NBC’s Hank Rieger Gone but Not Forgotten

There was a great gentleman who lived and worked around this area, over at NBC for a long time. Henry “Hank” Rieger was a good friend and he left a lasting impression with those who knew him and with the entertainment industry.

Rieger was the longtime publicity director for NBC and former president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. At 95, he passed away on March 5, 2014, in Oceanside where he had been living for many years. He was born in 1918 in Kansas City, Mo., but grew up in Phoenix, Ariz.

Rieger’s journalistic skills were the foundation for an impressive career in show business. He started with positions at United Press, going from San Francisco to Los Angeles. In the 1950s he moved to New York to head up the news operations at the UPI headquarters. Then in 1965 he came back to the West Coast, taking over as head of press relations for NBC, a position he held for more than 15 years.

My relationship with Hank was personal and professional, and there are many stories to tell about how he would come through for me. When I was West Coast editor at Billboard magazine, Johnny Carson was still doing The Tonight Show in New York, but he would come to Hollywood once a year to do a week of shows. Carson being very private insisted “no interviews.” But Hank managed to convince him to do an interview with me. The skeptical Carson was hesitant to chat too much at first, but then we both loosened up, sitting in his dressing room. Even Ed McMahon dropped in and joined us. And there we were like three old buddies. It was the only interview Carson gave for a long time, and thanks to Hank I got it.

During his time at NBC, Hank worked with Bob Hope, and traveled overseas for several USO tours with Hope entertaining the U.S. troops.

Rieger became associated with the TV Academy and became the first elected president of ATAS and served for two terms. He received the Academy’s Syd Cassyd Award in recognition of his long service to the ATAS. It was Hank who started Emmy magazine, and he helped nurture the Emmy Awards into the huge media event it is today.

Eventually Rieger created his own public relations business and worked with the fledgling ESPN when it was first starting out as cable TV’s new sports news organization. It was always great to see Hank at the Television Critics Association’s sessions for ESPN, and we could catch up. He was an adjunct faculty member at USC, in the School of Journalism, and one of the staunchest Trojan rooters, despite having gone to the University of Arizona.

An Army veteran, Hank served during World War II and was in intelligence operations in the Pacific. He started out as a private and left the Army as a Major. Hank’s wife of 65 years, Deborah, passed away last year. Rieger leaves behind family members and a lot of friends.

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