It was a night of fond remembrances, more than a few tears and several standing ovations at the 15th annual Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards, which honored two acting legends, two highly respected television executives and a prolific showrunner.
Jane Fonda, Tom Selleck, Kevin Reilly, Cesar Condé and Greg Berlanti were feted during the gala, held Jan. 17 at the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach during the 2018 NATPE Market & Conference, in ceremonies hosted by Maria Menounos.
All of the recipients follow in the footsteps of the legendary Tartikoff, who as the young president of NBC for more than a decade (1980-1991) turned the network’s fortunes around by championing groundbreaking shows including ”Hill Street Blues,” ”The Cosby Show,” ”Miami Vice,’ ”Cheers,” “Family Ties,” “L.A. Law” and perhaps most indelibly, “Seinfeld.”
The death of the visionary executive at the age of 48 from Hodgkin’s disease in 1997, after he battled the disease for 25 years, shocked the entertainment industry. Tartikoff was recognized not only as a wunderkind programmer but one known to general audiences as well, appearing on NBC shows and even hosting “Saturday Night Live.” His legacy is kept alive not only by those who worked with him, like Reilly, but by his wife, Lilly Tartikoff Karatz, who attends and speaks at the ceremonies every year.
“He would’ve stood proud as a peacock as he basked in the relevance of this top-of- class event,” she said. Menounos also noted that all of the honorees were game changers who have made unparalleled contributions to the entertainment industry.
Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos introduced Fonda and remarked on her decades-long history of talking truth to power, seeing injustice and fighting it, going back to her controversial trip to Hanoi in 1972 during the Vietnam War and a string of impactful and award-winning films including “Coming Home,” “Klute” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”
Currently, she’s seen in Netflix’s just-released Season 4 of “Grace and Frankie” with Lily Tomlin and will be featured in HBO’s upcoming documentary “Jane Fonda in Five Acts,” which premiered at Sundance over the weekend.
“In a world obsessed with celebrity, she’s never basked in it,” Sarandos said. “She’s conquered Hollywood as an actor and as a producer. It’s a great honor to call her my friend.”
Fonda returned the admiration as she took the podium to a standing ovation. “Ted gave life to me in TV,” she said as she began her acceptance speech. “This is a huge honor. As beloved as Brandon is and his genius as a programmer, he did his work with intelligence, grace and humor. Television did make movies change and now it is TV where the best writers and actors work. If you have something important to say, television is where you want to be.”
Music icon Gloria Estefan presented Condé with his honor, the latest in a storied career where his talents were apparent at a young age when he was a White House fellow under then secretary of state Colin Powell. Before his current stint as chairman of NBCUniversal International and Telemundo, which began in 2013, Condé is credited with leading Univision into the top levels of television viewership.
“I look to Brandon as a visionary and my path is deeply influenced by his journey. As a kid, I loved following ‘Seinfeld’ and found the characters relatable. He showed how compelling characters could influence a culture,” Condé said of Tartikoff. “We are striving for that today at Telemundo, where you used to picture telenovelas. Now, there are contemporary characters and strong, powerful women who don’t need a handsome prince to rescue them. Television is incredibly important to the Hispanic audience, a lifeline to information and a reflection of who they are. This honor is a recognition of the rise of Hispanic media and its crucial role in our society.”
“Brandon would’ve loved this evening and would have been thrilled for Greg Berlanti,” Warner Bros. television group president Peter Roth said in introducing the prolific writer and executive producer, known for a multitude of programs including “Dawson’s Creek,” “Riverdale,” “Blindspot,” “The Flash,” “Arrow,” “Supergirl” and the CW’s new “Black Lightning,” which premiered last week. “I worked with Brandon 38 years ago and both he and Greg possess the desire to tell meaningful stories and elevate the best of the human condition. To honor Greg Berlanti is to honor the best of Brandon. He is loved and revered — and has 11 series on the air — and possesses soulfulness, passion and kindness. He’s Superman, without the cape.”
Berlanti brought the room to tears as he began by remembering his mother, whom he lost eight months ago. He mentioned that her birthday would’ve been the next day and that his parents began their married life in Miami. His dad was in the audience to witness his son receiving one of the television industry’s top honors.
“My first year in the business was 1997, and I felt like Brandon knew me — I devoured his shows. He was not just a hit-maker but believed in his shows before they became popular,” said Berlanti, before again mentioning his mother. “She never lost hope and gratitude and feeling that the best days were ahead,” he said, closing his speech to a standing ovation.
Turner Entertainment Networks’ head of business affairs Sandra Dewey introduced TNT and TBS president Kevin Reilly by reeling off a list of his hits at other networks before he joined Turner three years ago. “He championed ‘ER,’ which was No. 1 for 15 seasons. At Brillstein-Grey he was instrumental in bringing ‘The Sopranos’ to HBO and he brought ‘The Shield’ to FX. Then, at NBC, it was the time of ’30 Rock’ and ‘Friday Night Lights.’ At Fox, ‘Glee,’ ‘Empire,’ ‘New Girl,’ ‘The Mindy Project,’ ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine.’ He’s a futurist and an innovator. He wants tomorrow now. He’s a maverick and a visionary.”
Reilly began his speech by mentioning that his mother was a secretary at NBC and he knew as a kid that he wanted to be in the industry. “I worked with Brandon, sat on his couch and was mesmerized by the clarity of his thoughts. Fifteen years later, I was rehired by NBC,” he said, and mentioned that he couldn’t be up on the stage without seeing both sides of the business, the failures and the hits. “Even Brandon couldn’t have imagined the breadth of television today, but he would’ve had a hand in the narrative that is unfolding,” Reilly concluded.
Actress Bridget Moynahan introduced her “Blue Bloods” co-star, and took the crowd back through Selleck’s storied career, which goes back nearly five decades. “He projects essential decency, from ‘Magnum P.I.’ to Frank Reagan, but he doesn’t coast on that quality. Les Moonves said that Tom Selleck is what every man wants to be — warm and relatable. Plus, he looks really good on a horse — and with a baby.”
Upon mentioning that the definition of legacy includes the word “outdated” and the phrase “doesn’t work well with up-to-date systems,” Selleck received some big laughs from the audience before getting serious. “Brandon spoke about quality TV with a medley of his failures. That was who he was. His legacy is a gift to all who strive to do good work. He occupied his chair so well,” said Selleck. “I was 35 years old when I got my first regular job on ‘Magnum.’ Actors must risk, risk being bad to be good. Audiences don’t want to see the work, so it should look easy. So I said to myself, ‘Here goes everything.’”