Ethel Winant - Emmy Award-winning TV executive - Yuba College
Yuba College alumna Ethel Winant became the first television network female executive in 1973 when she was promoted to vice president at CBS Television.
She was one of the great producer-casting directors in television history, credited for the success of series such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Playhouse 90” and “Hawaii Five-0.” She grew up in Marysville, Calif., the daughter of a single mother during the Great Depression.
After beginning her career in higher education at Yuba College, she enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, determined to study law or medicine, but fell in love with the theater. She eventually moved to New York to work with theatrical agent William Liebling and his wife, literary agent Audrey Wood. She became heavily involved in the New York theater scene and stage managed productions of "A Streetcar Named Desire," in which a young Marlon Brando starred.
Winant made the transition from theater to television when a live television drama named "Studio One" hired her as a casting director. She cast several emerging talents for the show, including Yul Brynner, Charlton Heston and James Dean. She went on to serve as casting director for the popular series "Playhouse 90," working with actors such as Paul Newman, James Dean, Steve McQueen, George Peppard and Jason Robards. When "Playhouse 90" was cancelled, Winant moved to CBS Television, where she became an associate director of development, assisting in the creation of series such as "Lost in Space," "Green Acres," and "Hogan's Heroes."
The "Mary Tyler Moore Show" became a personal mission for Winant and arguably the most successful TV show on which she worked. It earned three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series (1975-77) and was named by Time Magazine in 2007 as one of 17 shows that changed TV.
According to co-creator Allan Burns, Winant was key in the show’s development and now a five-decade long run in syndication.
"She had the sharpest mind in the business," Burns said in a 2003 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Jim Brooks and I thought we owed her an enormous debt. When we were starting 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and we were writing scripts - this is before the show was ever shot and everyone at CBS disliked what we were doing - Ethel became our staunchest defender, almost to her own peril. She stuck up for us in meetings. People at CBS didn't get our scripts. They thought we were going to tank. She fought for our scripts."
Burns said that because she loved the show so much, Winant personally cast the series, putting together an ensemble that included Ed Asner, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman.
When named as senior vice president of talent, casting and special projects, she encountered a few problems associated with being the first female executive in TV history. For one, she recalled that she had to put her shoes outside the bathroom at the network's executive dining room to let everyone know she was inside.
"They had a bathroom there which didn't have lock," Winant said in a 1999 interview with The Los Angeles Times. "Every time I had to go to the bathroom, I would go outside, take the elevator and go downstairs to the women's bathroom. One day I thought, 'This is so silly. I am spending my life in the elevator, so I'll just take off my shoes and that ought to give them a clue I am inside.' "
She later was hired by NBC TV to become its senior vice president of miniseries and novels for television.
Over the years, she accumulated several awards, including a special Emmy for “Playhouse 90,” two Peabody Awards, the Humanitas Prize, the Christopher Award, The Alice Award, and The Crystal Award from Women in Film. She was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Science's Hall of Fame in 1999.
"I love making shows," Winant said upon being inducted. "I love being on a set. I love working with writers. I think what actors do is magical. The talented directors can visualize. I think that I am the luckiest person in the world that I got to work in the medium I love, and with people I love."
Winant died in 2003 at the age of 81. She is survived by three sons, Scott, an Emmy-winning producer and director; William, a musician; and Bruce, an actor.
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