Class of 1954
It really does seem like a cliché, but Arnold Labaton actually started his career in a television network mailroom and worked his way to the top, becoming an award-winning producer and executive with more than 50 years’ experience in TV production and management. Since 1999, he has been the executive producer of the PBS newsmagazine series “Religion & Ethics News Weekly.” During that time, the series has garnered more than 150 awards. It was first aired in 1997 and examines the role of religion and the ethical dimensions behind the day’s top news stories.
Labaton, who was born in 1933 and raised in Brooklyn, majored in philosophy at the College, also played an instrumental role in the acclaimed 1988 documentary “Arguing the World.” It focused on a quartet of City College students in the 1930s (Nathan Glazer, Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol and Irving Howe) who were considered four of the most brilliant and influential minds of their time. He served as executive producer through the filming and editing of the project, which lasted over two years.
Labaton was one of the founding executives of PBS, serving as its first director of operations between 1970 and 1974 when he negotiated and designed the PBS network and established its operating rules and procedures. He has also been the executive producer of other PBS programs, including “Media Matters,” a series of primetime specials about the news media hosted by Alex Jones; other feature-length documentaries, including 1984’s nine-hour miniseries “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews,” narrated and hosted by Abba Eban, the former Israeli diplomat and politician; and “A Life Apart,” a look inside the Hasidic Jewish community in America, first broadcast in 1997.
Between 1978 and 1991, as vice president and deputy head and then as senior vice president and head of Thirteen/WNET’s Production Center, Labaton oversaw the production of such PBS favorites as “The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour,” “Great Performances,” “Nature” and “American Masters.” He was also executive producer of PBS’s 1992 election coverage.
Prior to joining Thirteen/WNET, Labaton was the director of New York City’s Municipal Broadcasting System and the CEO of its WNYC public radio and television stations. His television career began in 1958, when he got a job in the mailroom at CBS. He worked in the news division and eventually became manager of production operations, overseeing such series as “Camera Three,” as well as specials ranging from Joseph Papp’s “Shakespeare in the Park” productions and the annual Tony Awards to “New Year’s Eve with Guy Lombardo.” In 1965, he became production supervisor for CBS News on regularly scheduled programs and a variety of specials, including coverage of elections, space missions and the war in Vietnam. He directed the remote production of CBS News’ coverage of Apollo 11, the first manned moon landing.
His many awards include two Peabodys, the Christopher, and the Emmy.