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Jamie Kellner, TV executive who launched Fox & WB, dies at 77

Former Fox Broadcasting Network Chief Operating Officer Jamie Kellner. (Still frame via C-SPAN broadcast)
Former Fox Broadcasting Network Chief Operating Officer Jamie Kellner. (Still frame via C-SPAN broadcast)

Jamie Kellner, one of the most-influential broadcast television executives of the late 20th century who oversaw the development and launch of two upstart networks, died last Friday at the age of 77. The cause of death was attributed to cancer.

Kellner served as the first President and Chief Operating Officer at the Fox Broadcast Network in the mid-1980s, orchestrating the build-out of Fox’s programming slate and helping it secure distribution on over-the-air stations in key markets and cable platforms in hard-to-reach corners of the country.

Kellner helped champion programming like “In Living Color,” “Married…with Children,” “21 Jump Street” and “The Simpsons” and “Cops,” which help set the tone for American television across two decades. He left Fox for the WB Network in 1993, which operated as a joint venture between Warner Bros Television and Tribune Broadcasting. There, he pushed for serial dramas like “7th Heaven,” “Dawson’s Creek” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” that reached and engaged younger viewers.

At the turn of the century, Kellner became the head of Turner Broadcasting Systems, overseeing all of Turner’s cable channels following their integration into AOL Time Warner, including CNN and TNT. He drew controversy from sports entertainment enthusiasts for his decision to cancel the long-running World Championship Wrestling (WCW), whose two programs, “Nitro” and “Thunder,” aired exclusively on Turner networks.

Kellner kept a relatively low profile after retiring from the broadcast industry. Last year, he joined a growing roster of former Fox executives who called for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to block the broadcast license of the network’s Philadelphia owned-and-operated station, WTXF, following the company’s $787.5 million settlement over election-related misinformation aired on two of its cable networks.

Kellner himself was instrumental in giving Fox a taste of America’s appetite for news. While president of the network, Fox urged its local affiliates to launch local news divisions. To help smaller outlets hamstrung by tighter budgets, Kellner and other executives developed a central news hub that distributed national news clips and full-fledged stories to affiliates to help beef up their news offerings.

“Unlike the news feeds provided today by Fox News Channel, our news feeds did not prominently feature advocates like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell,” Keller noted, referring to two senior members of Trump’s legal team.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.

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