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CBS always stood out in the three-network world of the 1970s and '80s. It wasn't its ratings so much as the "Tiffany Attitude" that emanated from the 52nd Street monolith known as Black Rock.
It was there in the dark suites, the power ties, the tables at 21. Upfront presentations were limited to select agency and advertiser attendees, and, if invited, you were expected to show up and spend the whole day looking at completed pilots. No clips.
There were great people there, but few could overwhelm this tight atmosphere with personality -- until the guy from Watertown, N.Y., showed up.
Because CBS affiliates had turned into a Tony Malara fan club, somebody had the great idea of actually making him president of the network. In walks this guy with a beard (a beard!) looking like a better version of Kenny Rogers. Sure, he wore the CBS uniform of the day, including cufflinks with the network logo, but this guy actually signed his letters "Peace, Tony." You had to love it.
He and his wife, Mary, were people you looked forward to seeing. I don't know if we ever got our way in answer to a request because Tony was there (it's hard to make demands of an 800-pound gorilla), but you always knew that you had a smart, perceptive, receptive ear in him -- with no extra charge for the sense of humor. He combined humanity with "Tiffany" in way nobody else could.
Tony left CBS in 1995 to go back to the world of small-town stations where he had started (and where one can still make a great margin). He appeared to enjoy it, as he did everything else in life. Tony died last week at the too-young age of 69.
Anyone who experienced the Tony Malara bear hug will miss him. Anyone who did not have the opportunity to meet him will have missed simply a great personality, a great guy.