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Kirk Browning, 1921 - 2008

Award-winning director of 'Lincoln Center'

February 13, 2008|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Kirk Browning, an award-winning director of the public television series "Live From Lincoln Center," the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" and other arts programming on television, has died.

He was 86.

Browning died of cardiac arrest at his New York City home on Sunday, Lincoln Center announced.

In a career spanning 58 years, Browning directed 185 broadcasts of "Live From Lincoln Center," beginning with its inaugural season in 1976.

He never retired, and in recent weeks he was beginning work on another "Live From Lincoln Center," a New York City Opera production of "Madama Butterfly," to be broadcast March 20.

Along with two prime-time Emmys for directing and one daytime Emmy, Browning earned two Christopher Awards and a George Foster Peabody Award.

His technique featured constantly maneuvering cameras that got close to the actors to emphasize character and dramatic tension.

Although he said there was "nothing better or more thrilling than capturing the spontaneity of a live performance," Browning stressed that a director must stay focused and organized and never lose his cool if things go awry.

Born in New York in 1921, Browning was living and working on a chicken farm in Connecticut in the late 1940s. Sam Chotzinoff, head of NBC's music division and a customer on his egg route, offered him a job in the network's music library.

From his initial position filing musical scores, Browning rose swiftly at the network.

He directed live telecasts of the NBC Symphony led by Arturo Toscanini and later the NBC Opera Company.

On Dec. 24, 1951, Browning directed "Amahl and the Night Visitors," the first opera written for television.

He later became an independent producer for television while continuing to direct.

His credits included Frank Sinatra's 1957 TV series, Philadelphia Orchestra productions, White House specials and Public Broadcasting System's "Great Performances," "Live From the Met," "Pavarotti at Madison Square Garden," "Zarzuela With Domingo," "Death of a Salesman," "Our Town" and "Hallmark Hall of Fame."

Browning's survivors include his wife, the former Barbara Gum, and their two sons, David and Jeremy.

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