Edward Bleier, Warner Bros. Stalwart Who Brought ‘Looney Tunes’ to TV, Dies at 94

The longtime Warner Bros. executive was also instrumental in the development of cable networks like Nickelodeon

A man in a suit stands at a lectern and gestures as he speaks.
Edward Bleier in 2003.

Edward Bleier, a longtime Warner Bros executive who brought Bugs Bunny to Saturday morning television and later helped birth the cable television industry, died Tuesday in his New York home, The New York Times reported. He had turned 94 on Monday.

Bleier was a New York City native who studied radio at Syracuse University, once working on a program written by the future New York Times columnist William Safire and featuring a then-unknown Dick Clark as the announcer. He and Safire dropped out of college to work as journalists in 1949; Bleier eventually returned to finish his degree in 1994 and remained dedicated to the school, part of which was named for him in 2005.

He began his career in newspapers and radio before moving to a local television station in New York, Channel 5. He joined ABC in the early 1950s, where he worked in strategic planning and first encountered the potential for cable — and its voracious need for programming.

In 1961, while at the network, Bleier took an interest in the old Looney Tunes animated shorts shown in movie theaters in the 1930s and 1940s. He licensed and repackaged them, airing the shorts as Saturday morning television for kids and bringing Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Sylvester, Tweety, Yosemite Sam and dozens of other characters to new generations.

The effort transformed the shorts and the classic characters into profit-makers for both ABC and Warner Bros., The Times said.

Bleier moved to Warner Bros. in the late 1960s. As president of Warner Bros. Animation, he continued to tinker with Looney Tunes, creating variations for cable and broadcast networks, and eventually movies and television specials featuring the cartoon characters, including “Tiny Toon Adventures,” the first animated effort from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

Bleier was also instrumental in the development of cable, working to develop the early QUBE system, which introduced pay-per-view programs, special interest cable networks and interactive services.

He also ran the company’s division that licensed old movies and television shows to cable and broadcast outlets, working with nacent networks like HBO and building the vast Warner Bros. library into a valuable asset that would produce more revenue in reruns than the programming did when released.

And from 1986 to 2000, Bleier was president of a Warner Bros. division that developed many of the cable networks still familiar to viewers, including Nickelodeon, MTV and The Movie Channel.

During his career, he also confronted challenging social issues. As head of ABC’s daytime programming in 1964, he was criticized by civil rights activists, including Harry Belafonte, for the lack of Black actors on soap operas. Bleier was instrumental in diversifying the daytime shows.

Bleier was also a writer, and in 2003 had a bestseller with “The Thanksgiving Ceremony: New Traditions for America’s Family Feast,” about his favorite holiday. It featured a forward from his lifelong friend, Safire, who died in 2009.

Bleier’s wife of 50 years, Magda, is his only survivor.

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