers a look at the achievements of a great broadcaster and philanthropist.  Goldenson helped shape modern mass communications, while his devotion to a range of civic causes—from the promotion of the democratic process to cofounding one of the largest health agencies in the U.S.—left an equally profound legacy.

While not as well known outside the industry as his peers David Sarnoff and William Paley, Leonard H. Goldenson's ability to take the long view, to stand fast in the face of overwhelming odds—for decades, at tremendous cost—to realize a vision, led to innovations that transformed the landscape of network television and set a new template for the ways networks operate that is followed to this day. His singular combination of visionary ideas, preternatural business savvy, and sheer dogged tenacity transformed a flailing broadcasting enterprise on the verge of collapse into one of the world's mightiest media empires. The name of this shoestring operation was ABC.

The Innovator

In an era when television programming was almost entirely live and based out of New York, Goldenson persuaded Hollywood studios, such as Disney and Warner Brothers, to produce filmed programs that brought cinematic storytelling techniques to the small screen, giving birth to the modern television series. Goldenson's innovations are legion. Under his guidance, demographic analysis was used to find holes in the competitor's slates and fill them with offerings that appealed to the younger viewers more attractive to advertisers. The creation of the blockbuster miniseries and the made-for-television movie allowed for the exploration of social issues and brought a sense of occasion to home viewing. And innovations in the presentation of sports, such as instant replay, made ABC the undisputed leader in the field. In the final analysis, a broadcasting executive is judged by the numbers, and Leonard H. Goldenson took ABC from near death and fourth place in the ratings to number one.

The Executive

Goldenson's many innovations and accomplishments would have been impossible without his keen business acumen and his talent for getting the right people and inspiring them to perform to the top of their potential: Roone Arledge, Barry Diller, and Michael Eisner are among the executives that thrived at ABC under his mentorship. Goldenson's uncanny instincts and fortitude made possible the merger of United Paramount Theatres and ABC; empowered him to broker unprecedented deals with Warner Brothers and other studios; earned the trust of a board of directors in the absence of immediate financial success; allowed him to fight off hostile takeover attempts from the likes of Norton Simon and Howard Hughes; and ensured the continued integrity of the network through its merger with Capital Cities after his decision to step down. His shrewd expansion into radio, publishing, and cable networks added depth and breadth to his media empire.

The Philanthropist

Leonard H. Goldenson's sense of civic responsibility extended far beyond his role as a broadcaster.  His most significant achievement in public service was the establishment of the fifth largest health agency in the United States, United Cerebral Palsy, an organization that has brought desperately needed attention to the needs of the largest minority in the world, the disabled.  He also cofounded, with his wife, the United Cerebral Palsy Research and Educational Foundation, which has funded numerous medical breakthroughs including the vaccine that eliminated German measles, the fetal heart monitor used in hospitals throughout the world, and imaging technology to diagnose brain injuries, stroke, autism, mental retardation, learning disabilities, and other conditions. And in 1983, Goldenson invited Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan to participate in the Voting for Democracy symposium he convened at Harvard, his alma mater, to address shortcomings in the election process. This symposium resulted in the passing of a bill that granted over twenty-two million dollars to public schools to establish model voter education programs.

Some Career Highlights:

1933: Goldenson starts work at Paramount Pictures.

1951: Orchestrates purchase of ABC for $25 million.

1957: ABC wins a Peabody Award for Prologue '58 and other significant news coverage

1961: ABC's Wide World of Sports premieres, eventually becoming the longest-running sports program in TV history

1966: ABC broadcasts its entire prime-time schedule in color.

1972: Goldenson is elected to the newly created position of chairman of the board and CEO of ABC, Inc.

1976: Barbara Walters becomes network TV's first prime-time female news anchor, joining Harry Reasoner on ABC Evening News.

1977: ABC's eight-day telecast of Alex Haley's Roots becomes the most-watched program in TV history, with a 45.0 rating and 66 share.

1977: ABC wins the prime-time season rating for the first time in its history, ending CBS's twenty-year reign, led by such programs as Charlie's Angels and Gary Marshall's Happy Days.

1978: ABC introduces multianchor format for World News Tonight, with Frank Reynolds in Washington, D.C.; Peter Jennings in London; and the first African-American prime-time network news anchor, Max Robinson, in Chicago.

1980: ABC and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government copresent "Voting for Democracy," a symposium on electoral reform that is attended by former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

1986: Goldenson, at age eighty-one, resigns as chairman of the board upon completion of merger of ABC with Capital Cities.

1990: Goldenson receives a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award.

Admission is free in Los Angeles. The Museum's suggested donation: Members free; $10.00 for adults; $8.00 for senior citizens and students; and $5.00 for children under fourteen. 

The exhibit will be shown at the Museum's New York location from November 28 to December 31, 2006.

The Museum would like to thank Loreen Arbus for opening the Leonard H. Goldenson Archive to us, making this exhibit possible.

The Museum of Television & Radio, with locations in New York and Los Angeles, is a nonprofit organization founded by William S. Paley to collect and preserve television and radio programs and advertisements and to make them available to the public. Since opening in 1976, the Museum has organized exhibitions, screening and listening series, seminars, and education classes to showcase its collection of over 120,000 television and radio programs and advertisements. Programs in the Museum's permanent collection are selected for their artistic, cultural, and historic significance.

The Museum of Television & Radio in New York, located at 25 West 52 Street in Manhattan, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 6:00 p.m. and until 8:00 p.m. on Thursdays. The Museum of Television & Radio in California, located at 465 North Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills is open Wednesdays through Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m. Both Museums are closed on New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Suggested contribution: Members free; $10.00 for adults; $8.00 for senior citizens and students; and $5.00 for children under fourteen. Admission is free in Los Angeles. The public areas in both Museums are accessible to wheelchairs, and assisted listening devices are available. Programs are subject to change. You may call the Museum in New York at 212.621.6800, or in Los Angeles at 310.786.1000. Visit the Museum's website at