Dead Poets Society
Television producer Paul Junger Witt is known for his prospering partnership with Tony Thomas and writer/producer Susan Harris, who is also his wife. The team produced the popular television comedy shows “Soap” (1977-1981), “Benson” 1979-1986), “The Golden Girls” (1985-1992), “Empty Nest” (1988-1995) and “Blossom” (1991-1995). They picked up two Emmy Awards and a Special Achievement Award for Television and Theatrical Film Fiction from the 1989 Retirement Research Foundation for “The Golden Girls.” Witt won his first Emmy Award for producing the TV film “Brian's Song” (1971). He has also produced several films and received a BAFTA Award and an Academy Award nomination for “Dead Poets Society” (1989). Other film credits include “Three Kings” (1999) and “Insomnia” (2002).
Witt has been married to Emmy winning television comedy writer and partner Susan Harris since 1983. He was previously married to Ann McLaughlin.
Childhood and Family:
Paul Junger Witt was born on March 20, 1943, in New York, New York. He graduated with a BA from the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, Virginia.
On July 3, 1968, Paul married Ann McLaughlin, but they later divorced. He married Susan Harris (born October 28, 1940) on September 18, 1983.
The Golden Girls
Paul Junger Witt began his career with Screen Gems in 1965, where he worked on such comedy series as “Occasional Wife” (NBC, 1966-1967), “The Second Hundred Years” (ABC, 1967-1968), “Here Comes the Brides” (ABC, 1968-1970) and “The Partridge Family” (ABC, 1970-1974). In 1971, while still at Screen Gems, Witt produced the ABC Movie of the Week “Brian's Song,” which recounted the true story of a friendship between football players Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers. Directed by Buzz Kulik and starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, the biopic received positive reviews from critics and was a success. It was nominated for seven Emmys and won the awards for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Drama, Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama - Adaptation and Outstanding Single Program - Drama or Comedy. The production also received a Peabody Award, a Directors Guild of America Award and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Movie Made for TV and later brought Witt a 1998 PGA Hall of Fame - Television Programs. It was through “Brian's Song” that Witt became close with future partner Tony Thomas, who served as an associate producer on the film. He later became a president and executive producer of Danny Thomas Productions, which was owned by Tony's father.
In 1972, Witt produced his next TV film, “Bobby Jo and the Good Time Band” (CBS), a comedy directed by Hal Cooper and written by Bernard Slade that starred Season Hubley, Forrest Tucker and Robert Walden. Under Spelling-Goldberg Productions, Witt produced the TV films “No Place to Run” (1972), “Home for the Holidays” (1972), “A Cold Night's Death” (1973) and the series “The Rookies,” which ran on ABC from September 11, 1972, to March 30, 1976.
Under Danny Thomas Prods, Witt and Tony produced the TV film “Blood Sport” (ABC), which starred Ben Johnson, Gary Busey and Larry Hagman, The two went on to work together on such TV films as “Remember When” (NBC, 1974), “Jack Warden, William Schallert” (ABC, 1974), “Satan's Triangle” (ABC, 1975), “Griffin and Phoenix: A Love Story” (1976), which earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography for Entertainment Programming for a Special, and “High Risk” (1976). They also produced the unsuccessful series “Fay” (1975) and “The Practice” (1976).
Witt and Tony eventually formed their own production companies, Witt-Thomas Productions and Witt-Thomas-Harris Productions for projects they would work in partnership with writer and Witt's future Susan Harris. The Witt-Thomas-Harris team scored their first hit with the situation comedy “Soap,” which was a parody on daytime soap operas. Starring Jimmy Baio, Roscoe Lee Browne, Diana Canova, Billy Crystal, Cathryn Damon, Robert Guillaume and Katherine Helmond, among other actors, the show premiered in September 1977 and ran until April 1981. The trio shared Emmy nominations in the category of Outstanding Comedy Series (1978, 1980 and 1981) as the show's executive producers.
In 1979, Witt executive produced (with Tony and Harris) the sitcom “Benson,” a spin-off from “Soap.” Starring Robert Guillaume, the show ran on ABC from September 1979 to April 1986. It received 17 Emmy nominations and won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Technical Direction/Electronic Camerawork/Video Control for a Series (both 1985). In between the two shows, Witt also executive produced or produced the TV films “Trouble in High Timber Country” (1980) and “Hail to the Chief” (1985) and the television series “It's a Living” (1980), “I'm a Big Girl Now” (1980), “It Takes Two” (1982) and “Condo” (1983). In 1984, he made his debut as a film producer with “Firstborn,” a drama directed by Michael Apted that starred Teri Garr, Peter Weller and Christopher Collet. The film, however, was not a success. He shared the producing duty with partner Tony.
In 1985, Witt-Thomas-Harris scored another hit with “The Golden Girls,” a sitcom focusing on four older women sharing a Miami home. Starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, the show won several awards, including two Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series and three Golden Globes for Outstanding TV series Comedy/Musical, and enjoyed a respective seven season run on NBC until 1992. For their effort, the team received six Emmy nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series and won the awards in 1986 and 1987. Witt-Thomas branched out to dramatic series with “Beauty & the Beast,” an updated version of the fairy tale of the same name created by Ron Koslow. Starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, the show ran on CBS from August 1987 to August 1990. Witt also executive produced the comedy series “One Big Family” (1986-1987), which starred Danny Thomas, and “Hail to the Chief” (1985) and “Heartland” (1989).
Witt-Thomas-Harris next executive produced the hit sitcom “Empty Nest,” a spin off of “The Golden Girls,” which ran on NBC from October 1988 to April 1995. The show garnered several awards and nominations, including four ASCAP Awards for Top TV Series, a 1989 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Richard Mulligan) and a 1989 Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a TV-Series - Comedy/Musical (Mulligan).
Back to the big screen, Witt enjoyed success with “Dead Poets Society” (1989), which he produced with Tony and Steven Haft. The film, directed by Peter Weir, written by Tom Schulman and starring Robin Williams, Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Kurtwood Smith, Gale Hansen and Norman Lloyd, garnered primarily good reviews from critics and was a massive commercial success. Distributed by Touchstone Pictures, it grossed over $235 million against a budget of less than $17 million. Witt shared an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and a BAFTA Award for Best Film for his work on the film.
Witt-Thomas-Harris began the 1990s by executive producing the NBC sitcom “Nurses,” which ran from 1991 to 1994. Witt and Thomas then executive produced the sitcom “Blossom” (NBC, 1990-1995). “The Golden Palace,” a spin-off and continuation of “The Golden Girls” premiered on CBS on September 18, 1992, but was canceled after 24 episodes.
In 1992, Witt-Thomas left Touchstone to work with Warner Bros. Their first effort with the studio, “Final Analysis” (1992), directed by Phil Joanou and written by Wesley Strick, which they co-produced with Charles Roven, performed poorly at the box office. Their next producing attempt, “Mixed Nuts” (1994), a comedy directed by Nora Ephron that starred Steve Martin and Madeline Kahn, was panned by critics and also failed to ignite the box office.
In 1995, Witt-Thomas executive produced a sitcom called “Minor Adjustments” (NBC), which starred Rondell Sheridan, Camille Winbush and Wendy Raquel Robinson. The show, however, only lasted for one season. The same year, they also served as executive producers of the sitcom “Brotherly Love,” which ran from September 16, 1995, to April 1, 1996, on NBC then moved to The WB and aired from September 15, 1996, to May 18, 1997. They also produced the Don Reo created comedy show “Pearl,” which ran on CBS from September 1996 to June 1997.
In 1999, Witt co-produced (with Michael Hertzberg, Edward McDonnell and Charles Roven) the movie “Three Kings,” which was written and directed by David O. Russell and starred George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze. Witt then served as one of the producers of the psychological thriller “Insomnia” (2002), for director Christopher Nolan. The film, starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, was well received by critics.
PGA Hall of Fame: Television Programs, “Brian's Song,” 1998
BAFTA: Best Film, “Dead Poets Society,” 1990
Retirement Research Foundation: Special Achievement Award, Television and Theatrical Film Fiction, “The Golden Girls,” 1989
Emmy: Outstanding Comedy Series, “The Golden Girls,” 1987
Emmy: Outstanding Comedy Series, “The Golden Girls,” 1986
Emmy: Outstanding Single Program - Drama or Comedy, “Brian's Song,” 1972