The 100 Most Important People in Television History

This list is made-up of 100 icons, innovators and ground-breakers from television's 60+ year history. Each of these people left indelible marks on the medium, both on and off-screen. The names are listed alphabetically.

BTW, although this is supposed to be a list of 100 people, there are actually only 99 entries. This is due to IMBD not having an entry for Robert W. Pitman, the American businessman credited as the founder of MTV.
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James Arness
American leading man famed as the star of one of the longest-running shows in U.S. television history, Gunsmoke. Born of Norwegian heritage (the family name, Aurness, had formerly been Aursness) in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Rolf and Ruth Duesler Aurness. His father was a traveling salesman of medical supplies and his mother later became a newspaper columnist...
Bea Arthur
Actress-comedienne Bea Arthur was born on May 13, 1922 in New York City to a Jewish family. She grew up in Maryland, where her parents ran a dress shop. At 12 years old, she was the tallest girl in her school at 5'9". She earned the title "wittiest" girl in her school, and Bea's dream was to be in show business...
Lucille Ball
Actress, I Love Lucy
The woman who will always be remembered as the crazy, accident-prone, lovable Lucy Ricardo was born Lucille Desiree Ball on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, New York. Her father died before she was four, and her mother worked several jobs, so she and her younger brother were raised by their grandparents...
“ See also #46, William Hannah ” - JohnBeatles64
Bob Barker
For 35 years Bob Barker had been the host of The Price Is Right game show. Not only is it the highest-rated daytime game show, it's also the longest-running game show in TV history, surpassing the prime-time hit What's My Line?, which ran for 18 years. He also served the show's executive producer since 1987...
Jules Bass
Producer, author, and composer, educated at NYU. Until 1960, he worked at a New York advertising agency, and then co-founded a film production company in New York. He joined ASCAP in 1963 and collaborated musically with Edward Thomas and James Polack. His popular-song works include "Pinocchio,"...
“ See also #73, Arthur Rankin, Jr. ” - JohnBeatles64
Candice Bergen
Actress, Murphy Brown
One cool, eternally classy lady, Candice Bergen was elegantly poised for trendy "ice princess" stardom when she first arrived on the 60s screen, but she gradually reshaped that débutante image in the 70s both on- and off-camera. A staunch, outspoken feminist with a decisive edge, she went on to take a sizable portion of these contradicting qualities to film and...
Milton Berle
Milton Berle was born Milton Berlinger on July 12, 1908, in New York City. He was educated at New York Professional Children's School and began performing at age 5. His first stage appearance was in "Florodora" in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He appeared at the Palace Theater in New York in 1931, then in nightclubs and theaters...
Steven Bochco
Writer, NYPD Blue
Attended Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie-Mellon U) as a playwriting major. Barbara Bosson, Michael Tucker, Bruce Weitz and Charles Haid were classmates; he and Tucker drove cross-country to Hollywood for full-time jobs at Universal, where Bochco would remain for 12 years. In 1978, he moved to MTM Enterprises...
David Brinkley
Brinkley hosted This Week with David Brinkley from 1982 until his retirement in 1997. In 1992, he won a Peabody Award for his report on the 50th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As a news analyst, Brinkley was known for his terse, biting comments and his dry wit.
Carol Burnett
The entertainment world has enjoyed a five-decade love affair with comedienne/singer Carol Burnett. A peerless sketch performer and delightful, self-effacing personality who rightfully succeeded Lucille Ball as the carrot-topped "Queen of Television Comedy," it was Burnett's traumatic childhood that set the stage for her comedy...
Sid Caesar
Actor, Grease
Comedian, saxophonist, composer, actor and musician, he performed within the orchestras of Charlie Spivak, Shep Fields and Claude Thornhill as saxophonist. Later, as super-hip jazz musician "Cool Cees" in television skits, he played tenor saxophone, and sang with the satirical trio "The Hair Cuts" (with Carl Reiner and Howard Morris)...
Diahann Carroll
Actress, Julia
One of television's premier African-American series stars, elegant actress, singer and recording artist Diahann Carroll was born Carol Diann (or Diahann) Johnson on July 17, 1935, in the Bronx, New York. The first child of John Johnson, a subway conductor, and Mabel Faulk Johnson, music was an important part of her life as a child...
Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson, the legendary "King of Late Night TV" who dominated the medium's nether hours for three decades, was born in Corning, Iowa, but moved with his family to nearby Norfolk, Nebraska when he was eight years old. It was in Norfolk, where he lived until he was inducted into the US Navy in 1943...
Dick Cavett
Yale-educated Dick Cavett established his reputation as the most erudite of American talk show hosts in the late 1960s and early '70s. Although there were many contenders who took on Johnny Carson, the undisputed heavyweight champion of late-night TV, Cavett generally was considered the most successful of the pretenders to Carson's throne...
“ See also #21, Les Charles ” - JohnBeatles64
“ See also #20, Glen Charles ” - JohnBeatles64
David Chase
Producer, The Sopranos
Born in Mt. Vernon, New York, and raised in New Jersey, David Chase (born David DeCesare) dreamed of being a star--a star drummer in a rock band! He spent many years playing drums and bass trying to be part of a successful rock band in the 1960s East Coast music scene. He also loved movies, such as The Public Enemy with James Cagney and TV shows like The Untouchables with Robert Stack...
Dick Clark
Dick Clark was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York on November 30, 1929 to Julia Fuller and Richard Augustus Clark. He had one older brother, Bradley, who was killed in World War II. At the age of 16, Clark got his first job in the mailroom of WRUN, a radio station in Utica, New York, which was owned by his uncle and managed by his father...
Bill Cosby
Music Department, Bill Cosby: Himself
Bill Cosby is one of the world's most well-known entertainers and comedians. William Henry Cosby, Jr. was born on July 12, 1937, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Anna Pearl (Hite), a maid, and William Henry Cosby, Sr., a U.S. Navy sailor. After tenth grade, Cosby joined the Navy and completed high school through a correspondence course...
Howard Cosell
When you think of the words honesty, straight from the shoulder, and tell it like it is, you think of one man: Howard Cosell. Howard is best remembered as the greatest sportscaster in the history of sports. His way with words and ability of telling like it was, brought him fame not only in America...
Ellen DeGeneres
Emmy-winning talk show host Ellen Lee DeGeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana, a New Orleans suburb. She is the daughter of Betty DeGeneres (née Elizabeth Jane Pfeffer), a speech therapist, and Elliott Everett DeGeneres, an insurance agent. Her brother is musician and producer Vance DeGeneres. Her parents divorced when she was sixteen years old...
Walt Disney
Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Flora Disney (née Call) and Elias Disney, a Canadian-born farmer and businessperson. He had Irish, German, and English ancestry. Walt moved with his parents to Kansas City at age seven, where he spent the majority of his childhood...
Roger Ebert
Roger Joseph Ebert was the all-time best-known, most successful movie critic in cinema history, when one thinks of his establishing a rapport with both serious cineastes and the movie-going public and reaching more movie fans via television and print than any other critic. He became the first and only movie critic to win a Pulitzer Prize (it would be 28 years before another film critic...
“ See also #81, Gene Siskel ” - JohnBeatles64
Peter Falk
Actor, Columbo
Peter Michael Falk was born on September 16, 1927, in New York City, New York. At the age of 3, his right eye was surgically removed due to cancer. He graduated from Ossining High School, where he was president of his class. His early career choices involved becoming a certified public accountant, and...
Farrah Fawcett
Actress, Logan's Run
Farrah Fawcett is a true Hollywood success story. A native of Texas, she was the daughter of Pauline Alice (Evans), a homemaker, and James Fawcett, an oil field contractor. She was a natural athlete, something that her father encouraged, and she attended a high school with a strong arts program. She attended University of Texas in Austin...
Tina Fey
Writer, Mean Girls
Elizabeth Stamatina Fey was born in 1970 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, just west of Philadelphia, to Xenobia "Jeanne" (Xenakes), a brokerage employee, and Donald Henry Fey, who wrote grant proposals for universities. Her mother is Greek, born in Piraeus, while her father had German, Northern Irish, and English ancestry...
James Garner
Amiable and handsome James Garner had obtained success in both films and television, often playing variations of the charming anti-hero/con-man persona he first developed in Maverick, the offbeat western TV series that shot him to stardom in the late 1950s. James Garner was born James Scott Bumgarner in Norman...
Larry Gelbart
Writer, Tootsie
Author, writer and composer who was co-librettist for "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum". He joined ASCAP in 1957, and his popular-song compositions include "Wallflower" and "Let's Go Steady".
Jackie Gleason
Comedian, actor, composer and conductor, educated in New York public schools. He was a master of ceremonies in amateur shows, a carnival barker, daredevil driver and a disc jockey., and later a comedian in night clubs. By the mid-1950s he had turned to writing original music and recording a series of popular and best-selling albums with his orchestra for Capitol Records...
Mark Goodson
Producer, The Match Game
Radio and TV game show producer.
“ See also #89, Bill Todman ” - JohnBeatles64
Kelsey Grammer
Actor, Cheers
A five-time Emmy Award winner, Kelsey Grammer was born in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, to Sally (Cranmer), a singer, and Frank Allen Grammer, Jr., a musician and restaurateur. He was raised in New Jersey and Florida. Grammer was drawn to the works of William Shakespeare and spent two years at the prestigious Juilliard School...
Merv Griffin
Producer, Jeopardy!
Merv Griffin was a singer and band leader, movie actor, television personality and media mogul who in his time hosting The Merv Griffin Show was second in fame and influence as a talk show host only to Johnny Carson. Griffin was best known for creating the two most popular game shows in television syndication history...
Andy Griffith
Andy Griffith is best known for his starring roles in two very popular television series, The Andy Griffith Show and Matlock. Griffith earned a degree in music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the 1950s, he became a regular on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Steve Allen Plymouth Show. He was featured in the Broadway play "No Time for Sergeants" (1955) for which he received a Tony nomination...
Matt Groening
Writer, The Simpsons
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Matt Groening did not particularly like school, which is what originally turned him towards drawing. In the mid-1980s, he moved to Los Angeles and started drawing a comic strip named "Life in Hell", which eventually became published in the newspaper where he worked. In 1988...
Larry Hagman
Actor, Dallas
The son of a legendary actress (Mary Martin) and a district attorney, Larry Martin Hagman was born on September 21, 1931 in Fort Worth, Texas. After his parents' divorce, he moved to Los Angeles, California to live with his grandmother. When he was 12, his grandmother died and he moved back to his mother's place...
“ See also #6, Joseph Barbera ” - JohnBeatles64
Jim Henson
Jim Henson never thought that he would make a name of himself in puppetry; it was merely a way of getting himself on television. The vehicle that achieved it was Sam and Friends, a late-night puppet show that was on after the 11:00 news in Washington DC. It proved to be very popular and inspired Jim to continue using puppets for his work...
Bob Hope
Comedian Bob Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, London, England, the fifth of seven sons of Avis (Townes), light opera singer, and William Henry Hope, a stonemason from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. His maternal grandmother was Welsh. Hope moved to Bristol before emigrating with his parents to the US in 1908...
David E. Kelley
Writer, Ally McBeal
David Kelley might be described as living the American Dream, 1990s' style: write a screenplay, move to Hollywood, make millions and marry a movie star. A former Boston lawyer, in the last decade, he switched careers to become a successful television producer whose shows are recognized for their quality as well as receiving top ratings...
“ See also #53, Sid Krofft ” - JohnBeatles64
“ See also #52, Marty Krofft ” - JohnBeatles64
Michael Landon
Actor, Bonanza
Michael Landon was born Eugene Maurice Orowitz, on Saturday, October 31st, 1936, in Forest Hills, Queens, New York. In 1941, he and his family moved to Collingswood, New Jersey. When Eugene was in high school, he participated -- and did very well -- in track and field, especially javelin throwing, and his athletic skills earned him a scholarship to USC...
Norman Lear
Norman Lear is a World War II veteran, actor, writer, producer, director, and creator of such legendary sitcoms like All In The Family, Good Times, Sanford And Son, The Jeffersons, Maude, and many other sitcoms that defined and revolutionized American television. Norman Milton Lear was born in New Haven...
Sheldon Leonard
Sheldon Leonard was born in New York City's lower Manhattan, the son of Jewish parents. He studied acting at Syracuse University and, after graduating, landed a job on Wall Street. Following the Wall Street crash of 1929, he found himself unemployed and resolved to become a professional actor on the stage...
David Letterman
Television would never be the same after David Letterman made his second attempt at a television show in 1982. But his career before becoming host of the show was quite an interesting and long one. Letterman was born in Broad Ripple, a neighborhood in Indianapolis. His childhood was relatively unremarkable...
Susan Lucci
Susan Lucci was born on December 23, 1946, in Scarsdale, New York, to Jeanette (Granquist) and Victor Lucci, a building contractor. She is of Italian (father) and Swedish, German, and French (mother) descent. Susan grew up in Garden City. Since she can remember, she wanted to be a performer, and through her teenage years...
Dick Martin
Dick Martin, the comedian and television director who achieved TV immortality as the co-host of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In as the comic foil to straight man Dan Rowan, was born on January 30, 1922 in Battle Creek, Michigan. The young Martin was a writer for the popular radio sit-com "Duffy's Tavern" before teaming up with Rowan in the 1950s...
“ See also #75, Dan Rowan ” - JohnBeatles64
Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore was born on December 29, 1936 in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to Marjorie (Hackett) and George Tyler Moore, a clerk. Her maternal grandparents were English immigrants, and her father was of English, Irish, and German descent. Moore's family relocated to California when she was eight. Her childhood was troubled...
Edward R. Murrow
Pioneering radio and TV reporter who was the dominant figure in American broadcast journalism during its early years. His dramatic, in-person coverage of the 1938 German occupation of Austria, the 1939 German blitzkrieg against Czechoslovakia and the 10-month-long Battle of Britain, fought in the skies between 1940 and 1941...
Burt Mustin
Actor, Cat Ballou
Burt Mustin was a salesman most of his life, but got his first taste of show business as the host of a weekly radio variety show on KDKA Pittsburgh in 1921. He appeared onstage in "Detective Story" at Sombrero Playhouse in Phoenix Arizona, and played the janitor in the movie version, (Detective Story)...
“ Burt Mustin is arguably the most prolific character actor in all of TV history, with appearances in shows such as "The Twilight Zone," "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Monkees," "The Brady Bunch" and "All in the Family" among many others. ” - JohnBeatles64
Carroll O'Connor
Carroll was born in Manhattan and raised in Forest Hills, a community of Queens, New York. After high school in 1942, he joined the Merchant Marines and worked on ships in the Atlantic. In 1946, he enrolled at the University of Montana to study English. While there, he became interested in theater. During one of the amateur productions...
Regis Philbin
TV-talk show host, game-show host, singer, author, and TV personality, Regis Philbin became one of the most popular talk-show hosts in America and in Canada, especially. Growing up as an only child in The Bronx, New York, Philbin went to the University of Notre Dame and got a degree in sociology. Later...
Mike Post
Composer, Law & Order
Mike Post was born in San Fernando, California. He became a musician for acts as varied as Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Kenny Rogers, Sonny Bono and Cher, playing guitar on the latter team's 1965 hit "I Got You, Babe". Two years later, Post won his first Grammy award for producing and arranging the Mason Williams track "Classical Gas"...
“ See also #8, Jules Bass ” - JohnBeatles64
Fred Rogers
Fred Rogers was the host of the popular long-running public television children's show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. The show debuted in Pittsburgh in 1967 and was picked up by PBS the next year, becoming a staple of public TV stations around the United States. Rogers' mild manner, cardigan sweaters and soft speaking voice made him both widely beloved and widely parodied...
Roseanne Barr
Producer, Roseanne
Roseanne Barr, one of America's funniest comedians, has another side that not many people have seen. She was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. During her teenage years, she worked as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. She married Bill Pentland and they had three children together. They remained married for 16 years...
Dan Rowan
Dan Rowan was a comedian most famous as the straight man to Dick Martin, with whom he co-hosted the watershed TV program Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In from 1968-1973. The comedian debuted into small-town life as Daniel Hale Rowan in Beggs, Oklahoma on July 22, 1922, the son of show people. As a child, Rowan toured the carnival circuit with his mother in father as part of a song and dance act...
“ See also #60, Dick Martin ” - JohnBeatles64
Jerry Seinfeld
Writer, Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Betty (Hesney) and Kalman Seinfeld. His father was of Hungarian Jewish descent, while Jerry's maternal grandparents, Salha and Selim Hosni, were Syrian Jewish immigrants (from Aleppo). He moved with his family, including sister Carolyn, to suburban Massepequa...
Rod Serling
A former boxer, paratrooper and general all-around angry young man, Rod Serling was one of the radical new voices that made the "Golden Age" of television. Long before The Twilight Zone, he was known for writing such high-quality scripts as "Patterns" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight," both later turned into films (Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight)...
William Shatner
Actor, Star Trek
William Shatner has notched up an impressive 50-plus years in front of the camera, most recently displaying comedic talent, and being instantly recognizable to several generations of cult television fans as the square-jawed Captain James T. Kirk, commander of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise. Shatner was born in Côte Saint-Luc...
“ See also #31, Roger Ebert ” - JohnBeatles64
“ See also #83, Tom Smothers ” - JohnBeatles64
“ See also #82, Dick Smothers ” - JohnBeatles64
Aaron Spelling
Producer, Sunset Beach
Aaron Spelling graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Before that, he attended Forest Avenue High. He started as a writer and sold his first script to Jane Wyman Presents The Fireside Theatre. He wrote for various television shows, including Playhouse 90. After he wrote his first pilot he became a producer for Four Star Productions...
Jon Stewart
Producer, The Daily Show
Jon Stewart was born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz in New York City, New York, to Marian (Laskin), a teacher, and Donald Leibowitz, a physics professor. His family is Ashkenazi Jewish (from Austria, Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus). Stewart moved to Lawrenceville, New Jersey during his childhood. He graduated from the College Of William And Mary in Williamsburg...
Ed Sullivan
The beloved graven image of TV variety from 1948 to 1971 on CBS, Ed Sullivan originally made his name as a newspaper sportswriter, radio broadcaster and theater columnist for the New York Daily News. His column focused primarily on Broadway shows and juicy items about its stars. Hired in 1932 by the CBS network as a rival of radio commentator Walter Winchell...
Brandon Tartikoff
Brandon Tartikoff was a graduate of Yale University, and started his career out at WLS-TV in Chicago. He switched jobs to ABC in New York in the mid-1970s, and moved to NBC in 1977 where he became a programming executive hired by Dick Ebersol. Tartikoff took over programming duties from Fred Silverman in 1980...
“ See also #39, Mark Goodson ” - JohnBeatles64
Ted Turner
Ted Turner was born on November 19, 1938 in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA as Robert Edward Turner III. He is the founder of CNN, TurnerBrodcastSystem(TBS)and TNTnetwork He was previously married to Jane Fonda, Jane Shirley Smith and Judy Nye .He started in the business as a writer and producer but had a bigger vision.
Joss Whedon
Writer, The Avengers
Joss Whedon is the middle of five brothers - his younger brothers are Jed Whedon and Zack Whedon. Both his father, Tom Whedon and his grandfather, John Whedon were successful television writers. Joss' mother, Lee Stearns, was a history teacher and she also wrote novels as Lee Whedon...
Betty White
Betty White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, to Christine Tess (Cachikis), a homemaker, and Horace Logan White, a lighting company executive. She is of Danish, Greek, English, and Welsh descent. Although best known as the devious Sue Ann Nivens on the classic sitcom Mary Tyler Moore and the ditzy Rose Nylund on The Golden Girls...
Flip Wilson
Writer, Flip
Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey was born Orpah Gail Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Vernita Lee, a former maid, and Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner, barber, and city councilman. While Winfrey has been cited as the richest African American of the 20th century, she does not come from a rich, or even middle class, family...
Henry Winkler
Henry Franklin Winkler was born on October 30, 1945, in Manhattan, New York. His parents, Ilse Anna Maria (Hadra) and Harry Irving Winkler, were Jewish immigrants who avoided the German Holocaust, moving to the US in 1939. His father was the president of an international lumber company while his mother worked alongside his father...