Sylvester Weaver (executive)

This article is about the former president of NBC. For the country-blues musician, see Sylvester Weaver (musician).
Sylvester Weaver

Weaver in 1989
Born Sylvester Laflin Weaver, Jr.
(1908-12-21)December 21, 1908
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died March 15, 2002(2002-03-15) (aged 93)
Santa Barbara, California, U.S.[1]
Occupation Executive
Years active 1930s 1970s
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Inglis (m. 1942–2002)
Children Trajan Victor Charles Weaver
Sigourney Weaver (b. 1949)

Sylvester Laflin "Pat" Weaver, Jr.[2] (December 21, 1908 March 15, 2002) was an American radio advertising executive, who became president of NBC between 1953 and 1955. He has been credited with reshaping commercial broadcasting's format and philosophy as radio gave way to television as America's dominant home entertainment. His daughter is actress Sigourney Weaver.

Personal life

Weaver was born Sylvester Laflin Weaver, Jr. in Los Angeles, the son of Eleanor Isabel (née Dixon) and Sylvester Laflin Weaver.[1] He was of Scottish descent (possibly Clan MacFarlane),[3] as well as of Ulster-Scots and early New England ancestry.[4][5] He was a great-great-grandson of Charles Laflin, a gunpowder manufacturer, who came to America in 1740 from Ulster, Ireland, settling at Oxford, Worcester County, Massachusetts.[6] Charles Laflin and his family were living at Oxford, Massachusetts, when he purchased land in 1749 in the Southern (South-) village (-wick) part of the town of Westfield, Massachusetts.[7][8] He was the brother of comedian Doodles Weaver. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1930, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He also served in the United States Navy from 1942 through 1945.

He married Elizabeth Inglis in 1942. She was born Desiree Mary Lucy Hawkins on July 10, 1913 in Colchester, Essex, England; and died on August 25, 2007 in Santa Barbara, California.[9] She made her screen debut in Borrowed Clothes (1934) as well as having a number of small parts in some of Alfred Hitchcock's early movies. She reached the high point of her career when she co-starred with Bette Davis in William Wyler's movie The Letter. She retired from acting when she married in 1942. The couple were the parents of two children, Trajan Victor Charles and Sigourney (born Susan Alexandra).


Weaver worked for the Young & Rubicam advertising agency during the golden age of radio. In the mid-1930s he produced Fred Allen's Town Hall Tonight radio show, and he then supervised all the agency's radio programming. NBC hired him in 1949 to challenge the CBS network's programming lead.[1]

At NBC, Weaver established many operating practices that became standard for network television. He introduced the practice of networks producing their own television programming, then selling advertising time during the broadcasts. Prior to that, ad agencies usually created each show for a particular client. Because commercial announcements could now more easily be sold to more than one company sponsor for each program, a single advertiser pulling out would not necessarily threaten a program.

Weaver created Today in 1952, followed by Tonight Starring Steve Allen (1954), Home (1954) with Arlene Francis and Wide Wide World (1955), hosted by Dave Garroway.[1] There are those who dispute Weaver's credit for The Tonight Show, including hosts Steve Allen and Jack Paar but, during a broadcast of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, both the host and his guest Dick Cavett stated that Weaver created both Today and The Tonight Show. Years later, Paar said, "He didn't invent programs, but wrote great memos."[10]

He believed so deeply that broadcasting should educate as well as entertain that he typically required NBC shows to include at least one sophisticated cultural reference or performance per installmentincluding a segment of a Verdi opera adapted to the comic style of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca's groundbreaking Your Show of Shows.

Weaver did not ignore NBC Radio, either. In 1955, as network radio was dying, Weaver gave it one of the greatest adrenaline kicks in its history with NBC Monitor, a weekend-long magazine-style programming block that featured an array of news, music, comedy, drama, sports, and anything that could be broadcast within magazine style, with rotating advertisers and some of the most memorable names in broadcast journalism, entertainment and sports.

He was the developer of the magazine style of advertising which was very favorable towards the Networks. The sponsors would purchase blocks of time (typically one to two minutes) in a show, rather than sponsor an entire show. This style suited the networks. Like a magazine, a television network could now control what advertisements were being broadcast and no one advertiser could own exclusive rights to a particular show.[11]

NBC Monitor long outlived Weaver's tenure running the network. Following disputes with chieftain David Sarnoff, Weaver departed. His ideas were either too expensive or too highbrow for company tastes. His successors (first, Sarnoff's son, Robert; then, Robert Kintner) standardized the network's programming practices with far less of the ambitiousness that characterized the Weaver years.

In November 1960, years after leaving NBC, Weaver displayed his frustration with the network in an article in the Sunday edition of The Denver Post. What once was the Golden Age of Television in the early 1950s slowly diminished by the end of the decade into the early 1960s, when he claimed networks made a series of bad decisions. In the article he noted management problems within NBC, CBS, and ABC: "Television has gone from about a dozen forms to just two - news shows and the Hollywood stories. The blame lies in the management of NBC, CBS and ABC. Management doesn't give the people what they deserve. I don't see any hope in the system as it is."[12]

In 1985, Sylvester Weaver was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.[13]


He died in 2002 of natural causes at his home in Santa Barbara, California at the age of 93.[1]

Further reading


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Lueck, Thomas J. (2002-03-18). "Sylvester Weaver, 93, Dies; Created 'Today' and 'Tonight'". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-20. Sylvester L. Weaver Jr., a pioneering television executive who created the NBC programs Today and Tonight and did much to shape the medium's pervasive influence, died Friday at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 93.
  2. "Weaver, Sylvester (Pat)". The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2015-03-11.
  3. Interview by Sigourney Weaver, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, 8/25/08
  4. Sigourney Weaver - Weaver's Scottish Ancestry Mix-Up
  5. He was related to Matthew Laflin who was an American manufacturer of gunpowder, businessman, philanthropist, and an early pioneer of Chicago, Illinois.
  6. Currey, pp. 209-214
  7. Cutter, 1186
  8. Reitwiesner, William Addams (2007). "Ancestry of George W. Bush". Retrieved 2009-07-24.
  9. "Hollywood Obituaries". July 31, 2007. Archived from the original on June 11, 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-06.
  10. The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy, Nesteroff, Kliph, Grove Press, 2015, pg. 128
  11. Administrator. "The Birth of Magazine Concept Television Advertising |." RSS. The Historical Archive, 23 Jan. 2007. Web. 14 Dec. 2013. <>.
  12. Fifties Television: The Industry and Its Critics, William Boddy, University of Illinois Press, 1992, ISBN 978-0-252-06299-5, p. 252
  13. "Television Hall of Fame Honorees: Complete List".
Preceded by
President of NBC
Succeeded by
Robert Sarnoff

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