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Harry Ackerman, 78; Landmark TV Producer

Harry Ackerman, the scholarly veteran of the television industry and executive producer of such landmark programs as “Studio One” and “Suspense,” died Sunday in a Burbank hospital.

Frank Liberman, a family spokesman, said Ackerman was 78 when he died of pulmonary failure.

A former president of the American Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Ackerman directed network programs on both coasts for CBS before going to work for Screen Gems in 1958.

At his death, he was head of his own production company.

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As a CBS vice president in Hollywood in the 1950s, he helped create, oversaw the development and sometimes even approved the casting of “Gunsmoke,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Jack Benny Show,” “Burns and Allen,” “Amos ‘n’ Andy,” “Our Miss Brooks,” “The Edgar Bergen Show” and many more.

Independently, he developed and produced “Bachelor Father” and “Leave It to Beaver.”

With Screen Gems, he was executive producer for “Dennis the Menace,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Hazel,” “Gidget,” “Bewitched,” “The Flying Nun” and several “Movie of the Week” features. All contributed to his industry sobriquet as the “Sire of the Sitcom.”

He also worked for Paramount Studios, producing several TV specials.

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Ackerman was a 1935 graduate of Dartmouth College and began in the entertainment industry as a writer and actor. He was heard on NBC radio with Raymond Knight and moved into advertising as vice president of program operations for Young & Rubicam before joining CBS in New York in 1948.

At CBS, he was involved in the beginnings of the widely heralded “Suspense” and “Studio One” dramatic anthologies before coming to Hollywood. He is one of a handful of TV producers to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Actor Matthew Faison will portray Ackerman when “Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter” airs Sunday over CBS.

Survivors include his wife, actress Elinor Donahue, who starred as the daughter in the “Father Knows Best” TV series, and six children. Donations in his name are asked to be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund.

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