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One of the entertainment industry's most prolific television producers for over four decades, George Schlatter specialized in variety series and specials, the best of which was the groundbreaking, Emmy-winning "Laugh-In" (NBC, 1968-1973). An audio-visual blitzkrieg of non-sequiters, catch phrases and zany behavior, it captured the attention of television audiences for nearly a half-decade. Schlatter later struck gold with the offbeat "Real People" (NBC, 1979-1984), which celebrated offbeat Americans in a comic newscast format. A prolific producer of specials for television, he won numerous awards and nominations for tributes to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minneli, Richard Pryor and other major celebrities. His prodigious output, as well as the high quality of many of his projects, made Schlatter one of the most successful television producers in the history of Hollywood.
Born George Schlatter in Birmingham, AL on Dec. 31, 1932, he was raised primarily in Missouri. While still a teenager, he performed with the St. Louis Municipal Opera, where his mother also sang. After high school, he headed west to attend Pepperdine University in Los Angeles. Upon graduation, he worked at MCA in its band department, but left to become the general manager at the popular nightclub Ciro's on the famed Sunset Strip. There, he cultivated a connection with many established singers and comics, as well as numerous up-and-comers, including a comedy team by the name of Rowan and Martin. Following a brief stint in Las Vegas, he branched into producing variety specials and series for television. Among his earliest credits was the multiple Emmy-winning "Dinah Shore Show" (NBC, 1956-1963), which led to Schlatter being hired to oversee "The Judy Garland Show" (1963-64) at CBS. However, network opposition to the troubled star, as well as her kid glove-style handling by Schlatter, resulted in his being fired after just five episodes, which in turn became the first of many internal problems that led to the show's quick demise. The following year, Schlatter took over as producer of the annual Grammy Awards, a position he would hold for the next six years.
In 1968, Schlatter launched his own production shingle, George Schlatter Productions. Its earliest and most successful effort was "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," a variety show unlike any before it, and a huge influence on many that followed. The series combined sketch comedy, celebrity guests and musical performances, but in a rapid-fire, frequently absurd manner that was more in tune with the growing counterculture movement. Ernie Kovacs had done something similar nearly a decade before, but Schlatter had the benefit of a larger budget and expanded technical advances to bring his vision to life. Hosts Dan Rowan and Dick Martin acted as ringmasters for the talented cast, which included such breakout stars as Lily Tomlin, Arte Johnson, Joanne Worley, Ruth Buzzi and a young singer-comedienne named Goldie Hawn, who frequently appeared onscreen as a bikini-clad go-go dancer. "Laugh-In" quickly became part of the cultural zeitgeist, with famous figures clamoring to deliver its catchphrases like "Sock it to me." One such personality, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, appeared on camera to do just that, and his appearance was largely considered to be a motivating factor in his ascension to the presidency. "Laugh-In" earned Schlatter two Emmys and a Golden Globe, as well as a flood of additional nominations; it also generated promotional tie-in material, including comic books, board games, trading cards and even a feature film, 1969's "The Maltese Bippy," though Schlatter shrewdly avoided participation in its critically panned release.
While enjoying the fruits of his work on "Laugh-In," Schlatter's production company soon began expanding into other specials and series. He produced two specials for NBC that featured Motown superstars the Supremes and the Temptations, "TCB" (1968) and "G.I.T. on Broadway" (1969), respectively, as well as several attempts to reproduce the lightning in a bottle that was "Laugh-In" with "Turn-On" (NBC, 1969) and "Arnold's Closet Revue" (NBC, 1971), both of which failed after a single episode. The flagship itself folded in 1972, due in part to the departure of its main cast. Schlatter himself, who was affectionately referred to on-camera as "CFG," or "Crazy F-king George," stepped down as "Laugh-In's" executive producer in 1972.
Schlatter oversaw a remarkably eclectic string of productions throughout the 1970s, including numerous specials, TV series and features. A handful were successful, like "John Denver and Friend" (ABC, 1976), which paired the young pop-folk singer with Frank Sinatra, and "The Shirley MacLaine Special: Where Do We Go From Here?" (CBS, 1976), both of which received Emmy nominations for Schlatter. Less popular were "Cher" (CBS, 1975-76), a disastrous attempt to build a variety series around the recently divorced singer, and a revamped "Laugh-In" (NBC, 1977), which featured a pre-stardom Robin Williams. The latter generated a lawsuit from Dick Martin and Dan Rowan, both of whom shared ownership of the series, and had not been contacted by Schlatter about the revival. In 1976, Schlatter made his feature directorial debut with "Norman, Is That You?" a hopelessly dated farce with Redd Foxx and Pearl Bailey as parents who discover that their son is gay.
In 1979, Schlatter rebounded with "Real People," a proto-reality series that looked at the lives of genuine Americans with eclectic, often eccentric proclivities, including members of the Flat Earth Society, bare knuckling fighting champions, a man in love with the Statue of Liberty, and a few genuinely inspiring figures, like marathon runner and amputee Terry Fox. The show was a massive success, and generated a host of similar showcase-like programs, most notably Alan Landsburg's "That's Incredible" (ABC, 1979-1984). Schlatter shared three Emmy nominations with co-producer and co-host John Barbour for the series, which also generated two short-lived spin-offs, "Speak Up, America" (NBC, 1980), with such curious talents as Marjoe Gortner and Jayne Kennedy giving voice to the common man, and "Real Kids" (NBC, 1980).
In 1987, Schlatter launched "The American Comedy Awards," a yearly tribute to popular comedians from past and present, which ran until 2001. There were also salutes to iconic music figures, including "Frank, Sammy and Liza: The Ultimate Event" (Showtime, 1989), "A Party for Richard Pryor" (CBS, 1991) and "Sinatra: 80 Years My Way" (ABC, 1995), which netted Schlatter another Emmy nomination. He also kept trying to reproduce the magic of "Laugh-In" with variety series like "Comedy Club" (ABC, 1987-88), for which he also served as host, and "She TV" (ABC, 1995), a sketch series with a largely female cast. Neither could revive the moribund variety format. In 2001, he tried his hand at talent shows with "Next Big Star" (PAX Television, 2001-02), a youth-oriented variety series with Ed McMahon presiding over the judging. In addition to his production schedule, Schlatter owned The Editing Company, one of the busiest post-production facilities in Los Angeles.
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Produced "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show" (NBC)
Was the producer of the CBS variety series "The Judy Garland Show"
Produced "The Steve Lawrence Show" (CBS)
Executive produced "Turn On" (ABC)
Directed and produced "Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations on Broadway" (NBC)
Wrote, directed and produced screen adaptation of "Norman...Is That You?"
Executive produced "Speak Up America" (NBC)
Executive produced "Look At Us" (syndicated)
Executive produced "The Shape of Things" (NBC)
Hosted, executive produced and directed "George Schlatter's Comedy Club" (syndicated)
Produced and directed "Humor and the Presidency" (HBO)
Executive produced the annual telecasts of the American Comedy Awards
Hosted, executive produced and directed "George Schlatter's Funny People" (NBC)
Executive produced "Sinatra: 80 Years My Way" (ABC)