Pioneering TV producer David Wolper dies

David L. Wolper, producer of the landmark 1977 television series "Roots," arrives for a 25th anniversary celebration of the broadcast at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in North Hollywood, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2002.
David L. Wolper, producer of the landmark 1977 television series "Roots," arrives for a 25th anniversary celebration of the broadcast at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in North Hollywood, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2002. AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

The late David Wolper was a documentary and entertainment producer who applied his craft to live events like the LA Olympics - and to event television like the series “Roots.” Wolper was 82 when he died Tuesday night at his home in Beverly Hills.

When the three broadcast networks dominated TV, Wolper dominated the miniseries.

He delivered multi-hour epics about the Civil War, the Napoleonic era and the passions of an Australian family in “North and South,” “Napoleon and Josephine” and “The Thorn Birds.”

Many critics regard the 1977 TV adaptation of Alex Haley’s “Roots” as Wolper’s crowning achievement as an executive producer.

That 12-hour saga about an enslaved American family generated 36 Emmy Award nominations and Peabody and Golden Globe awards.

More than 36 million households tuned into the finale of its original run on ABC, making it the third most watched TV program of all time.

Hollywood Reporter senior editor Alex Ben Block said Wolper was also instrumental in getting networks to air independent documentaries. When it came to film production and distribution, Wolper had a great sense of business, Block said.

"He had a great force of will," Block said. "He brought [subjects] to life in a way that was great entertainment, but also was history."

Wolper also produced movies from the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to “LA Confidential” and awards shows, the Statue of Liberty centennial in New York Harbor and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

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