He produced the second of four televised debates between Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard M. Nixon in the 1960 presidential campaign. The debate, held at an NBC studio in Washington, attracted more than 60 million viewers.
Mr. Goodman was named president of the NBC company in 1966, responsible for all news, sports and entertainment programming. Although his background was in news, he signed Johnny Carson, the host of “The Tonight Show,” to a multimillion-dollar contract that made him the highest-paid entertainer on television.
In the 1960s, as fighting in Vietnam began to escalate, NBC and other news organizations began to present the conflict in a skeptical light — which drew criticism from political leaders in Washington, particularly after Nixon was elected president in 1968.
Mr. Goodman increasingly found himself having to defend his network from threats of having its broadcast licenses pulled. He was named on Nixon’s “political opponents” list and, in a face-to-face meeting with White House enforcer Charles W. Colson, was pressured to offer more favorable coverage of the administration.
According to Rick Perlstein’s 2008 book “Nixonland,” Colson said that “Julian Goodman jumped out of his chair” to accommodate a White House request to run a special program about the upcoming marriage of Nixon’s daughter Tricia.
But Mr. Goodman stood firm in other matters of journalistic integrity. In 1971, after NBC and CBS ran footage of the effects of a secret U.S. bombing of Laos, Sen. Clifford P. Hansen (R-Wyo.) accused the networks of being biased against the Nixon administration and its handling of the war.
In a sharply worded letter sent to every member of Congress, Mr. Goodman wrote that Hansen and the White House were attempting to “interfere with the free flow of information” with their “groundless attacks on television journalism for partisan purposes.”
“Television journalism — together with the rest of the press,” Mr. Goodman wrote, “deserves the support of all who recognize that the very nature of our democratic system rests on the independence of the press to report events and issues free of political pressure.”
Mr. Goodman’s leadership of NBC was tested in a different way on Nov. 17, 1968, during the so-called Heidi Bowl, a game that highlighted the increasing importance of football in television programming. The New York Jets were leading the Oakland Raiders, 32-29, with less than a minute to play as the 7 p.m. programming hour approached on the East Coast.