OBITUARIES

Glen Larson dies at 77; producer of string of hit TV shows in 1970s, '80s

TV producer and writer Glen Larson, who was behind a string of hit series in the 1970s and '80s, including "Magnum, P.I.," "Knight Rider," "Quincy M.E." and the original "Battlestar Galactica," died Friday at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica. He was 77.

The cause was complications related to esophageal cancer, said his son, James Larson.

Many of the hit shows Glen Larson produced found little favor with critics, including "B.J. and the Bear" (1979), about a trucker and his pet monkey. And despite his success, sometimes with multiple series running simultaneously, he never won an Emmy.

But Larson felt he knew what viewers wanted, and he was proved right in many cases.

"I'm proudest of the fact that I fell in step with an audience taste level that I knew how to judge and maybe deliver for, and consistently," he said in a 2009 oral history interview by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. "It wasn't a one-shot, it wasn't a lucky this or a that.

"There's a consistent body of work here that has some symmetry to it in terms of why it worked and how it worked."

Larson's formula was derived, in part, from studying both dramatic programs and comedies. He felt humor worked best when it was closely embedded in a protagonist's unexpected situation.

"I call it predicament humor," Larson said. "You don't do anything that cuts the star off at the knees or worse. You make him intelligent, you give him great ideas and great things to do. But sometimes, things happen."

Except for some 1990s shows that got disappointing receptions — including "One West Waikiki," which made its debut in 1994 — he felt vindicated by his career.

"There's nothing that could dampen my enthusiasm," he said, "for how much fun it has been to do [programs] that the audience seems to have enjoyed, and enjoyed a lot."

Glen Albert Larson was born in Long Beach on Jan. 3, 1937.

While attending Hollywood High School in the mid-1950s, he and three other students formed The Four Preps singing group for a school talent contest. The group was picked up by Capitol Records and scored a hit in 1957 with "26 Miles (Santa Catalina)," co-written by Larson.

But Larson wanted to be a television writer, and he turned out scripts he hoped to sell while The Four Preps toured extensively. His first story credit came in 1966 for an episode of "The Fugitive."

He rose quickly in the business, becoming an associate producer on "It Takes a Thief" in 1968.

In addition to his son James, Larson is survived by sons Christopher, Glen, and David; daughters Kimberly Barsketis, Michelle Bristow, Caroline Kingsley, Danielle Larson and Nicole Larson; wife Jeannie Pledger; and half-brother Kenneth Peterson.

Two previous marriages ended in divorce.

david.colker@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidcolker

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