Living the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy - Hillary Atkin

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Cover image for  article: Living the Brandon Tartikoff Legacy - Hillary Atkin

The legendary television executive Brandon Tartikoff set a high bar in the industry, one that still sets a standard in the nearly 15 years since he passed away, far too young. Yes, he is always remembered fondly—but nowhere does his inspirational legacy come into clearer focus than at the annual Tartikoff Legacy Award ceremony.

The 9th annual edition was held at the Fontainebleau Resort in Miami Beach during the 2012 NATPE Market & Conference, in a lively ceremony hosted by "Access Hollywood's" Billy Bush, a self-described aspirant to one day achieving the award.

The four honorees represent a diverse slate of television talent: Matthew Weiner, creator and executive producer of AMC's award-winning drama "Mad Men"; Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia North America (FMNA) and executive producer of "American Idol"; Fernando Gaitán, vice president of production and content for Colombia's RCN TV and creator of "Ugly Betty" ("Yo Soy Betty la fea"); and Dennis Swanson, President of Station Operations for FOX Television Stations Inc.

Lily Tartikoff always speaks eloquently, and recalled how Brandon knew Swanson, who was an early champion of her Revlon Run/Walk benefiting women's cancer research.

It was Dick Ebersol, a recipient of the Tartikoff award last year, who introduced Swanson, noting that in his storied 40-year career, Swanson has worked at all four broadcast networks, discovered Oprah when he was a GM in Chicago, put Regis and Kathie Lee together at ABC and was instrumental in the resurgence of Monday Night Football.

Swanson thanked his wife of 50 years and reminisced about some of his fondest television moments, aside from telling Oprah to "just be herself." One of those was making the Christmas tree lighting at Rockefeller Center, which had previously been a tape delayed segment, into a live show.

Frot-Coutaz may not be a household name, but she is the center of the "American Idol" universe. FreemantleMedia CEO Tony Cohen recalled meeting the executive early on, and knowing she had what it took to run the North American division of the company – and handle the likes of Simon Cowell and Simon Fuller. He also joked that she's been called a kitten and a shark, kind of cute, but then she bites.

Gaitán also came in for some good-natured ribbing by Guillermo Arriago, a director, producer and screenwriter. Picking up the animal theme, he compared the Colombian television titan to a tiger.

Gaitán stepped up to the stage with a woman, creating some momentary confusion. Was she the star of one of his new shows? She certainly wasn't an Ugly Betty, quite the contrary. No, it turns out she was his translator, as he said he did not know how or like to speak English. The language barrier certainly did not prevent him from making a well-received speech citing the major influence American television had and continues to have on him as the VP of production and content for RCN TV.

When it came time for Matthew Weiner to be introduced, Lionsgate television president Kevin Beggs did the honors. "He has indelibly changed the TV world. He's a consummate showman, a master craftsman, a visionary who inspires people," Beggs said. "'Mad Men' will make its mark for generations to come."

And with that pronouncement, a comical taped message of congratulations from his coworkers on the award-winning drama was rolled, many of them alluding to his notorious demand for secrecy about the scripts. "I have to sign a nondisclosure for my own show?" remarked Lionsgate's Jon Feltheimer in one of the bits.

Saving the best for last, Jon Hamm acknowledged Weiner's plethora of awards, saying he could put all of them on his head, but it still wouldn't be "this," the actor pointing to his own handsome visage.

Weiner immediately commented that he couldn't believe he was unaware that all of this was shot on his own set without his knowledge. He relayed his youthful experience with television, from when he was a bad student whose parents forbade him to watch it except on Friday and Saturday nights, but that he made up for it during his college years. Weiner said he idolized Tartikoff, especially his respect for the audience.

Weiner acknowledged the risk that Lionsgate and AMC took with "Men," which has been a critical darling and a pop cultural force since it premiered five years ago." I got to turn a hidden vice into a way of life," he said. "I wanted people to be entertained."

Hillary Atkin is an award-winning journalist who began her career as a television news writer, reporter and producer at KOB-TV. As a broadcast producer at KCBS in Los Angeles, she won numerous Emmy, Associated Press and Golden Mike Awards for live coverage and entertainment special events programming, and then produced and directed biographies on Robert Duvall, Elizabeth Montgomery, Linda Darnell and Nicolas Cage for A&E and E!. She can be reached at

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