LB: Saying Goodbye to Lin Bolen, A Real TV Pioneer

by Larry Brody

The Real Lin Bolen

One of the darker sides of getting, um, older (as opposed to the brighter ones, like being able to rest longer between workouts and pretend to no longer care about what other people think) is standing on the shore of the river Styx and watching old friends depart this plane of existence.

It doesn’t take long for the bravado behind cynical sentiments like “Better her than me,” or “He’s well out of it now” to  fade away, replaced by the fearful awareness that, “Holy hell, I could be next,” and eventually, if you keep on keeping on, by an awareness of the transience of all things that pervades your entire body.

An awareness that even the coldest of us have to acknowledge as genuine sorrow.

Like the sorrow I’m feeling right now.

Last week I learned that former network executive and television producer Lin Bolen died, just a couple of months before she would have turned 77.

Immediately, I was hit by an unexpectedly strong feeling of loss. We’d known each other for almost 40 years, interacting (that’s the oldster word for hanging together) professionally and personally. We all have professional friends,  so the hell with writing about that. The personal Lin is who’s important.

I met her through my good friend, the late director Paul Wendkos, whose oeuvre included the films Gidget and The Mephisto Waltz, with a ton of TV work before, between, and after. I remember thinking he was the luckiest of men to have a wife so intelligent, strong, and brave.

(Pretty damn good-looking too, but we don’t talk like that anymore.)

A small town girl (Illinois! The heartland! Flyover country in the extreme!), Lin’s talent, style, ambition, and refusal to take any shit from anyone, no matter how high up, enabled her to crash through the very low – I’m thinking waist high – glass ceiling of the time (there were no women anywhere in TV’s higher executive ranks then) and become the head of NBC Daytime Programming, the first woman programming VP at any U.S. network.

Fighting her way through the psycho-sexual showbiz politics of the ’60s and ’70s (and the ’80s, ’90s, and our very own 21st Century as well), Lin introduced long-form daytime serials to TV and gave NBC the “young women’s audience” it needed to survive at the time.

Business magazines didn’t talk all that much about “innovation” then, and that’s really too bad. Because if they had, Lin’s picture would’ve been on all their covers.

Faye Dunaway – not even close

Many of you reading this probably know more about Lin Bolen than you think. Odds are that you’ve seen and heard the version of her played by Faye Dunaway in a not-so-little film called Network.

Dunaway’s character is a foul-mouthed, man-eating shark who has fucked her way to the top where she still continues that particular practice, targeting and seducing every man in her way and leaving a bloody trail of dead male careers and egos behind her.

The film is dark and funny. The portrayal of Lin is darker, and the running joke about the character is how orgasmic she is. As luck would have it, Lin, Paul, and I saw Network together at a studio screening shortly before it came out. Watching the film, I braced myself for the worst, expecting Lin to be, well, at least as livid as Faye’s character had been in just about every scene.

As we walked to the car, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t a trace of anger on Lin’s face. There were, however, a few tears. She and Paul held each other close (they always did that anyway), and at last she spoke, revealing the sensitivity she tried so hard to hide.

“So that’s it?” she said. “Lin Bolen in a nutshell? For the world to see?”

Paul shook his head. “Don’t be silly, Linnie,” he said. “Everyone who knows you will know that’s bullshit. Not even you come that fast.”

I braced myself for the torrent of then-unprintable words to come roiling out of her mouth, but Lin fooled me again. She laughed and moved still closer to him. “Hurry up and get me home, Paulie, and I’ll show you what an amateur that bitch Dunaway is.”

I know this isn’t the kind of story someone usually writes about a recently departed friend. But it’s all about who Lin Bolen really was. An extraordinary human being who met everything she encountered head-on, no matter how much it hurt, in career, life, and love. She and Paul Wendkos loved each other with a ferocity most people can’t even imagine. If anything good has come from her death, it’s that they’re together again.

Hmm. Maybe that trip to the Styx doesn’t have to be so dark after all.

Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.