Sylvester "Pat" Weaver (born 1908) was responsible for some of the most innovative and entertaining programming on both radio and television. He saw radio through its infancy and then moved on to television. Weaver was the creative force behind Fred Allen's popular radio show Town Hall Tonight in the 1930s. As an executive with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in the 1950s, he created such enduring programs as the Today show and the Tonight show.
Pat Weaver was born in Los Angeles on December 21, 1908, one of four children of Sylvester L. Weaver and Isabel Dixon Weaver. Weaver's father was a successful roofing manufacturer. As a young man, Weaver worked in his father's Los Angeles sales office and New York business office, but he did not enjoy the business.
In 1926, his father enrolled him at Dartmouth, despite Weaver's desire to attend Stanford. By the end of his freshman year, Weaver informed his father that he did not want to join the family business; he wanted to become a writer. During his time at Dartmouth, he made friends with several influential people, including Nelson Rockefeller. He also indulged his love of movies, seeing almost every show that played at the local theater during his four years as a student. In 1930, Weaver graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
Weaver traveled extensively as a young man. He spent a summer during his college years with his family in Europe. His father rented a house in Oxford. Although the family ventured to Paris, Brussels, and Geneva, they spent most of their weekends in London. Weaver, who already had a love for Broadway, became enthralled with English theatre. This experience was influential in his decision not to join his father's roofing business. After graduating from Dartmouth, Weaver traveled to Europe again, this time with his friend Jerome Pearre.
The Radio Years
Upon his return to the United States in 1931, Weaver began searching for employment. Still desiring to become a writer, Weaver was well aware that the economic situation of the early 1930s made employment opportunities limited. He finally landed a job as a writer and salesperson with a direct mail advertising agency, Young and McCallister Printing Company. He soon moved on to become editor of the Los Angeles Advertising Club's newsletter, The Blue Pencil. His comedic writings came to the attention of Don Lee, who owned several Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio stations on the West Coast. In 1932, Weaver accepted a job at Lee's CBS radio station KHJ as a comedy writer for $150 a month.
Radio was in its infancy. Although Weaver had been hired to write comedy, he soon found himself involved in almost all aspects of the radio business. Much of the radio station's programming was done in-house, forcing Weaver and his coworkers to perform the duties of producers, writers, directors, actors, announcers, and sound-effects creators as they were needed. He also became involved in selling advertising time to commercial businesses and often served as the station's newscaster. As a result, Weaver was immersed in the radio business, gaining a wealth of experience. While at KHJ, he helped create such popular radio shows as The Merrymakers and Calling All Cars.
Radio and Advertising
After a year at a sister station in San Francisco, Weaver decided to relocate to New York. At the time, radio programming was created and owned by advertising agencies, not radio stations. Through old Dartmouth friends, Weaver became acquainted with Chester LaRoche, the president of the prestigious advertising firm Young and Rubicam. In the fall of 1935, LaRoche asked Weaver to produce a newly acquired, already popular and successful NBC show, Town Hall Tonight, featuring Fred Allen. Weaver, who admired Allen deeply, jumped at the chance to work with him.
For the next two years, Weaver worked closely with Allen to produce Town Hall Tonight. In 1937, Weaver's responsibilities expanded to include all of Young and Rubicam's shows. With this promotion, Weaver's perception of his position changed. "Until then, I had considered myself a radio man, even though I worked for an advertising agency. From now on, I would have to regard myself primarily as an advertising executive, even though I was involved in more radio production than ever." In late 1937, he was appointed manager of the radio division and named to the board of directors.
American Tobacco Company and the War
Not yet 30 years old, Weaver was preparing to become the thirty-eighth stockholder in Young and Rubicam at the end of 1938, with the promise of a vice presidency soon to follow. However, the American Tobacco Company, a client of Young and Rubicam, managed to lure Weaver away by offering him a position as an advertising manager. Although the position paid about one half of his salary at Young and Rubicam, Weaver was enticed by the challenge of revamping one of the company's main products, Lucky Strike cigarettes. The first thing he did was change the brand of his three-pack a day smoking habit to Lucky Strikes.
In less than three years, Weaver had maneuvered Lucky Strikes back to the top, surpassing its main competition, Camel and Chesterfield, in sales. By that time, war was looming, and Weaver was anxious to do his part. He worked approximately nine months setting up Spanish-speaking radio programming to bring propaganda to Latin America. During this time, while working out of Los Angeles, he began courting Elizabeth Inglis, an actress. Soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Weaver enlisted in the Navy and asked Inglis to marry him; they were married on January 23, 1942. In the spring, Weaver received his orders from the Navy and subsequently spent two years at sea on a sub chaser, but never saw any action. In November 1944, he was reassigned to the Armed Forces Radio Service in Hollywood, where he remained as a producer until the end of the war.
After being discharged in early 1945, Weaver returned to New York City with his wife, who was pregnant with their first child, Trajan Victor Charles. He returned to his job at the American Tobacco Company. In June 1947, Weaver quit smoking cigarettes and returned to Young and Rubicam as vice president in charge of radio, television, and movies. He also became a member of the plans board, a stockholder, and a member of the elite five-person executive board that controlled the agency. Weaver was anxious to get involved with the new phenomenon, television. His idea was that the networks, not the advertisers, would develop television programming. When his advertising cohorts did not enthusiastically receive his thoughts, he took his plans to NBC. In his autobiography, Weaver remembered telling the NBC executives, "I won't come to NBC just to sell time to ad agencies. I'll come only if we can create our own shows and own them, and if we can sell every kind of advertising to support the program service." As a result, in June 1949, Weaver left Young and Rubicam once again, this time to become the NBC vice president in charge of television, and director of a new television network. In the same year, Weaver's wife became pregnant with their second child, Susan Alexandra (who would later become known as actress Sigourney Weaver).
When he arrived at NBC, most of the television shows were produced by sponsors, and NBC's productions usually went on without advertisers. On his first day at work, he discovered that a show called Meet the Press was being taken off the air because NBC could not find a sponsor to buy it. Weaver instantly called the producer and re-hired the show as an NBC production. Meet the Press is television's longest running show to date. Over the next several years, Weaver worked diligently to create shows that came under contract with NBC and were sponsored by numerous advertisers. His first success came with the dramatic show Robert Montgomery Presents.
Your Show of Shows and Today
Weaver's next big project was to program an entire evening of television. What ultimately came to fruition was the program Your Show of Shows followed by Caesar's Hour. The Saturday evening shows featured such talented writers and performers as Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and eventually Woody Allen. The shows became so popular that their success broke down much of the resistance to Weaver's determination to have multiple sponsors for a show. Weaver, who is seldom shy about noting his own successes, stated in his autobiography, "All jokes aside, the revolution I had envisioned in the whole system of ownership, sponsorship, and control of television programming was underway." However, he continued to be considered a traitor for promoting the network over the advertising agencies by many of his former advertising buddies.
In 1951, Weaver finally sold an idea for a show he had been developing for several years: an early morning news show that both educated and entertained. Weaver named the show Today. After finally convincing the network that people would watch television that early in the morning, Weaver began the creation of Today. The first show aired at 7:00 a.m. in New York on January 14, 1952. Although the critics disliked it, the viewers loved it, and the audience base grew steadily, as did sponsorship. Today is the second-longest running television show in history, behind Meet the Press.
Conflicts Led to Resignation
In late 1952, Weaver was passed over for the position of president of NBC. Threatening to quit, he was enticed to stay under the terms of his contract. He agreed to a five-year deal that stipulated that he could not be fired, nor could he quit. He was promoted to vice president of the network, but had little to do. Eight months later, in September 1953, the president of the network, Frank White, resigned due to poor health. Weaver was named the new president of NBC.
Back in power, Weaver turned his attention to his next project, a late-night comedy show that would become the Tonight show. After developing the concept as a show based on an ad-lib format with some rehearsal for certain segments, Weaver convinced Steve Allen to act as host. The first Tonight show aired on September 27, 1954, and was a huge success from the outset.
In December 1955, David Sarnoff, president of Radio Corporation of America, which owned NBC, appointed his son Bobby Sarnoff as president of NBC in place of Weaver. Not completely surprised by this, Weaver did not have a good relationship with David Sarnoff. He stayed on as chairperson of the board until September 1956 when he finally resigned.
Unable to find work at another network, Weaver started his own independent network, Program Service. The adventurous attempt folded two years later. Weaver also worked as a consultant on several projects, including the hit western show Maverick. He oversaw Nelson Rockefeller's bid for governor in 1958 and worked as his personal advisor for all his subsequent campaigns.
In 1958, Weaver accepted a position with the McCann Erickson advertising agency, which became Interpublic, where he remained until 1963. In that year, Weaver once again jumped at the innovative and unknown by becoming involved with the first pay television operation. The California pay television station offered three channels, including movies, sports, and performing arts. The project was met with strong protest by the networks and theatres, and it was plagued by lawsuits. Nonetheless, the stock climbed over 17 points. Getting back into advertising and television, Weaver started consulting on a part-time basis for a variety of enterprises including Westinghouse, Comsat, and Disney. He also continued to develop ideas for innovative television.
Weaver lives in Santa Barbara, California, and he continues to use his creative energies to envision the future of television and beyond. He ended his autobiography by writing, "I am proud of what I have accomplished in broadcasting and cable, but the future of communications is so fascinating, I wish I had another lifetime to help in realizing its potential."
Further Reading on Pat Weaver
Contemporary Authors, edited by Kathleen Edgar, Gale Research, 1995.
Weaver, Pat, The Best Seat in the House, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1994.
Advertising Age, November 2, 1998.
Booklist, January 15, 1994.
Business Week, April 18, 1994.