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Bert Granet, 92; Producer of 'Twilight Zone,' 'Untouchables'

November 21, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Bert Granet, the television writer and producer who helped bring such classic series to the small screen as "Twilight Zone" and "The Untouchables," has died. He was 92.

Granet died Friday at a convalescent home in Santa Monica of injuries suffered in a fall.

The native New Yorker with a bachelor's degree from Yale began his Hollywood career in 1934, and over the next four decades produced nearly a dozen motion pictures and television shows or series, and wrote scripts for 30 others.

"The Untouchables," which Granet produced in 1959 with Robert Stack as Treasury Agent Eliot Ness pursuing Al Capone and other gangsters, may have proved the most enduring.

The first series ran through 1963, and the concept was made into a motion picture in 1987 starring Kevin Costner in the Ness role, and re-created for a television series in 1993-94 with Tom Amandes as Ness. The original series also became a model for other television crime series in later years.

But Granet's greatest impact on television history and science fiction popularity was probably his role in getting Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" on the air in 1959.

Granet literally pulled the show off the shelf. That's where CBS had stuck an episode titled "The Time Element," after buying it from Serling. It was Serling's plan to use the script as a pilot for the science fiction series he envisioned, but CBS was skittish about the commercial value of science fiction.

Meanwhile, Granet, an executive for Desilu Studios, was producer of the "Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse."

The weekly anthology series featured one show -- the most popular -- starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz one week out of four and other plays for the remaining three weeks. Granet, trying to build up viewership on the other three weeks, started hiring top actors and writers.

When he asked Serling for a usable script, Serling suggested "The Time Element" about a bartender returning to Pearl Harbor the day before the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack.

"Using great persuasion ... I bought it for what was a lot of money at that time -- $10,000," Granet said later.

He ran into another major roadblock from Westinghouse's ad agency, McCann-Erickson, which had script approval. The advertiser, they said, would never accept a show with the ambiguous sort of ending that became a hallmark of "Twilight Zone."

But Arnaz backed Granet, and the show was produced starring William Bendix, Darryl Hickman and Jesse White and aired Nov. 24, 1958. To appease the sponsor, Arnaz appeared at the end of the show to provide his personal answer to what happened, explaining away time travel by saying it was a character's dream.

When the show garnered more audience reaction than any other episode of "Desilu Playhouse" that year, CBS finally decided to take a chance on Serling's series, "The Twilight Zone."

"I was the first to like it, basically," Granet later told "The Twilight Zone Companion" in explaining his role. "I fought very hard because it was difficult to get it on the air. It's questionable whether 'Twilight Zone' would have ever existed if I hadn't beat down McCann-Erickson ... because they did not want that show nohow. At any rate, the rest of it just became history."

Among the motion pictures Granet produced were "Berlin Express" in 1948 and "The Marrying Kind" in 1952.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, the former Charlotte Lewis, and their daughter, Gaye.

Granet requested that there be no services and no flowers. The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the donor's favorite charity or to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 22212 Ventura Blvd., Suite 300, Woodland Hills, CA 91364.

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