DAA 2016: Bob Shanks, BS’54

bob-shanks-mug-webBob Shanks worked in television as a creator, writer and producer for more than four decades, ultimately serving as vice president of programming and vice president of news at ABC.

Originally from Lebanon, Indiana, he graduated from IU with a bachelor of science degree in radio and television in 1954. He was one of only four students to graduate with a degree in radio and television that year. In his time at IU, Shanks often was a guest on WFIU, broadcasting play-by-play commentary of Big Ten basketball games.

After graduation, Shanks served in the Army from 1954 until 1956, where he gained experience by writing speeches for the base general at Fort Lee, and producing plays, training films and a weekly TV program.

Shanks started in television on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar on CBS, where he began as a talent coordinator and worked his way up to producing the show. He later produced The Morning Program and Candid Camera for CBS, and The Merv Griffin Show for both CBS and NBC.

He served as vice president of programming at ABC, where he created and developed programs including Good Morning America, The Barbara Walters Special and The Wide World of Entertainment. As vice president of news at ABC, he developed 20/20 and produced the first three years of The Jerry Lewis Telethon.

Shanks produced PBS’ The Great American Dream Machine, which earned two Emmy awards in 1970 and 1971. He also earned an Emmy for his work on 20/20 in 1978. Later in his career, Shanks produced TV movies, including Drop Out Father starring Dick Van Dyke and He’s Fired, She’s Hired.

Shanks and his wife, Ann, co-produced the Emmy-nominated documentary A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape, for PBS. Their film, The Avant-Garde in Russia, 1910 to 1930: New Perspectives, won the 1982 ACE Award for Cable Excellence. Together, the Shankses won five CINE Golden Eagle awards and numerous film festival awards.

In 1989, the Shankses moved to Australia, where Bob Shanks was CEO and managing director of Northern Star Holding and 10 TV-Australia, and also served as a consultant to broadcast and cable companies. In 1990, he and Ann cofounded a TV production company, COMCO.

Shanks has authored several books, including The Cool Fire: How to Make It In Television, and The Primal Screen: How to Write, Sell and Produce Movies for Television. His play, S.J. Perelman in Person, premiered at the IU Theater in 1988 and became an off-Broadway production in 1989, directed by Ann Shanks.

Shanks donated his personal collection of papers to the Lilly Library at IU in 2005. The almost 30,000 papers include scripts, proposals, correspondence and materials from his coursework at IU.