Al Burton, TV producer with decades of success, deceased at 91 – deadline

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Al Burton, the creator of Charles in charge and Earn money from Ben Stein and a key figure in the success of sitcom hits such as The Jeffersons, Diff’rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, Facts of Life and One day at a time, is dead. He was 91 years old.

Burton died at his San Mateo home on Tuesday, according to family friend Damon Schwartz and dispatches.

The Columbus, Ohio native was born as Alan Burton Goldstone in April 1928 in Columbus, Ohio, but show business beckoned him to go West at the age 20 years old while completing his studies at Northwestern University. The job opportunity that took him to Hollywood was with ventriloquist and radio superstar Edgar Bergen, but Burton’s instincts drove him to television, then a nascent medium.

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As Director of Development for Tandem Productions / TAT Production and working for industry icon Norman Lear, Burton spent an eventful decade (1973-1983) working on shows such as Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Fernwood 2Night, America 2Night, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, The Facts of Life, Square Pegs, and Silver spoons.

In the mid-1980s, Burton continued his success both as an independent producer and working with Universal Television. In 1984, with Scholastic Productions and in association with Universal, Burton laughs Charles in charge, which featured the former Happy Days Scott Baio regular as a college student who worked as a babysitter in exchange for room and board.

Charles in charge premiered on CBS but only lasted one prime-time network season before switching to a first-run syndication format. It would ultimately record 126 episodes over five seasons.

Burton’s long and varied broadcasting career (working with talk shows, beauty pageants, concerts, etc.) also included game shows in the era of black and white. He returned to this enduring format with two quirky entries for Comedy Central: Earn money from Ben Stein and Turn on Ben Stein, each built around the funny character of Ben Stein, the former speechwriter of President Richard M. Nixon and President Gerald R. Ford.

Earn money from Ben Stein lasted from 1997 to 2003 and earned Burton a Daytime Emmy. The game show was a first stepping stone for host Jimmy Kimmel, one of the many up-and-coming talents Burton would spot early in their careers. Burton’s list of “finds” would eventually include George Clooney, Valerie Bertinelli, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael J. Fox and Ricky Schroder.

Burton became a prolific specialist in teen programming in the 1950s and a much-requested hit in the 1960s as he dabbled in music both as a promoter of live events and on television. Burton was the first to put the Beach Boys on television and booked the Rolling Stones for their first appearance in the United States.

Burton is survived by his wife, Sally, and their daughter, Jennifer.


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