Jamie Kellner, TV Executive Who Launched Fox and The WB, Dies at 77

The influential corporate leader retired in the early 2000s

A man with light brown hair wears a suit as he sits in front of foliage, in front of a microphone at a press conference. The man with light-toned skin is Jamie Kellner.
Jamie Kellner at a press conference on May 6, 1986, when it was announced that a new television station would begin broadcasting: the Fox Network. He was joined by Joan Rivers and Barry Diller, the chairman and chief executive officer of Fox. Kellner was the president and COO of the network. (Photo: Getty Images)

Jamie Kellner, the influential television executive who helped launch both Fox and The WB, has died, according to media reports. He was 77 years old and died Friday at his home in Montecito. Fox launched in 1986, while The WB took to the air in 1995.

Kellner is the only executive to have been so intimately involved in the creation of two broadcast TV networks. He was at the top of the business from the 1980s into the early 2000s, including succeeding Ted Turner as chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting.

Shows launched under Kellner include “The Simpsons,” “In Living Color,” “Married… With Children,” “Cops” and “21 Jump Street” at Fox. When it came to the teen/young adult-oriented The WB, Kellner helped the network birth “Dawson’s Creek,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Felicity” and “7th Heaven.” The WB ultimately merged with UPN to form The CW.

The corporate leader retired in 2004 at just 57 years old, leaving The WB, which he owned a stake in before selling it back to Warner Bros. in 2002. TV writers and creators whose early careers were hugely impacted by their work under Kellner’s watch include J.J. Abrams, Greg Berlanti, Joss Whedon and Kevin Williamson.

“Jamie Kellner was a titan and a visionary in our industry and yet he will be remembered by anyone lucky enough to work for him as an executive or as a showrunner as a warm, funny, charismatic, creative and kind mentor, friend, husband and Dad,” Berlanti said in a statement. “He dedicated his life in TV to fostering and betting on generations of talent both in front of and behind the camera. I know I speak for so many others when I say my life was changed by the Camelot-esque home he created for all of us who worked at The WB. He will be greatly missed.”

Kellner also oversaw a diversification of mainstream TV compared with the output of the three traditional broadcast networks, particularly with sketch comedy show “In Living Color” and its showcase for talent including the Wayans Brothers and Jamie Foxx, as well as a young Jennifer Lopez as one of the show’s dancers.

One of his most controversial decisions came during his time running Turner, at which point he oversaw the cancelation of wrestling promotion WCW’s television series’ “Nitro” and “Thunder.” The cancelations allowed competitor WWE (then WWF) to purchase the promotion, which had been it largest competitor, at bargain-basement pricing.

Kellner’s family has asked, in lieu of donations or flowers, for people to “open a great bottle of wine in his honor. ”

The news was first reported by Variety.

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