Alfred Masini dies at 80; creator of ‘Entertainment Tonight’

Alfred Masini, a pioneer of first-run syndication who created such hit television shows as “Entertainment Tonight” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” has died. He was 80.

Masini died Monday in Honolulu from complications of melanoma, said Kristin Jackson, his publicist.

“He was one of the creative forces in the development of non-network programming and a key force in helping to move the industry away from a three-network environment,” Rich Frank, a former president of Disney Studios, said in a statement that called Masini “an early mentor.”

When Masini had several popular syndicated TV shows on the air in 1984, he downplayed his creativity, telling the Washington Post: “I work on the premise that there are no new, unique ideas.”


From television’s golden age, Masini mined “The Original Amateur Hour” with Ted Mack to come up with “Star Search,” a talent contest that ran from 1983 to 1995. “Your Hit Parade” had been off the radio and television airwaves for most of two decades when he conceived “Solid Gold,” a 1980s weekly countdown of musical hits.

“All of my ideas come from studying what’s not on the air,” Masini said in 1986 in the New York Times. “My attitude has always been to look for what’s missing.”

“Entertainment Tonight” — the breezy celebrity news show that turned 30 this year — was inspired by the success of People magazine and TV Guide when there was nothing like those publications on television, Masini said in the Washington Post interview.

To ensure that “Entertainment Tonight” would be timely, Masini pioneered the use of satellites to transmit the syndicated program, according to the 1986 New York Times article.

The over-the-top “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” hosted by Robin Leach, aired from 1984 to 1996 —and tapped into society’s burgeoning fascination with celebrity.

“ ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ struck a piece of the American soul that was about to start flowering in so many ways,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University.

By expanding programming in what was then a new era of first-run syndication, Masini helped television move away from the network model before the cable era took hold, Thompson said.

The accomplishment included Operation Prime Time, another pioneering effort that sought to produce quality television films for independent stations around the country between 1976 and 1987. Shows included the miniseries “A Woman Called Golda” (1982) with Ingrid Bergman and “Sadat” (1983), starring Louis Gossett Jr.

“He was a syndication genius,” said Vin Di Bona, who produced “Entertainment Tonight” in its infancy. “They stopped making executives like him who had the wherewithal and presence to get things done. He had an idea; he got it done.”

Alfred Michael Masini was born Jan. 5, 1930, in Jersey City, N.J. The second of two children, he was raised by a widowed mother.

After earning a bachelor’s degree at Fordham University in 1952, Masini served in the Air Force during the Korean War.

In 1954, he joined the CBS-TV library in New York as a film editor and left two years later to work for an advertising firm.

With future Disney executive Frank and others, Masini started TeleRep in New York City in 1968 to sell advertisements for client television stations. The firm grew to represent hundreds of stations, according to his publicist, and eventually entered the TV programming business.

A year after retiring from TeleRep in 1993, Masini moved to Hawaii and built a mountaintop home with a view of Diamond Head.

At 71, he married his fourth wife, Charlyn Honda Masini, 29, in a celebrity-studded spectacle worthy of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” The 2001 wedding and reception followed a 40-page script and began precisely on time, a Masini trademark.

He is survived by his wife and his sister, Melba Marvinny.

Times staff writer Dennis McLellan contributed to this report.