On Monday, television executive and first ever female president of a major network, Jamie Tarses, passed away at age 56 after suffering a cardiac event last fall that left her in a coma, via Deadline. In 1996, at age 32, Tarses became the network president at ABC, which skyrocketed her to a celebrity status, being that she was one of the youngest executives and the first woman to helm a major network.
— ABC (@ABCNetwork) February 2, 2021
Prior to her presidency at ABC, Tarses was instrumental in the development of iconic series such as Friends, Frasier and Mad About You at NBC. “She had the ability to make writers feel safe and to get the most out of them,” Deadline quoted television executive Warren Littlefield, who spoke about Tarses stand-out success at NBC in the early ‘90s. Friends writer Jeff Greenstein (Will & Grace, Desperate Housewives) attested to this, crediting both her character and development skill, by stating “Friends wouldn’t have been Friends without her” (Twitter).
Oh, this is awful. Jamie was an amazing executive and a lovely person, and the combo of her and Warren Littlefield was what made NBC’s Must-See TV such an unstoppable force in the ’90s. Friends wouldn’t have been Friends without her, and I wish I could have worked with her more. https://t.co/bqqB3ElCHY
— Jeff Greenstein (@blue439) February 1, 2021
This early career success led Tarses to the fufilling the role of network president at ABC, where she served from 1996 to 1996 and championed series such as The Practice, Dharma & Greg and Sports Night. With Sports Night, Tarses became the first executive to greenlight a series from writer and producer Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network), who became a juggernaut in the world of television.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Tarses was invited to consult on Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip to “[help] shape the character of the drama’s fictional network president played by Amanda Peet (Togetherness, Brockmire)”. Peet’s Jordan MecDeere was not the only television character inspired by the life and career of Tarses, as Constance Zimmer (UnReal, House of Cards) mentioned on her Twitter Monday, Entourage’s Dana Gordon was modeled, in part, after Tarses.
Very sad to hear about the passing of #JamieTarses as she was one of the inspirations for #DanaGordon! She was a force and broke some of the first glass ceilings…sending love to her family and friends.
— Constance Zimmer (@ConstanceZimmer) February 1, 2021
While Tarses’ position as network president at ABC launched her into the public eye, it also resulted in criticism of her various creative and business decisions. “[Tarses] became a focus of intense media scrutiny,” The Hollywood Reporter recalled “with The New York Times Magazine notably publishing an unflattering profile of her in 1997.” In 1999, she terminated her contract early at ABC and stepped down as president.
“The turbulent end to Tarses’ impressive executive career launched her second act as a successful TV producer,” Deadline recounted. Tarses’ continuing role as a producer meant she had a hand in the development of series such as My Boys, Men at Work, Happy Endings, Marry Me, The Mayor, Mr. Sunshine and Franklin & Bash.
I was lucky to know Jamie. I was lucky to laugh with her. She put me on a path I’m still on today. What an incredible life she lived. Like… standing ovation levels of awesome. https://t.co/QVpV54pXgE
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) February 1, 2021
Performers who had worked with Tarses throughout her career such as Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Pokémon Detective Pikachu), Busy Phillips (Freaks and Geeks, Cougar Town), Yevette Nicole Brown (Community, The Odd Couple) Adam Pally (Happy Endings, The Mindy Project) and Kristen Johnston (3rd Rock From the Sun, Mom) shared their grief at the news of the legendary producer’s passing on social media Monday.
My heart is broken for everyone that knew&loved Jamie. She was a trailblazer, yes. But she was an incredible person-anyone who was lucky enough to know her, knows how deeply she will be missed. I’m so grateful I was lucky enough to know her as a friend. https://t.co/StDLHH1A7X
— Busy Philipps (@BusyPhilipps) February 1, 2021
Happy Endings creator David Caspe (Black Monday, That’s My Boy) specifically had Tarses to thank for introducing him to his wife, actress Casey Wilson (Happy Endings), as the two met on the ABC sitcom. Tarses additionally helped Caspe develop Marry Me, which starred Wilson and took inspiration from the couple’s real-life romance. “To say she changed my life is a ridiculous understatement,” Caspe told Deadline “but my life was only one of literal thousands that she changed and touched forever.”
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One of Tarses most recent projects was Amazon’s foray into the world of YA storytelling, The Wilds. According to Deadline, Tarses’ cardiac event prevented her from being able to see the project come to fruition, due to her resulting coma. “[Tarses’] wore high heel ankle boots every day even when we were scouting the most wild and treacherous terrains,” Deadline cites The Wilds‘ showrunner Amy B. Harris (Sex and the City, Gossip Girl) “it was a metaphor for who she was – a petite badass forging her own path.” According to Deadline, Tarses’ producer credit will remain on the series going forward, to honor her contributions to making the series a success.
Tarses’ likewise lent her development prowess to upcoming Disney+ series The Mysterious Benedict Society, based on the children’s book series of the same name. This series, originally developed for Hulu, remains in pre-production at the streaming service.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that, in addition to her tremendous contributions to the television industry, Tarses served as a volunteer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The executive also helped shepherd upcoming voices in the industry through her position on the board of Young Storytellers, “a nonprofit organization whose programs ‘highlight young people as the center of their own narratives’” (The Hollywood Reporter).
Tarses’ groundbreaking work behind-the-scenes has led to the development of iconic series and her impact can still be seen and felt as the industry she reshaped mourns her passing.
Jamie Tarses was an asskicking beauty who beat up TV so bad that she was running NBC by age 32, IN THE 90’s!!! She was fun, funny, brutally honest, stylish as all hell, took no shit and fought crazyhard for the things she believed in, me included thanks Jaime. Love to Paddy & fam
— adam pally (@adampally) February 1, 2021
She changed my life (huge early network supporter of 3 Rock) & became 1 of my dearest friends. A trailblazer for women in the TV industry & an all-around beautiful, fun, brilliant person.
Chances are, she was the driving force behind your favorite show. https://t.co/RLkjl20FA0
— kristen johnston (@thekjohnston) February 1, 2021