Mel Harris, who served as President of Paramount Television Group and then Sony Pictures Entertainment Television Group has died at age 65. The Los Angeles Times reports that Harris succumbed to cancer September 6th, but his death was only announced late last week by his son.
Harris began his long television career at WKBF-TV Cleveland, where he rose to VP/GM. After stints with WKBS-TV Philadelphia and Metromedia Television Sales in New York, he joined joined Paramount in 1977 as VP of research for a planned 4th network that never launched. (This was long before UPN.)
But he stayed at Paramount and rose through the ranks to become President of Paramount Television Group in 1985. Achievements during his 14 years at Paramount included overseeing the rise of cable’s USA Network and launching “Entertainment Tonight.” He also pioneered selling movies to the public on videocassettes.
Harris left Paramount in 1991 and served as President of Sony Pictures Entertainment Group from 1992 to 1995, launching the Game Show Network and syndicating Ricki Lake. After a few years of consulting Harris returned as co-President and COO of Sony Pictures Entertainment in 1999 and retired for good in 2002.
The LA Times quoted former Fox Broadcasting Chairman Lucie Salhany as calling Harris “definitely one of the smartest guys in the business.”