Last week, at the National Association for Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference in Miami, Entertainment Studios CEO and founder Byron Allen was honored with the prestigious Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award.
The late Tartikoff was in his early 30s (the youngest ever president of NBC) when he took a teenage Allen under his wing, bestowing advice and encouragement to the then budding comedian/entrepreneur on how to best navigate the world of entertainment.
“Brandon was very special to me. I’ll never forget working with him,” Allen said.
Tartikoff was essentially performing television industry magic at the time. At the dawn of the 1980s, NBC was struggling to compete with the other network titans and coming in dead last in ratings. Under Tartikoff, things began to change and NBC not only flourished, but contributed iconic television programming to American culture. Law & Order, The Cosby Show, The Golden Girls, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Miami Vice are just a few of shows launched under Tartikoff’s watch.
It’s no wonder that NATPE offers an award in his honor each year to Hollywood’s latest trailblazers. According to NATPE, the award recognizes “a select group of television professionals who exhibit extraordinary passion, leadership, independence and vision in the process of creating television programming and in evoking the spirit of Tartikoff’s generosity.”
This year, Byron Allen was an honoree along with producer/writer Mara Brock Akil, former Chairman of NBC Entertainment Robert Greenblatt, legendary actress Rita Moreno, iconic entertainer Betty White and producer/director/actor Henry Winkler. Access senior correspondent Scott Evans hosted the spirited award reception.
Dick Robertson, former president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, had the honor of introducing Allen.
“Byron Allen is the smartest, the kindest, hardest working and most decent person that I have ever met in my 54-year career in this business,” said Robertson who crowned Allen the “King of Late Night TV” during his speech as he re-traced Allen’s inspirational career from a kitchen table in a small condo to a thriving and growing, global media powerhouse.
“He did it all the old-fashioned way with hard work and a never say die attitude. But most importantly, he did it with grace, decency, and humor,” said Robertson. “And just think this magnificent enterprise all started on this little kitchen table at his condo in Century City. Is this a great country or what?”
A Community of Support
Allen jubilantly ran to the stage to accept the honor as Pharrell’s Happy played in the background. Though the award was honoring his work and achievements, Allen spent the majority of his humorous and thoughtful speech acknowledging the people who made his career possible.
“This award is amazing but it belongs to so many people in this room,” said Allen before honoring his mother, Carolyn Folks and asking her to stand up to be properly acknowledged by the room.
“I think about my beautiful mother who got pregnant with me when she was 16 years old and had me 17 days after her 17th birthday. When you look at this Black teenage girl in 1961 in Detroit, Michigan having his baby, that baby does not look like a good bet,” said Allen. He explained how her tenacity, earning a master’s degree and then climbing the corporate ladder at NBC, served as an early example of what true passion and drive look like.
Allen also acknowledged his wife Jennifer Lucas and their three children, noting his sincere awe and appreciation for her love and patience.
He then thanked some of his early hires who have remained by his side as he built Entertainment Studios from the ground up 25 years ago. Allen acknowledged Joan Robbins, his very first hire for booking; Andy Temple, his first sales hire; Darren Gallat, his first advertising sales hire; as well as a few of his late mentors like Al Masini and Roger King.
“There were days in this 25-year journey where I didn’t eat and I couldn’t afford to pay my mortgage and my phone. This was before mobile phones. I had to call people from a payphone,” said Allen who noted that this was his 38th consecutive NAPTE conference. “There were people who came through for me like you would never believe.”
Watch the entire NATPE Awards presentation below:
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