Mike Dann, the fabled programming guru at CBS, is now 87 years old, newly married and the author of a colorful memoir titled "As I Saw It: The Inside Story of the Golden Years of Television." Dann's reign at Black Rock covered the period 1958 - 1970 and encompassed shows from the Smothers Brothers, Danny Kaye, Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball and other luminaries.
Himself a forceful character, Dann venerated his legendary performers but also vividly recalled their foibles.
Gleason, of course, was a hardcore boozer who would simply disappear on occasion. To placate him, CBS built a "fancy circular mansion," as Dann described it, overlooking a serene wooded landscape in suburban New York. Gleason still regularly disappeared on them.
Danny Kaye always complained about the size of his dressing room, so the network built him a penthouse suite. He still complained. Judy Garland was an even tougher star to manage: A hopeless pill junkie, Garland's performances suffered so badly that the network helped her write a letter resigning from the show.
Dann's sourest memories were of the "smiling cobra," CBS president Jim Aubrey. A tall and polished Princeton man, Aubrey nonetheless exhibited violent mood swings, Dann writes: "He could be charming and warm but the next minute he could be a killer." Apart from his personality disorder, Aubrey also had terrible taste in programming, writes Dann. He fought to kill "The Defenders," one of the great shows of the early `60s, and relented only when the ratings rolled in.
Dann admits he loved TV and feasted on its competitive battles, but regrets that he didn't foster more quality shows. "I won the ratings by serving the masses," he writes. "That is what I am known for. There is no such thing as mass with class."
Having said all this, Mike Dann was nonetheless a classy guy and his memoir will be grist for TV fans and for those insiders who recall his glory days. --Peter Bart, Editor in Chief, Variety, May 5, 2009