Thursday, September 4, 2008


It's become tradition that the month of September would be the time for the TV Crossover Hall of Fame to honor those creative forces behind the scenes, here in the Real World. Past honorees have included Dick Wolf, Russell T. Davies, Norman Lear, and Brandon Tartikoff.

This year, a woman joins their ranks in that club - Jamie Tarses, who used to be in charge of the comedy division at NBC. There, she orchestrated the crossovers between several of the Peacock Network's big sitcoms (with a few of lesser quality getting a ride on their coat-tails).

Here's a quick biography of Jamie Tarses:

At age 32, Tarses became the youngest person and the first woman to preside over a network entertainment division. As President of ABC Entertainment, she reported to division Chairman Ted Harbert, who held her job before being promoted. This personal triumph followed an exceedingly eventful year at NBC Entertainment where she had spent the better part of a decade climbing swiftly up the corporate ladder.

The daughter of celebrated sitcom producer, writer and director Jay Tarses ("The Bob Newhart Show", "Buffalo Bill", "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd"), Tarses used her not insignificant connections--then NBC Entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff got her first network job--to get her foot in the door. But once inside, her meteoric rise was a testament to her own drive and talent.

Tarses has pointed to her ease with writers, finding script flaws and suggesting improvements, as her strong suit. She also gained a reputation for tough decisiveness; in 1991, as a junior programming executive, Tarses (then using her married name, McDermott) even declined to recommend that NBC pick up "Baltimore", a sitcom pilot about jazz musicians, produced by her own father.

Born in Pittsburgh, Tarses was raised in Los Angeles' less than trendy San Fernando Valley. After graduating with a theater degree from Williams College, she entered showbiz as a glorified production assistant, more specifically, the Assistant to the Talent Executive on NBC's "Saturday Night Live". This valuable experience helped Tarses land a job as a casting director at Lorimar Productions. She joined NBC in September 1987 as manager of Creative Affairs for NBC Productions segueing to the more high-powered Entertainment division in December as manager of Current Comedy Programs. In this capacity, Tarses served as NBC's program executive on such sitcoms as "Cheers", "Amen", "A Different World" and "227".

By July of the following year, she was named manager of Comedy Development for NBC Entertainment. February 1989 found Tarses as the director of Comedy Development. In this capacity, she participated in the development of such ratings winners as "Wings", "Blossom" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air". (Her brother Matt Tarses served as a writer and story editor on the latter sitcom late in its run.)

As senior vice president of Primetime Series for NBC Entertainment, a position she assumed in 1994, Tarses reported directly to her mentor Warren Littlefield, president of the division. She was credited with playing a major role in the development of such hits as "Friends" and "Frasier" while supervising existing shows.

Jamie Tarses was responsible for those theme nights that NBC used to have to unite their various sitcoms on any given night. The umbrella themes would be "full moon" (probably the weakest of the batch), "hurricane" (for the Miami-based shows 'Nurses', 'Empty Nest', and 'The Golden Girls'), and "NYC blackout" (which turned out to be prescient).

She may have had something to do with the similar themes over at ABC once they joined them - a Vegas night that gave Jerry Van Dyke his unique standing in the Hall of Fame, and one about snow storms which was used to trumpet an upcoming Stephen King mini-series, "The Storm Of The Century".

Is she wasn't involved, then ABC was inspired by the idea.

And so Toobworld Central is saluting Ms. Tarses this month with her induction into the TV Crossover Hall of Fame, Creators' Wing.

Toby O'B

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