Obituary: TV visionary Weaver, 93, dies

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Sylvester L. "Pat" Weaver, the visionary NBC executive who pioneered the modern day TV-program ad model, died March 15 at age 93.

Mr. Weaver, active at the dawn of the TV age in the 1940s and 1950s, masterminded the first morning show, "The Today Show," as well as the first late-night show, "The Tonight Show." From 1949 to 1956, he worked at NBC, first as a VP, later as the network's chairman. Mr. Weaver was also advertising manager of the American Tobacco Co., chairman of McCann-Erickson and a veteran of Young & Rubicam.

"He was certainly a giant in the early days," said Tim Brooks, senior VP-research for Lifetime and a noted TV historian, "helping to frame what became in many ways today's TV shows and specials. They proved to be the templates of the future."


One of his accomplishments was breaking the mold in which an advertiser was the lone sponsor of an entire program. Mr. Weaver, father of actress Sigourney Weaver, viewed TV as a magazine with intermittent ads. In the 1950s, NBC began selling shows to multiple sponsors, giving control to the network, rather than the advertiser.

"Pat Weaver was the first major creative force in television programming and one of the most innovative executives in the history of television," said Bob Wright, chairman of NBC, in a statement. "He was a genuis of a kind," said Mary Wells Lawrence, founder of Wells Rich Greene, where Mr. Weaver was communications director in the late 1960s. "He was so fundamental in his understanding of the TV business."

After leaving NBC, Mr. Weaver started a pay-TV model in the early 1960s called Subscription Television, a service similar to today's pay- and basic-cable TV. But it failed under financial pressure due to legal problems stemming from a referendum initiated by California TV broadcasters.

Under Mr. Weaver, NBC launched such groundbreaking series as "Your Show of Shows," starring Sid Caesar. The network also ran what he called "spectaculars," now referred to as "specials." One of the first such shows NBC did was a family-oriented show, "Peter Pan" with Mary Martin, which pushed more families to buy TV sets. The strategy even worked on a macro-company level, since NBC's then-parent company, RCA Corp., marketed TV sets.

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