Sylvester Weaver: revolutionary warrior, in programming, ads

Nov 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The hiring of Sylvester “Pat” Weaver-Sigourney’s dad-was undoubtedly one of the smartest moves General Sarnoff ever made.
Too bad the two men hated one another.
For his part, in his 1993 autobiography, Mr. Weaver said some of Mr. Sarnoff’s animosity might have been because of his nickname for his boss: General Fangs.
Mr. Weaver, a longtime executive on Madison Avenue, joined NBC in June 1949 and for all intents and purposes was the programming chief until he left in 1956.
His list of innovations is staggering, from the “Today” show to the “Tonight” show to myriad programs in between, from “Your Show of Shows” to “Wide Wide World.”
He also came up with the “Home” show, which was basically a combination of the HGTV and Food Network cable channels done as a daily TV show.
Furthermore, Mr. Weaver created a revolution on the ad side of the business. As he wrote in his autobiography, “Even some of the biggest companies were beginning to feel the pinch of sponsoring an entire program. I could envision the day when no corporation would be able to afford a whole hour, or even half-hour, in prime time week after week.
“I had stipulated before coming to NBC that I be allowed to sell advertising to multiple sponsors instead of time slots to individual companies. … My plan would only work if the networks, rather than the agencies and their clients, owned the programs.”
In the early ’60s, Mr. Weaver got involved with the nation’s first major pay TV operation, in Southern California: three channels that came through phone company lines.
The movie exhibitors went ballistic and got the voters of California to vote against the pay TV referendum. By the time the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Weaver’s company, it was too late, and the company filed for Chapter 11.
An ailing Mr. Weaver, 93, lives in Southern California.