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Frederick Ziv, 96; Pioneer in Television Show Syndication

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Frederick W. Ziv, a pioneer in television syndication who produced such indelible series as “Highway Patrol” and “Sea Hunt,” died Saturday at home in his native Cincinnati. He was 96.

He centered his pioneering entertainment empire in the Ohio River town, eschewing New York and Los Angeles, where he said “everybody talks big ideas and big numbers, then settles for less.”

Known as the “father of syndicated television,” Ziv founded what Les Brown’s Encyclopedia of Television describes as “the largest and most potent syndication company in the history of television, Ziv-TV, the leading programming force outside the networks during the 1950s.”

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It all started with a loaf of bread--rye bread.

After earning--but never using--a University of Michigan law degree in 1929, Ziv landed a $10-a-week job with an advertising agency in Cincinnati. In 1930, he brashly opened his own agency and shrewdly found a niche where he could thrive, even in the Depression.

“I realized there were dozens of agency men who knew 10 times what I did about magazine and newspaper advertising,” he told the Cincinnati Post in 1999. “But nobody knew anything about radio in those days. It was the one field where a young man could be an expert.”

To advertise rye bread, he coined a slogan, “The Freshest Thing in Town,” for a local Rubel’s Bakery radio spot. As the catchy phrase earned word-of-mouth repetition, he drew a cartoon character--a wiseacre kid in a derby hat and turtleneck sweater--to illustrate the slogan for billboards and print ads.

Other regional bakeries came calling. The multitalented Ziv created a radio program starring his sloganeering cartoon kid and titled “Freshest Thing.” With a briefcase full of recordings, Ziv toured the Midwest and South, selling--syndicating--the 15-minute, five-day-a-week show.

From that historic sales trip in 1937 until 1947, Ziv developed an extraordinarily successful radio syndication company, selling such popular shows as “Boston Blackie,” Ronald Colman’s “Favorite Story,” and “Bold Venture,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, to some 1,500 radio stations in every state and in Canada.

Then came television. Many producers and creators of motion pictures and other entertainment forms thought TV would never last. Ziv knew better.

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Syndication, Ziv realized with his innate merchandising genius, had worked well in radio and would provide local advertisers access to quality programs at affordable prices over the new, more captivating medium.

He produced and distributed such programs for local stations to use in prime time--mostly 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.--before networks staked claim to those popular hours. Among his shows destined to become historic classics were “Cisco Kid,” “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges, “Bat Masterson,” “Whirlybirds” and “Highway Patrol,” the series that acquainted Middle America with the scenic vastness of California.

The shy, diminutive Ziv proved the massive audience appeal--and sponsor-pleasing returns on investment--of action-adventure series, inadvertently prodding networks into creating their own versions.

“Most of my shows were about the chase,” he said in 1999. “The chase is a wonderful attention-getter. You have suspense, action. We had the chase on horseback, the chase on the highway, the chase under water and the chase in the air. . . . The chase provides a minimum of dialogue and a maximum of tension.”

But action, Ziv believed, never excused lack of a good script. He personally wrote the first draft for his programs, in his two-fingered typing style.

“In the beginning was the word,” he always began his telecommunications seminars at the University of Cincinnati. Or, as he put it in a 1998 interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer, “It all begins with the paper--a good script.”

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In addition to writing, casting and producing, Ziv contributed specialized techniques to the future of television, including quick-cut editing to showcase actor Broderick Crawford”s rapid-fire delivery on “Highway Patrol.”

Once Ziv had shown the networks how to do prime-time television, he sold his company to Universal Artists in 1960.

He devoted the next couple of decades to teaching at the University of Cincinnati-College Conservatory of Music, which continues to present an annual award in broadcasting in his honor.

Ziv, who had a winter home in the Southern California desert in addition to his primary home in Ohio, is survived by a son, William of Cincinnati; a daughter, Frederica Yamin of Montecito, Calif.; eight grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

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