Legendary Comic Writer Hal Kanter, Creator of Revolutionary Series ‘Julia,’ Dies at 92

Posted on November 8, 2011 /TV

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It saddens us to report the death of a man who completely revolutionized television for African-Americans.

Hal Kanter, an Emmy Award-winning comedy writer and creator of Julia, the revolutionary 1960s TV series starring Diahann Carroll and Marc Coppage, has died. He was 92.

Kanter made TV history in 1968 when he created and produced “Julia,” starring Carroll as a widowed nurse and the mother of a young son. With the NBC series, Carroll became the first African-American actress to star in her own TV sitcom playing a character who was a professional woman rather than a domestic worker, reports THR.

Kanter, a Hollywood liberal and broadcasting veteran whose credits included writing for the Beulah radio show in the 1940s, initiated Julia’s challenge to what remained of television’s colour bar. Kanter had attended a luncheon organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and been inspired enough to propose the project to NBC. The network agreed to run the show, but programmers did not expect it to do well since it was scheduled opposite the hugely popular Red Skelton Show. The show proved to be a surprise hit, however, jumping into the top ten list of most watched programs during its first year, and continuing to be moderately successful during its remaining two seasons on the air.

Julia was an important moment in American broadcasting history as television programmers struggled to find a way to introduce African-Americans into entertainment formats without relying on objectionable old stereotypes, but also without creating images that might challenge or discomfort white audiences, said Aniko Bodroghkozy.

Kanter was well aware of the black community’s perception of the show, and the impact it had on society.

Carroll’s Julia “opened a door,” Kanter said in a 1969 Los Angeles Times interview. “Bill Cosby in ‘I Spy’ first opened it [in 1965], but Julia opened it wider.”

Kanter said “Julia” had been criticized for not dealing in depth with any social issues. “But that was not our purpose,” he said. “We wanted to create an entertaining comedy, nothing more.”

The writer was also credited with pioneering the Oscars telecast. Beginning in 1952, a year before the broadcast moved from radio to television, Kanter wrote for the Oscar show for at least 33 years, the Times said.

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