Bill Asher was my mentor in television. We shared the "created by" credit on the CBS series "Kay O'Brien." It was the first TV series I worked on, and the last for Bill. Somehow, out of that experience together, we became friends.
In that single season at his side, Bill taught me how to produce TV and how to do it with class and a sense of fun in the middle of all the difficult work, long hours and hard knocks. He was effortless, even then. He gave me advice on everything from knowing how to behave in a casting session to triaging a lame episode to when not to lend money to friends. He drove a black Mercedes convertible with the top down more often than not. He always had a twinkle in his eye. I think even his ex-wives loved him. Man, he rolled with great style.
A true pioneer as a director and a producer ("I Love Lucy", "Bewitched"), Bill produced and directed countless classic episodes ranging from Lucy's chocolate factory disaster to that special nose twitch Samantha had. And, of course, "Beach Blanket Bingo", "Patty Duke" and "Gidget" with Sally Field. He won one Emmy and got nominated four other times, I think.
Despite his massive credits and accomplishments, Bill took note and interest in all my shows to follow, and let me know how proud he was. He was particularly thrilled to see my turn as TV Academy chairman even though he made it clear he knew I was in a political free-fire zone. He and his beautiful wife Meredith came to the 2002 Emmys as my personal guests and a few years later I was honored to emcee a tribute event held for Bill in Palm Springs. This picture is of Bill and me the night he received yet another tribute at the TV Land Awards.
Over the years, Jackie and I have seen Meredith and Bill and she was with Bill when he passed away in Palm Desert from Alzheimers complications. We've also been fortunate to know his kids and grandkids. Alex Asher Sears did the photo shoot for my "A.D. After Disclosure" book just over a year ago.
Lost in all the accolades for Bill over the hits like "I Love Lucy" and "Bewitched" is the fact that Bill Asher directed the live inaugural event the night before JFK took the oath, during a terrible blizzard, with names like Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte, Gene Kelly, Ella Fitzgerald, etc. on the show. Bill knew JFK and Marilyn and ran with the Rat Pack a night or two. He directed the moment where Marilyn sang "Happy Birthday, Mister President." I've heard stories that will set your hair on fire. Most of them ended with Bill warning me not to do some of these things he'd done, but noting that the world was a different place back then.
Because of his lingering ill health and being behind-the-camera, he's not on as many people's minds as the acting giants who have passed recently like Andy Griffith or Ernest Borgnine, but his contribution was just as powerful.
After our network pitch for "Kay O'Brien" in New York, Bill took me over to St. Patrick's Cathedral where he led me in prayer for the show to be picked up (this actually happened!). He must have maintained a good connection above, because he got his prayers answered on that one so I'm pretty sure he's okay now. :-)
I loved this guy. Truly an American original who I will forever miss. But his lessons, whether they be in production or friendship, live on in me, and I'm proud to pass them on.