Obituary: Alfred Masini, creator of TV's 'Entertainment Tonight,' dies at 80

By Valerie J. Nelson
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 7:16 PM

Alfred Masini, 80, a key figure in the development of non-network programming who created such hit television shows as "Entertainment Tonight" and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," died Nov. 30 in Honolulu from complications of melanoma.

When Mr. Masini had several popular syndicated TV shows on the air in 1984, he downplayed his creativity, telling The Washington Post: "I work on the premise that there are no new, unique ideas."

From television's earliest days, Mr. Masini mined "The Original Amateur Hour" with Ted Mack to come up with "Star Search," a talent contest that ran from 1983 to 1995. "Your Hit Parade" had been off the radio and television airwaves for most of two decades when he conceived "Solid Gold," a 1980s weekly countdown of musical hits.

"All of my ideas come from studying what's not on the air," Mr. Masini told the New York Times in 1986. "My attitude has always been to look for what's missing."

"Entertainment Tonight" - the breezy celebrity news show that turned 30 this year - was inspired by the success of People magazine and TV Guide when there was nothing like those publications on television, Mr. Masini said in the Post interview.

To ensure that "Entertainment Tonight" would be timely, Mr. Masini pioneered the use of satellites to transmit the syndicated program, according to the Times article.

The over-the-top "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," hosted by Robin Leach, aired from 1984 to 1996 -and tapped into society's burgeoning fascination with celebrity.

" 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' struck a piece of the American soul that was about to start flowering in so many ways," said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University.

By expanding programming in what was then a new era of first-run syndication, Mr. Masini helped television move away from the network model before the cable era took hold, Thompson said.

The accomplishment included Operation Prime Time, another pioneering effort that sought to produce quality television films for independent stations around the country between 1976 and 1987. Shows included the miniseries "A Woman Called Golda" (1982), with Ingrid Bergman, and "Sadat" (1983), starring Louis Gossett Jr.

Alfred Michael Masini was born Jan. 5, 1930, in Jersey City. The second of two children, he was raised by a widowed mother.

After earning a bachelor's degree at Fordham University in 1952, he served in the Air Force during the Korean War.

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