In Memory: Robert Trachinger, innovative ABC television executive and UCLA professor


Robert Trachinger, innovative ABC television executive and UCLA professor, died Sept. 19, 2010, at age 86 in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.

A television pioneer whose work in broadcasting began in 1950, Trachinger’s life read like a history of the television medium. As he made his way up through the production ranks at ABC-TV, Trachinger worked on a broad spectrum of programming, including the early live serial “Space Patrol,” documentaries such as “Decision to Die”, “The Julie Andrews Show,” live coverage of the Kennedy-Nixon debates and The Academy Awards. He worked side by side with Roone Arledge, then president of ABC Sports on “Wide World of Sports” and the Olympic Games, beginning with Innsbruck in 1964, and concluding with Los Angeles in 1984.

Equally remarkable, Trachinger was acclaimed in engineering circles for his innovative thinking, and contributions to broadcasting technology. Among his significant achievements, he was responsible for the development of the first hand-held TV camera, grandfather of all portable video cameras today; the first underwater TV camera, which was field-tested in Trachinger’s own swimming pool; and slow-motion videotape for replay (not instant), which was first introduced on-air in 1961, forever changing sports broadcasting. After winning three Emmy Awards, Trachinger retired as a vice president of ABC Television in 1985.

In addition to his professional career, Trachinger had a deep commitment to education, and to mentoring young people. He was a Professor Emeritus of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, having taught courses in production, and ethics in media from 1968 to 1998. As Fulbright scholar from 1985 to 1986, he lectured in Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Spain, at the Sorbonne in France, and Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Even after retirement, his passion for sharing continued. In his early 70s he entertained for Crystal Cruises, telling funny tales of the early days of live television. In 2002 he taught at UC San Diego Osher, directing and producing a series of video programs made by and about his senior contemporaries that was broadcast locally. In 1997, the San Diego Press Club bestowed the “Headliners Media Legend Award” to Trachinger.

His creativity as a broadcaster, inventor, teacher, and mentor was remarkable, and he will live on in the hearts and minds of those whose lives he touched.

Robert Trachinger leaves behind his loving wife of 34 years, Helga, his son Set, his filmmaker daughter Mia Trachinger, son-in-law Jason Brush, and adored granddaughter Lotte.