When I last had lunch with Russ in Beverly Hills in February, he couldn’t have been any more energetic.
Religious themes were his passion, and he was ecstatic to be working with televangelist Pat Robertson on a TV series about the Umbrian St. Valentine. He had always displayed a fondness for Italy, where he consulted for several companies, including RAI, Lux Vide, and the car manufacturer FIAT, when they ventured into television. He taught the Italians how to sell TV shows to Americans. And from the Italians he learned how to always be late.
He called himself, “The token Jew in the Vatican,” having been involved with numerous series about the Old and New Testaments, including the CBS’s highly rated 2000 miniseries, Jesus.
The week before leaving for Series Mania, I called him at his Beverly Hills home at 8:00 a.m. one morning and was told that he was resting. This was highly unusual for someone who usually got up at 5:00 a.m. PST to call Europe and New York. Later in the day, my calls got the same response. Something wasn’t right.
In the past few years he had been hospitalized a few times, but that never stopped him from calling back. Being hospitalized did not bother Russ, but after he learned that he had some heart problems, I stopped inviting him for lunch at JG Melon whenever he visited New York, so that he couldn’t feast on the establishment’s French fries. For a man who was so disciplined about business, he could be so undisciplined with his diet.
When I reached Lille for the Series Mania event in northeast France on Monday, March 25, I received an e-mail from Tony Friscia, which said that Russ was suffering from advanced pancreatic and liver cancer. On Facebook, Farrell Meisel gave more information: “Russ is in Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles with stage four liver cancer that has spread. Russ was stricken in late February and he had been in and out of Cedars. His body rejected chemo.”
Reached in Rome, Italy on Wednesday, March 29, Sal Campo sent me a short e-mail: “Russ passed at 1:15 p.m. PST. Funeral March 29 at Mt. Sinai Valley and Shiva at Michael’s home.”
Besides his only child, Michael (who is a partner and head of International Television and Media at ICM, a talent agency in Los Angeles), he leaves his companion Janice Kaye, and his brother, Richard Kagan, a rabbi in Baltimore.
The first thing that came to mind was the fondness that two of my reporters had for him. They recalled him participating at every event at the New York City yeshiva that his son Michael attended after his wife Joyce passed and left him a widower.
My second thought was about the discussions Russ and I had been having about featuring him in VideoAge‘s TV Distribution Hall of Fame. Although he surely deserved such an honor, he wanted to postpone it until after a company he had been working with went public.
Since the ’70s Russ had been a fixture at every TV market, no matter where it was held. For the past 25 years he ran his own consultancy company — International Program Consultants, Inc. (IPC) — first from New York City, and later from Los Angeles.
He entered the TV business in 1976 after moving to New York from his native Miami to work for Fred Haber. Russ referred to this period as the “Haber Academy,” due to the large number of future top-level TV executives who started there.
In 1978, he joined Entertel. From 1980 to 1995, he managed Swedish media holding company’s Kinnevik’s U.S. subsidiary, Kinnevik Media Ventures, as part of the senior management team that oversaw the launch, operation, and business development of commercial satellite TV station TV3 in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark; pay-TV-TV1000, Kinnevik’s ASTRA subscriber management and leased transponder services, VIASAT and the establishment of MTG Media Properties.
In 2003, while running IPC, Kagan was a founding partner of Telitas U.S. Inc., acquired mobile wireless content provider Proteus, and served as managing director of the combined entities. Proteus was one of the USA’s top providers of SMS and Premium SMS mobile content to wireless carriers and “mobilized” such brands as ABC TV, Dr. Phil, FOX Sports, Granada TV, HBO, and Mastercard. Telitas U.S. sold Proteus in 2006.
With IPC he was responsible for the U.S. co-production, development, and sales of such series as Turner Network Television miniseries The Bible. This group of miniseries represents the largest global commitment by broadcasters in its decade — $130 million to produce over 12 miniseries using stories from the Old Testament. Completed in 1999 this series has been recognized worldwide for its superior quality, and Joseph was honored with the 1995 Primetime Emmy Award for Best Miniseries.
In addition, Kagan and IPC were responsible for such long-running series as Beyond 2000 (which ran for over nine years on the Discovery Channel and has been seen in over 70 countries) and Kids Incorporated (which ran for nine years on the Disney Channel). Specials include Andrea Doria: The Final Chapter, Great Wall of Iron (Peabody Award Winner), and the NBC Network presentation of Atlantis.
In 1998 Kagan, along with partner Five Mile River Films, produced the acclaimed CBS TV movie, Nicholas’ Gift, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis and Alan Bates. He also produced CBS’s highly-rated 2000 event miniseries, Jesus, which was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. In 2003, Kagan (along with Five Mile River Films) executive produced Caesar, a TNT original event miniseries, which was Richard Harris’s last production. After that, IPC continued to distribute The Bible series for Direct Response, Home Video, VoD, and digital TV media in North and South America.
IPC created the multiplatform digital marketing strategy for the original series Afterworld. Kagan brought in Sony Pictures Television International as a strategic partner for the global marketplace and has expanded that relationship to include multiplayer games, mobile, and web initiatives worldwide.
Kagan and IPC also provided television and digital media-related consulting services to Beyond International Group, Lux Vide, Rai World, Telitas/Proteus Group, Afterworld Llc., Caracol Television, Quadrant Capital, AEG and Fremantle North America. (Dom Serafini, Rome)