Producer Of 'Knight Rider' And 'Battlestar Galactica' Dies At 77 Glen A. Larson, who produced some of the most iconic television shows of the '70s and '80s, died this week. NPR's Arun Rath talks to Variety's Cynthia Littelton about his legacy and the shows that got away.

Producer Of 'Knight Rider' And 'Battlestar Galactica' Dies At 77

Producer Of 'Knight Rider' And 'Battlestar Galactica' Dies At 77

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Glen A. Larson, who produced some of the most iconic television shows of the '70s and '80s, died this week. NPR's Arun Rath talks to Variety's Cynthia Littelton about his legacy and the shows that got away.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

If that music takes you right back to the 1980s and a pre-"Baywatch" David Hasselhoff, you have Glen Larson to thank. Larson created "Knight Rider," which featured the Hasselhoff foiling criminals with a help of a talking car, and he wrote the distinctive music, to boot. Glen Larson died on Friday. He was one of the most prolific TV producers in history.

(SOUNDBITE OF "QUINCY" THEME SONG)

RATH: He created "Quincy"...

(SOUNDBITE OF "BATTLESTAR GALACTICA" THEME SONG)

RATH: ...The original "Battlestar Galactica"...

(SOUNDBITE OF "MAGNUM P.I." THEME SONG)

ARUN RATH: ..."Magnum, P.I.," "The Fall Guy." The list goes on, and it's truly remarkable. But - and not to disrespect the dead - Glen Larson was never a darling among the critics. These days, most people seem to enjoy those old shows ironically or as a guilty pleasure. They show "Manimal," about man who could change into animals and, of course, use those abilities to fight evil-doers, has been called the worst TV show ever. But on those terms, it's also awesome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MANIMAL")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (As character) Dr. Jonathan Chase - wealthy, young, handsome - a man with the brightest of futures, a man with the darkest of pasts.

RATH: Cynthia Littelton writes about television for Variety. She says, the critics may have sneered, but they can't take away Larson's impact on popular culture.

CYNTHIA LITTELTON: I mean, I think the greatest influence is the fact that we can all still talk about them. And we - you know, we can all - many of us can describe "Knight Rider" in a sentence and "The Fall Guy" in a sentence. And even the shows going back to the '70s - "Quincy" - who hasn't zoned out watching a "Quincy" rerun on the weekend, you know, enjoying it? So, I mean, these are indelible shows. They may not have been Emmy bait, but these are shows that went the distance.

RATH: She also says that Larson deserves a ton of credit and respect for being able to get it done as a show runner. But the count of The Hollywood Reporter, he's responsible for more than 500 hours of television, over 21 seasons. But there's another standard critique of Glen Larson - that many of his TV shows were rip-offs of movies. The science-fiction writer Harlan Ellison famously called him Glen Larceny.

"B.J. And The Bear," about a trucker and his pet chimp - it was an awful light lot like "Any Which Way But Loose," a movie featuring Clint Eastwood as a trucker with a pet orangutan."Automan" looks a lot like "Tron." And that that list goes on and on. Fox Pictures actually sued over "Battlestar Galactica," claiming it was a "Star Wars" rip-off. In the end, though, Fox lost. Cynthia Littelton says that beyond all the shows, Larson leaves behind another unmistakable legacy.

LITTELTON: But I would say is, you know, one of Larson's strengths was clearly casting. He helped launch a lot of careers - Lee Majors, Tom Selleck, David Hasselhoff. For good or ill, he had an eye for talent that was going to make an impact in the industry.

RATH: Glen Larson passed away on Friday. He was 77 years old.

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