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Four Star Television

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Title: Four Star Television  
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Subject: Wanted: Dead or Alive (TV series), The Rifleman, Burke's Law, The Big Valley, The Law and Mr. Jones
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Four Star Television

Four Star Television
Industry Television production
Fate Sold to New World Entertainment.
Successors Four Star International
Founded 1952 (as Four Star Productions)
Incorporated as Four Star Television on Jan. 12, 1959.
Defunct 1989
Headquarters Los Angeles
Key people
David Charnay
Dick Powell
David Niven
Ida Lupino
Charles Boyer

Four Star Television, also called Four Star International, was an American television production company. The company was founded in 1952 as Four Star Productions, by prominent Hollywood actors Dick Powell, David Niven, Joel McCrea, and Charles Boyer. McCrea left the company soon after, and was replaced with Ida Lupino as the fourth star, even though she did not own any stock in the company.

Four Star produced many well-known shows of the early days of television, including Four Star Playhouse (their first series), Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre, Stagecoach West, The June Allyson Show (aka The DuPont Show Starring June Allyson), The Dick Powell Show, Burke's Law, The Rogues and The Big Valley. Despite each of its four stars sharing equal billing, it was Powell who played the biggest role in the success of the company's growth.

Within a few years of Four Star's formation, Powell became President of the company. In 1955, a second company, Four Star Films, Inc., was formed as an affiliate organization to produce shows as The Rifleman, Trackdown, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Richard Diamond, Private Detective and The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor. There were also failed series, like Jeannie Carson's Hey, Jeannie!.

In the late winter of 1958, both Four Star Productions and Four Star Films were merged into the new holding company Four Star Television, and began publicly trading on the American Stock Exchange on January 12, 1959. The company changed hands a few times before it was folded into New World Entertainment in 1989.


  • History 1
    • Dick Powell 1.1
    • Four Star Playhouse 1.2
    • Westerns 1.3
    • Richard Diamond, Private Detective 1.4
    • The Rogues 1.5
    • A major launching pad 1.6
    • Dick Powell's death 1.7
    • David Charnay's acquisition 1.8
    • Four Star International's Asset Diversification 1.9
  • Programs 2
  • External links 3
  • References 4


Dick Powell

Dick Powell, a Hollywood veteran for twenty years in 1952, longed to produce and direct. While he did have some opportunities to do so, such as RKO Radio Pictures' The Conqueror (1956) with John Wayne, Powell saw greater opportunities offered by the then-infant medium of television.

Four Star Playhouse

Powell came up with an idea for an anthology series, with a rotation of established stars every week, four stars in all. The stars would own the studio and the program, as Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had done successfully with the Desilu studio.

Powell had intended for the program to feature himself, Charles Boyer, Joel McCrea and Rosalind Russell, but Russell and McCrea backed out and David Niven came on board as the "third star". The fourth star would be a guest star at first. CBS liked the idea and Four Star Playhouse made its debut in fall of 1952. While it only ran alternate weeks during its first season (the program it alternated with was the television version of Amos 'n' Andy), it was successful enough to be renewed and became a weekly program beginning with the second season and until the end of its run in 1956.

Actress/director Ida Lupino was brought on board as the pro forma fourth star, though unlike Powell, Boyer, and Niven, she owned no stock in the company.


Following the cancellation of Four Star Playhouse, two new programs came on CBS: a comedy called Hey, Jeannie which starred Jeannie Carson, and a western anthology show Zane Grey Theater, more formally named Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater. Carson's show ran for just a season, but Zane Grey Theater ran for four. It hosted the pilot episodes for Trackdown starring Robert Culp (which in turn hosted a pilot for Wanted: Dead or Alive with Steve McQueen), The Westerner with Brian Keith, Black Saddle with Peter Breck and Russell Johnson and The Rifleman.

Richard Diamond, Private Detective

In 1957 it debuted the first of its many police/detective shows, Richard Diamond, Private Detective. The "Diamond" series was originally created for radio by Blake Edwards, and the character played by Powell, but Edwards, with Powell's approval, recast the character with the then-unknown Clark Gable-lookalike David Janssen. Other crime series by Four Star included Target: The Corruptors! with Stephen McNally and Robert Harland, The Detectives starring Robert Taylor, Burke's Law, starring Gene Barry, and Honey West, starring Anne Francis and John Ericson.

The Rogues

Another program, The Rogues, starred Boyer and Niven with Gig Young. This was the closest the studio's owners would come to appearing on the same program since Four Star Playhouse. The idea was for the three actors to alternate as the lead each week playing moral con-man cousins out to fleece reprehensible villains, often with one or two of the others turning up to play a small part in the caper (real ensemble episodes were rare).

The schedule of who pulled leading man duty was largely determined by the actors' movie commitments, thereby giving Niven, Boyer, and Young additional work between film roles. In any event, Young wound up helming most of the episodes since he usually had more spare time than Niven or Boyer, but even he had to be replaced by Larry Hagman as another cousin for two episodes when Young was too busy. The series only lasted through the 1964-65 season.

A major launching pad

The studio was successful in the late 1950s as a result of the success of its programs. Four Star also helped bring some prominent names in television and movies to public attention including David Janssen, Steve McQueen, Robert Culp, Chuck Connors, Mary Tyler Moore, Linda Evans, Lee Majors, The Smothers Brothers, Aaron Spelling and Sam Peckinpah. The studio was well known as being sympathetic to creative staff and Powell was quite willing to do battle with network executives on behalf of writers, directors, and actors.

Four Star hired Herschel Burke Gilbert to compose the music of many of its programs. In the approximate decade from 1956 to 1966, Gilbert estimated that he had done the composition for some three thousand individual episodes of various television series.

Dick Powell's death

On January 2, 1963, a day after his last appearance on his program The Dick Powell Show aired, Dick Powell died of stomach cancer, likely a result of having directed The Conqueror amidst dust clouds of atomic test radiation in Utah (the United States Government had assured everyone that it was "perfectly safe"). Out of a cast and crew of 220 people, 91 contracted cancer by 1981, including John Wayne and Agnes Moorehead.[1]

An ad executive named Thomas McDermott was brought in to run the studio for Niven, Boyer, and Powell's family. But without Powell's vision, the studio went into decline. Within two years after Powell's death, Four Star had only five programs on the air, and after another two years all but one, The Big Valley, would be gone. Producer Aaron Spelling left the studio in 1966 because, as he put it in his 1996 autobiography "A Prime-Time Life", "Some idiot decided to wipe Dick Powell's name off the masthead."

For a brief time, Four Star Television owned Valiant Records, but sold the label to Warner Bros. Records in 1966, shortly after pop group The Association released their first records for the label. Early copies of the album And Then... Along Comes the Association show the Four Star disclaimer blacked out at the bottom of the label.

David Charnay's acquisition

From 1967 to 1982, David Charnay was the leader of a buyout group that acquired a controlling interest in Four Star Television and subsequently renamed the television company: Four Star International. For a decade and a half, he served as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Four Star. He directed the company, which amassed a sizable inventory of programs for syndication, then the worlds largest syndication company. Charnay turned the company into a powerhouse syndicator of its large collection of shows that included: The Rifleman, Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Rogues, Zane Grey (Original Title: "Zane Grey Theater") and The Big Valley. While it did get a hit of sorts in a show called Thrill Seekers, (which was a sort of proto-reality television program), the studio's primary niche was in its successful syndication of reruns. Four Star was sold to Compact Video in 1986. After Compact shut down, its remaining assets, including Four Star, were folded into majority shareholder Ronald Perelman's MacAndrews and Forbes Group. In 1989, Perelman acquired New World Entertainment. Four Star became a division of New World, but at the end of 1989 was folded into the latter.

Four Star is now owned by 21st Century Fox, with most of its library of programs controlled by 20th Century Fox Television.[2][3][4][5]

Four Star International's Asset Diversification

With the subsequent sale of New World to News Corporation (now 21st Century Fox) in 1997, the Four Star catalogue is now in the hands of 21st Century Fox's TV distribution unit, 20th Television, with a few exceptions:

  • "The Rifleman", which is now owned by its original co-production company Levy-Gardner-Laven Productions, and whose TV distribution rights are handled by the Peter Rodgers Organization
  • Trackdown, which was co-produced with CBS, of which Leslie Moonves is President and CEO, is now owned and distributed by CBS Television Distribution, of which Armando Nuñez now serves as President and CEO
  • " Wanted: Dead or Alive", which was also co-produced with CBS, now has its TV distribution rights handled by StudioCanal
  • The syndicated game show, PDQ, which was co-produced with Heatter-Quigley Productions and distributed by Four Star, is now owned and distributed by

MGM Television, through its ownership of the Heatter-Quigley library (MGM inherited Heatter-Quigley, following MGM's purchase of Orion Pictures, whose predecessor Filmways had bought Heatter-Quigley in the late-1960s)


External links

  • David Charnay's 2002 New York Times Obituary with details on some of his buyout groups holdings and ventures.
  • Investopedia definition of "Controlling Interest"
  • Investopedia defines the differences between CEO, Chairman, Managing Director and Presidential roles of a company
  • Four Star International, once the worlds largest television syndication company.
  • Four Star Television at the Internet Movie Database
  • Four Star Productions
  • Four Star Productions at the Internet Movie Database
  • Zane Grey ( Zane Grey Theater ) at the Internet Movie Database
  • Los Angeles Times newspaper article describing liquidation details of Compact Video
  • "Trackdown" television Series controlling entity.
  • "Trackdown" television series entity´s interim CEO and President, Leslie Moonves.
  • "Trackdown" television series current entity´s CEO and President.


  1. ^ Karen G. Jackovich, Mark Sennet (November 10, 1980). "The Children of John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Dick Powell Fear That Fallout Killed Their Parents".  
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ "OBIT/Hollywood Producer and Novelist David B. Charnay Dies at Age 90". Business Wire. October 7, 2002. 
  5. ^ McLellan, Dennis (October 6, 2002). "David Charnay, 90; Journalist, Publicist and TV Syndicator". The Los Angeles Times. 

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