Madrid, Nov. 15, 2013

Former Variety radio and TV editor, Les Brown, died of lung cancer at his Larchmont, NY home on November 4, aged 84. Born on Dec. 20, 1928 in East Chicago, where he grew up, his real monicker was Lester Louis Brown. After graduating from Roosevelt University in Chicago in 1950 he entered the Army during the Korean War.

TV editor Les Brown deep in conversation.
TV editor Les Brown deep in conversation.

Brown joined Variety as bureau chief in the Chicago office in 1953, and subsequently relocated to the New York office on the TV beat under the editorship of Abel Green, being broken in by TV editor George Rosen. There he covered the big three networks, obtaining interviews with their top execs. Eventually, Brown was promoted to the TV editor slot in 1965 when Rosen left to take a job with NBC in London.

In an interview in 1994 for the book Inside Variety, Brown commented: “The television section was highly respected at one time. What George Rosen had done, and what was very important, was that he made Variety the most important trade paper. News about the networks, insider stuff… Variety was the only place you could get that kind of news. And it was very important to the affiliate stations whose only other news of NBC, for example, was what NBC’s people sent them.”

One one occasion, while TV editor, Brown had to make the tough decision about running an exposé in the paper concerning WPIX, Channel 11, a big story about how the channel falsified its news. Twelve different sins had been committed by the station. One was that, during the Vietnam War, the channel habitually used Defense Department footage of talks and would say it was “live by satellite” when in fact it was stock footage. WPIX at that time one of Variety’s best advertisers, running 52 full-page ads per year. The story broke on Page 1 of the TV section, and Syd Silverman lost the advertising.

Commented Brown: “That station nearly lost its licence. It cost them millions of dollars to save their licence. But Syd was proud of us. That was one of the things that was special about Variety. Much to his credit, Syd never operated like corporations do, just to make more money. It was a family business. If we had a bad yar, everybody knew about it. And we sort of all went along with that. I thought I was going to work there for my entire life.”

When editor Abel Green died in 1973, one of the candidates to take over the editorship was Les Brown. However, the job was given to Syd’s uncle, Robert Landry. Miffed at this, as well as other previous grievances concerning Variety’s displeasure for Brown publishing a successful book two years earlier, Televi$ion, Les ankled the company and took a job with the New York Times. The TV editorship at Variety was taken over by Larry Michie.

In 1981 Brown founded a TV trade mag, Channels, with funding coming from TV producer Norman Lear. He left the publication in 1987 and Channels folded in 1990. For a time, Brown was co-owner of a Chicago folk music nightclub, the Gate of Horn. He also taught at Yale and Columbia Universities and becae a lecturer at Fordham University in the 1990s. And in 1990 and 1991 he was editor-in-chief of the trade mag Television Business International in which he continued writing a column until 2004. Aside from his popular book Televi$ion, he authored six other tomes, including a TV encyclopedia, published in 1978 under the auspices of the New York Times.

Les is survived by his wife, Jean, née Slaymaker, two daughters and a son.