John Agoglia, the tough as nails head of business affairs at NBC during its Must See TV glory days, died on March 14 after a three-year battle with cancer. He was 76.
A Brooklyn, NY native, Agoglia started at NBC in 1980 after a 16-year stint at CBS, working under entertainment chiefs Brandon Tartikoff and Warren Littlefield during NBC’s heady Must See TV days. That was the good news and the bad given that, in those days, networks did not own most of the programming on their primetime schedule, so that when a series became a hit, negotiations to keep the program on the lineup often got extremely contentious, to the delight of trade reporters. Among the well-covered slug-fests in which Agoglia played a key role, were the talks to hang on to Seinfeld stars Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards at the height of that show’s popularity and they were demanding $1 million an episode. Agoglia also slugged it out with Paramount over the renewal of Cheers when it was a monster hit for the network. Back in those days broadcast networks also competed to get broadcast rights on hot movie properties; Agoglia was involved in NBC’s snagging Jurassic Park and Schindlers List, and also in a deal to bring It’s A Wonderful Life to NBC every year at Christmas time.
Agoglia was even quoted in Littlefield’s book Top Of The Rock: Inside The Rise And Fall of Must-See TV. “I learned an enormous amount from GE in terms of management technique, but some of their ideas were absolute bullshit. They had a guy do a computer matrix, which would guarantee you how to pick hit programs. He worked on it for two years. I mean,come on!”
Agoglia participated in NBC’s decision to go with Jay Leno as its replacement for Tonight Show host Johnny Carson instead of David Letterman – a deal that earned Agoglia immortality in HBO’s movie The Late Shift, based on New York Times reporter Bill Carter’s best-selling book about that kerfuffle – Agoglia was played by Reni Santoni. When he announced he was leaving NBC in 1997, he told Carter the highlight of his time at the network was “When Jay Leno started winning” because “I was more at risk because it was one of the few times I got involved in a programming decision.”
Agoglia also lead the charge against the Primetime Emmy Awards, when the TV Academy tried to broker a deal that would give ABC exclusive broadcast rights to the Primetime Emmy show.
His NBC successors Harold Brook and Marc Graboff reflected on the longtime exec. “I worked for him for 10 years. He could be a tough boss at times, but he taught me how to do my job and I owe him my career,” Brook told Deadline. Said Graboff, who took over NBC’s business affairs department in 200o, “John left some very large shoes to fill.”