Brandon Stoddard dies at 77; ABC exec behind 'Roots,' 'Thorn Birds'

Brandon Stoddard dies at 77; ABC exec behind 'Roots,' 'Thorn Birds'
Brandon Stoddard, president of ABC Productions, in his Century City office in 1991. (Lori Shepler/Los Angeles Times)

Brandon Stoddard, the longtime ABC executive who played a key role in the 1970s classic "Roots" and other pioneering miniseries, has died. He was 77.

Stoddard, who died Monday at his home in Bel-Air, had bladder cancer, said his wife, Mary Anne Dolan.

At a time when broadcasters commanded a much higher share of the audience than they do today, Stoddard stood even higher than the rest, as a principled executive with sophisticated taste and a number of groundbreaking hits. In addition to "Roots" - a sprawling adaptation of Alex Haley's book about several generations of an African American slave family - Stoddard oversaw such miniseries as "The Winds of War" and "The Thorn Birds."

The 1977 finale of "Roots" was seen by an estimated 100 million total viewers, according to Nielsen.

But Stoddard's impact was felt far beyond miniseries. During a succession of ABC jobs - including a stint as entertainment president in the mid-1980s - he helped steer to the screen such series as "thirtysomething," "The Wonder Years," "China Beach," "Full House," "Roseanne" and "Twin Peaks." 

Broadcasters during that era dominated the TV landscape and threatened to become faceless corporate behemoths, yet Stoddard was known for working closely with writers and producers and trying hard not to impose on their creative vision. In that, he shared much in common with TV's other famous Brandon, NBC chief Brandon Tartikoff, who led his network to a creative and financial renaissance in the 1980s.

"Networks and studios shouldn't be in a position of exercising power over creative people," Stoddard told the Los Angeles Times in 1982. "They don't respond to that."

In later years, Stoddard taught entertainment courses at USC.

Besides his wife, the former editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Stoddard is survived by daughters Alexandra Brandon Stoddard of Washington, D.C., and Brooke Stoddard of New York, four grandchildren and his sisters Cecily Stranahan and Anne Patterson of Southport, Conn.

A complete obituary will follow at

Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT