William J. Lamb, 76; KCET Exec Helped Bring ‘Cosmos’ to Public TV

Times Staff Writer

William J. Lamb, a former KCET executive who helped bring such landmark programs as “Cosmos” with Carl Sagan and “American Playhouse” to public television, has died. He was 76.

Lamb, who lived in Santa Cruz, died Saturday at a Hancock Park rehabilitation center of complications from a stroke after heart surgery, according to his daughter, Diane Tobey-Harding.

From 1974 to 1980, Lamb was a vice president and then chief operating officer at KCET-TV Channel 28 in charge of production of dramas, documentaries and series including, “The Cousteau Odyssey,” “Number Our Days” and “JazzAmerica.”


Inspired by his father, Vincent, an announcer in the early days of radio, Lamb began his career as a production manager at NBC. In 1962, he was part of a small team that helped found the New York public television station now known as Thirteen/WNET.

After leaving KCET, Lamb returned to the New York station and oversaw the series “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews” (1984), which won a Peabody Award.

While weathering a public television funding crisis in New York, Lamb helped usher in the era of co-production of major PBS programs, including the early 1980s documentary “The Brain,” which was co-produced with French and Japanese television.

Previously, the New York station had produced most of its major programs on its own, but Lamb told the Los Angeles Times in 1984 that co-production was “a trend that’s accelerating” that would result in more original programming.

Lamb also served as president of Polymuse Inc., a film and production company. He later held the same position at Varitel, which worked on productions for studios and independent producers.

William Joseph Lamb was born in New York City on Oct. 29, 1929. He earned a bachelor’s degree from what is now Hofstra University on New York’s Long Island and an MBA from Harvard University.

Until about six months ago, he lived in Los Angeles and New York.

His marriage to Marylou Lamb ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Diane, of Lancaster, Lamb is survived by his companion of many years, Marcie Setlow of New York City; sons William of Santa Cruz and Matthew of Nashville; a sister, Rosemarie Collins of Chicago; and four granddaughters.