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A distinguished TV producer whose prolific career began in the 1960s, Paul Junger Witt has extensive credits that reflect a flair for classy comedy vehicles characterized by fine ensemble acting and boosted by the writing of his partner and later wife, Susan Harris, who created several of the series from Witt-Thomas-Harris Productions. Witt began his career in the mid-60s, eventually working as a producer and director on such series as "Here Come the Brides" and "The Partridge Family." In 1970, while still at Screen Gems, he produced the Emmy-winning TV-movie about the true story of a friendship across racial lines between football players, "Brian's Song" (ABC, 1971). But perhaps more significantly, it was on this production that Witt became close with the associate producer, Tony Thomas, and the duo decided to work together.
By 1972, Witt was president of Danny Thomas Productions (owned by Tony's father). After producing several TV-movies and the ill-fated series "The Practice" and "Fay," they struck out on their own, forming Witt-Thomas Productions, and, additionally, Witt-Thomas-Harris Productions for projects they would do in tandem with writer Susan Harris. (She was particularly known for having written the abortion episode of TV's "Maude.") Witt-Thomas-Harris hit pay-dirt relatively quickly with "Soap," the zany ABC series lampooning the serial form and satirizing (sometimes with a serious edge) such issues as infidelity, homosexuality, alien abductions and a host of peccadilloes which may have previously been unknown to humankind. The series ran through 1981 with pressure groups squawking all along, but the fertile, imaginative program broke much new ground, launched the careers of Billy Crystal and Robert Guillaume and won critical kudos.
In 1979, Witt and company created the even more successful "Benson" (ABC), starring Guillaume. Their next success came with NBC's "The Golden Girls" (1985-92), the often ribald sitcom about four widows living together in Miami, again created by Harris. That series brought Witt and his partners a pair of Emmy Awards for Best Comedy Series. An outgrowth of this series was "Empty Nest" (NBC, 1988-95), also a success. While there were also flops, such as "Tough Cookies" (CBS, 1986), "Heartland" (CBS, 1989), and "Lenny" (CBS, 1990), Witt's companies were among the dominant forces in situation comedy well into the 90s, when "Herman's Head" ran on Fox from 1991-94, and both "Blossom" (1991-94) and "The John Larroquette Show" (1993-96) were on NBC. At its peak, Witt-Thomas boasted seven series simultaneously on the air, more than many of the studios. Witt-Thomas also tried its hand at dramatic series with "Beauty & The Beast" (CBS, 1987-90), but although the critics received the show with solid notices, it developed only a cult audience. Nevertheless, Witt-Thomas earned an Emmy nomination for Best Dramatic Series in 1988.
Witt-Thomas had long had aspirations to break into film production as well. Their first effort, "First Born" (1984), did not succeed, but after NBC bought "The Golden Girls," Witt-Thomas made a deal with Disney/Touchstone giving the studio syndication rights to the series in exchange for backing in feature films. Disney put Witt and Thomas together with New York-based producer Steven Haft, who had a property in need of shepherding. The result was "Dead Poet's Society," one of the hit films of 1989, which earned several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. In 1992, Witt-Thomas departed Touchstone for Warner Bros., but "Final Analysis" (1992) and "Mixed Nuts" (1994) both failed to ignite the box office.
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