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A man credited with shaping innovative television programs, as well as writing critically about the industry, died last week at a retirement center in the Berkshires.

Bob Shanks died of a stroke at age 88, according to a son, John. He was living at a retirement community in Lenox and had suffered a stroke, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

During the course of his career, Shanks worked with “The Tonight Show with Jack Paar,” “Candid Camera,” “The Merv Griffin Show” and with the ABC and CBS television networks.

When he left the Griffin show in 1970, its host credited him with discovering the Smothers Brothers. After joining the Griffin show as a producer, the Times reported, Shanks booked emerging entertainers, including filmmaker and comic Woody Allen, actor Bob Newhart and future TV host Dick Cavett. He also worked with journalist Geraldo Rivera.


According to a biography of the singer and actor Barbra Streisand, Shanks was instrumental in getting her a slot on Paar’s show while a guest host, Orson Bean, was filling in. The biography says Paar had been against booking Streisand because she looked and sounded Jewish.

Shanks nonetheless booked Streisand in 1961, for what became her first national TV appearance.

As a vice president with the ABC network in the 1970s, he developed the program “Good Morning America” and led it to ratings successes that made it a rival to the already established “Today” show on NBC, the paper reported.

In the late 70s, Shanks developed the program “20/20” to compete with “60 Minutes.”

He was the author of TV screenplays and several books, including “The Cool Fire: How to Make it in Television.”

Bob Shanks, the author of “The Cool Fire: How to Make it in Television,” died last week in Lenox.

In 2005, Shanks joined Adam Schwartz, a host with Indiana Public Media, to discuss his life in television.

In the Times obituary, writer Neil Genzlinger notes that the book describes the TV industry’s quest for the middle ground of entertainment, in its hunt for a mass audience.

“Television is used mostly as a stroking distraction from the truth of an indifferent, silent universe,” Shanks wrote in the book, “and the harsh realities just out of sight and sound.”

Shanks was born Oct. 8, 1932, in Sullivan, Ill., and grew up in Indiana. The Times said that Shanks is survived by sons John and Anthony; by a daughter, Jennifer Kingsley; and by four grandchildren.

Larry Parnass can be reached at and


Investigations editor

Larry Parnass, investigations editor, joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant and CommonWealth Magazine.


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