Frederic Ziv

Born - Jan 1, 1905   |   Died - Oct 13, 2001   |   Genres - Adventure

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Chances are that most television viewers in the 1950s (except in his native Cincinnati, where he was a kind of business and media celebrity) never heard of Frederic Ziv. Even some pop culture buffs devoted to the era might not know his name; but for much of the 1950s, Ziv and his company, Ziv TV, were responsible for producing such classic adventure and crime programs as The Cisco Kid, Highway Patrol, Boston Blackie, Mr. District Attorney, Whirlybirds, Bat Masterson, Men Into Space, Science Fiction Theater, I Led Three Lives, Tombstone Territory, Lockup, The Man and the Challenge, and Sea Hunt. Ziv revolutionized the field of television programming from 1948 until 1959 as the most successful producer of first-run syndication programs -- those were television series that bypassed the major networks in favor of licensing to individual stations in dozens of different markets, one station at a time, sometimes picking off network affiliates and, in rare cases, even network-owned and -operated stations, getting them to book his programs in time slots outside of (or on the outer fringes of) prime time. Series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Baywatch have turned the same notion originated and perfected by Frederick Ziv into a mega-million dollar entertainment industry. Ziv was born in Cincinnati, OH, in 1905, the son of European immigrants. He enjoyed writing and published a book of poetry, entitled The Valiant Muse, while still an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. After earning a law degree, he decided instead to go into advertising, opening his own agency in Cincinnati, and it was there that he developed the strategies that would allow him to revolutionize the television business and television entertainment 20 years later. Ziv discovered that one local clear-channel station, WLW, reached so far from Cincinnati with its signal that it offered his clients an alternative to the three major radio networks (CBS, NBC, Mutual). Ziv, as the head of the agency representing many top advertisers -- in an era when advertisers actually produced many radio programs -- gained the experience he would need to move into television production after World War II. In partnership with writer John L. Sinn, he founded Frederick W. Ziv Company in 1937, dedicated to producing syndicated radio programming, including sports, soap operas, music, talk shows, action-adventure programs, and variety shows; the company would produce its programs and sell time to sponsors one market or city at a time, attracting local and regional sponsors who normally couldn't afford to advertise on the networks. One novelty of their product was that it was done as mechanical transcriptions, on disc, rather than live as most radio was at the time. As a radio producer in the 1940s, one particular coup with which he was credited was convincing the newly married couple of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to appear together on radio as part of one of his syndicated dramatic anthologies. The company did well on radio throughout the 1940s with Boston Blackie, The Cisco Kid, and Philo Vance, among other shows, and by 1948 was the largest producer of radio programming in America apart from the three major networks. Ziv branched into television programming in 1948 and found a market that was wide open -- unaffiliated local stations were anxious to get shows that looked as though they were of network quality, and even network affiliates desperately needed shows to fill the non-prime-time slots that the networks didn't service. Equally important, and keenly appreciated by Ziv, regional and larger local sponsors wanted to try television advertising on for size, but couldn't afford network advertising rates. Ziv Television Programs got in on the ground floor of the new medium with a modest debut, Yesterday's Newsreel and Sports Album, in 1948, and a year later introduced The Cisco Kid, a television version of the Western hero -- loosely based on a character created by O. Henry -- that had the added novelty (though no one knew it at the time) of being shot in color. Ziv kept the show going for seven years, but it was still being rerun in the 1970s on some stations, thanks to the fact that it had been filmed in color. The 11 million dollars that this series earned over its first run was seed money that put Ziv into production on more than 25 other series, among them classic crime dramas such as Highway Patrol and the intriguing genre anthology Science Fiction Theater (reruns of which were still being aired on the Sci-Fi Channel in the 1990s). He not only competed successfully with the networks but occasionally enjoyed hits with ideas that they'd passed on, to their embarrassment -- one such program was Sea Hunt, produced by Ivan Tors and starring Lloyd Bridges, which had been rejected by all three networks; once on the air, it proceeded not only to compete with network programs in every major market for five seasons, but was even licensed by one network flagship station, WCBS-TV in New York, for broadcasts on Saturday nights in prime time. Among the talent that Ziv brought along in his series was Mary Tyler Moore and Clint Eastwood, and he reportedly was among those -- along with Jack Webb -- who encouraged a young police officer named Gene Roddenberry to try writing scripts for television. By the end of the 1950s, Ziv TV had its own studios and was leasing space to other producers, and had an international division that produced shows in England and on the European continent. Fred Ziv himself was lionized by the business world for his achievements, and was referred to at the time as the "father of television syndication." Ziv was smart enough to enter the new medium successfully, but he was downright brilliant in the way he exited, selling out his company for a reported 20 million dollars to United Artists in 1960. Ziv had a seat on the board of directors of the company, but gave this up in the mid-'60s. His last major creative credit was as producer of the series The Fugitive, in 1963. He returned to Cincinnati, spending 22 years teaching at the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music. He lived long enough to see one of his creations, The Cisco Kid, revived and immortalized on television and six of his original episodes revived by Ted Turner on his cable network in the 1990s, and series such as Men Into Space return to television in that same decade, courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel.