About Warren Littlefield
Born Warren W. Littlefield on May 11, 1952 in Montclair, NJ, he went on to attend Hobart College in New York, where he also worked part-time as a truck driver for a concrete company to help pay tuition. After graduating from Hobart with a degree in psychology in 1974, Littlefield began his career in broadcasting with a low-level position at the NYC-based Westfall Productions in 1975. Rising through the ranks at Westfall, he eventually attained the position of Vice President in Charge of Production and oversaw the made-for-TV safari drama "The Last Giraffe" (CBS, 1979). Leaving for Los Angeles that same year, Littlefield briefly took on a job as a director of comedy development at Warner Brothers before being noticed by television wunderkind and NBC president Brandon Tartikoff, who immediately hired him away from Warner Bros. It was the beginning of a working relationship as fruitful as it would be tempestuous for Littlefield and his mercurial mentor.
Initially brought on as a manager in its comedy division, Littlefield quickly rose through the ranks at NBC, where he was soon promoted to Vice President of Comedy Programs in 1981. Working under the shadow of the colorful Tartikoff, Littlefield was a key player in the efforts to turn the struggling network's shrinking fortunes around in the ratings. An early, game-changing hit included the long-running bar-based comedy "Cheers" (NBC, 1982-1993), which launched the careers of Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Woody Harrelson and Kelsey Grammer, among others. Although it initially struggled in the ratings, the critically-acclaimed "Cheers" remained on the schedule - due in large part to Tartikoff and Littlefield's support - and eventually became the tentpole property around which NBC's "Must See TV" Thursday night line-up of programming was built. Littlefield and his boss soon followed with more hit sitcoms, in particular the revered Bill Cosby family sitcom "The Cosby Show" (NBC, 1984-1992) and the senior citizen sitcom "The Golden Girls" (NBC, 1985-1992), starring Bea Arthur and Betty White.
As NBC's fortunes rose, so too did Littlefield's, who was promoted to V.P. of Series, Specials and Variety Programming in 1985. Moving up to positions as senior and executive vice president by 1987, Littlefield was second among program executives only to Tartikoff and was clearly recognized as the president's heir apparent. Despite a rocky working relationship which included a lot of what Littlefield later termed "respectful fighting" in which his judgment was sometimes questioned - often in blunt, unflattering terms - by his superior, Tartikoff and Littlefield enjoyed a singularly productive tenure at NBC together. Among the crown jewels in their achievements was an unconventional sitcom revolving around a New York comedian (Jerry Seinfeld) and his quirky, self-absorbed circle of friends. Even more than "Cheers" before it, "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998) performed badly in its first two seasons. Convinced they had something unique on their hands, Tartikoff and Littlefield allowed co-creators Seinfeld and Larry David and a cast that included Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards time to find their creative groove. By the third season, things began to turn around for the show, and thanks to such memorable episodes as 1991's "The Parking Garage," "Seinfeld" was on its way to becoming one of the most popular comedies in television history.
When Tartikoff gradually severed his ties with the NBC on his way to becoming chair of Paramount, the even-keeled Littlefield stepped into his high-pressure shoes in 1990. As president of NBC Entertainment, Littlefield declared his interest in promoting scripted drama series as the network's primary offering, rather than relying on an excess of sitcoms, reality-based programming or TV movies. One of the final programs green-lit by the departing Tartikoff was "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990-2010), an inventive crime drama that not only redefined the police procedural, but spawned several successful spin-off series during its impressive two-decade run. Another massive hit came midway through Littlefield's tenure in the form of the Steven Spielberg-Michael Crichton-produced medical drama "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), which boasted an impressive acting ensemble led by future megastar George Clooney. Despite Littlefield's focus on drama, another sitcom that year also became a cornerstone of Thursdays' Must See TV line-up, the twenty-something sitcom "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004), responsible for launching the careers of its six stars, in particular, Jennifer Aniston.
Under Littlefield's watch, the network enjoyed a lengthy run as the No. 1 network, but as the decade drew to a close, NBC's ratings share began to dip. One of his last successful contributions to the network's roster was "Will & Grace" (NBC, 1998-2006), a sitcom initially resisted by nervous executives due to its central narrative about the relationship between a single heterosexual woman (Debra Messing) and her best friend, an openly gay man (Eric McCormack). With the network's fortunes in decline, Littlefield was unceremoniously let go from his position at NBC just shy of his 20th anniversary with the company. Without skipping a beat, he entered into a non-exclusive program development deal with his former employer in 1998, and the following year formed Littlefield Co., a TV production firm focusing on broadcast properties that could also be exploited on the Internet. Littlefield Co. efforts included the short-lived high school sitcom "Do Over" (The WB, 2002-03) and the critically-acclaimed, but under-watched fish-out-of-water cop show "Keen Eddie" (Fox, 2003-04). Later, the classmate reunion drama "My Generation" (ABC, 2010-11) marked another brief attempt at primetime success for the former network president. In 2012 Littlefield released a behind-the-scenes look at this time with NBC, appropriately titled Top of the Rock: Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV. More oral history than tell-all memoir, the book was populated by dozens of interviews Littlefield conducted with such Must See alumni as Jerry Seinfeld, Lisa Kudrow, Noah Wyle and Debra Messing.
By Bryce Coleman
|School of Government and Public Administration, American University, Washington , Washington D.C.|
|Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva , New York|
|Formed Littlefield Co., a TV production outfit|
|Left NBC to form joint venture with network to produce programming on a non-exclusive basis|
|Assumed solo responsibilities for NBC Entertainment|
|Car he was driving while on vacation in Italy fired at during a police search in a case of mistaken identity|
|Appointed president of NBC Entertainment with Tartikoff, soon to be en route to Paramount, still in charge as chairman|
|Became senior vice president for primetime, NBC|
|Promoted to senior vice president, NBC|
|Appointed vice president, comedy programs, NBC Entertainment|
|Promoted to vice president for current comedy at NBC; later that year became vice president for comedy development|
|Became director of current comedy programs at NBC|
|Noticed by Brandon Tartikoff; served as manager of comedy development for NBC|
|Received producer credit for the CBS TV-movie, "The Last Giraffe"|
|Worked briefly for Warner Brothers as director of comedy development|
|Was vice president in charge of development and production for Westfall Productions|
|Entered the entertainment business after college, working as a go-fer for a small New York-based production company|
|Grew up in Montclair, New Jersey|