Russell Kagan Dies: International Television Distribution Pioneer Was 65

Russell Jay Kagan passed away on March 27 after a brief battle with cancer. Kagan, who died peacefully, surrounded by his friends and family, was 65. A pioneer in the International Television Distribution world who helped introduce international co-productions, Emmy winner Kagan, whose career spanned four decades,  was a fixture at NAPTE and MIP/MIPCOM and was often referred to as the “Mayor of Cannes”.

“We’ve lost a great, respected, loving colleague whose spirit, generosity of heart, knowledge and insight were second to none and available to many,” said Armando Nunez, President and CEO of CBS Global Distribution Group. “I’ve known Russ for close to 40 years and will miss my trusted friend who also acted as consigliere to so many. MIP and MIPCOM in Cannes won’t be the same without him…my father and I will miss him greatly.”

Kagan’s career started with Alfred Haber Distribution where he learned the international TV distribution business. He went on to form his own company, International Program Consultants. Through IPC, Kagan helped package on behalf of Beyond International one of Discovery Channel’s first international co-productions, Beyond 2000, which also led to the series, Beyond Tomorrow, that aired on Fox Broadcasting Co. in the network’s early days. On behalf of Peter Gimbel, Kagan packaged the globally syndicated live event special, Andrea Doria: The Final Chapter, which revealed the contents of the long-lost sunken ship the Andrea Doria. On behalf of The Tom Lynch Company, MGM Television and K-tel Records, Kagan packaged the successful youth-oriented performance show, Kids Incorporated.

While working at Kinnevik Media Ventures, now known as Modern Times Group, Kagan helped launch the first commercial television stations in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Baltics. He then transitioned to producing and packaging major TV miniseries and international co-productions including the 1990s The Bible. The $120 million production, which aired on TNT in the US, comprised of 10 miniseries.

One of them, Joseph, starring Ben Kingsley, won an Emmy for best miniseries, with Kagan among the recipients. Other award-winning programs produced by Kagan included Discovery Channel’s Great Wall of Iron (Peabody Award Winner), Discovery’s Beyond 2000 (CableACE Award) and CBS’ Nicholas’ Gift (Christopher Award). Additionally, he produced CBS’ highly rated 1999 Jesus miniseries, starring Jeremy Sisto, which was nominated for a best miniseries Emmy, and TNT’s 2002 event miniseries Caesar.

Kagan, who worked out of New York, Hollywood and Europe, was a Board Member of NATPE and the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A respected and well liked executive and producer, he forged many close relationships that spanned multiple continents.

“Russ Kagan was brilliant, charming and a visionary. He pioneered international co-productions long before it was popular for a show from Europe to be repackaged for US or vice versa,” said Jim McNamara, Chairman of Pantelion Films. “He helped create trends such as Kid musicals (Kids, Inc), mega live event television (The Treasures of the Andrea Doria), fascination with factual (Beyond Tomorrow, Omni), and big religious miniseries (Emmy award winner Joseph, Jesus, Abraham). He was a fixture at international television festivals and was often referred to as the Mayor of Cannes!”

Kagan is survived by his son Michael, a Partner and Head of International Television and Media at ICM Partners, his older brother Richard and his family, his long-time love Janis Kaye and beloved niece, Haley Kaye. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Stand Up For Cancer.

The funeral is planned for Friday, March 29th at 2:30 PM at Mount Sinai in Simi Valley.

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