Al Masini was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. Raised by his widowed mother, Masini started working after school at age 10 in a Tootsie Roll factory after his father died to help support the family. He graduated from Xavier High School in 1948 and from Fordham University in 1952, where he was a three-sport star. After serving as an Air Force officer during the Korean War, he found a job in the CBS News department. From there he moved to CBS Network Station Relations and then into television sales.
By the late 1950s, Masini was a spot sales representative for the Edward Petry Company (now Petry Media), an advertising company. There he developed sophisticated sales systems and procedures and established the first programming department. Another innovation was individual spot pricing, by which each individual spot was priced according to the actual size of the audience, a method that remains the industry standard.
In December 1968, Masini founded TeleRep in New York City to sell advertisements for client television stations. TeleRep grew to represent hundreds of stations and eventually entered the TV programming business. The firm is now part of CoxReps, the nation's leading television station sales representative.
In 1976 Masini and TeleRep organized Operation Prime Time, a consortium of American independent television stations to develop high-quality prime time programming for local, independent stations. Working with Richard H. Frank, who was at that time general manager of KCOP-TV Los Angeles and later served as president of Walt Disney Television (1985-1994) and chairman of Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications (1994-1995), Shelly Cooper, general manager of WGN-TV Chicago, and representatives of KTVU, WPIX and KSTW, Masini organized a plan by which individual stations, acting collectively, would commission their own big-budget programs, thereby circumventing the major networks. Under this arrangement, the bulk of commercial time would be sold on a local basis, reversing the pattern followed by the major networks. Operation Prime Time was launched in May 1977, with Testimony of Two Men, a six-hour series based on Taylor Caldwell’s best-selling novel, debuting on 93 stations. Another early program, David Frost’s conversations with Richard Nixon, drew 45 million viewers. Among the early executives to sign on were Frank Price of Universal Television, who offered the Caldwell novel, and Archa Knowlton, media-services director for General Foods.
Operation Prime Time specials include many Emmy Award nominees and several Emmy winners, such as Ingrid Bergman in “A Woman Called Golda,” about Israeli Prime minister Golda Meir; Alec Guinness in “Smiley’s People”; Louis Gossett Jr. in “Sadat,” a 1983 miniseries on Egyptian President Anwar Sadat; Robert Blake in “Blood Feud,” about Jimmy Hoffa and Robert Kennedy; and Barbara Taylor Bradford’s “A Woman of Substance.”
Masini also founded Television Program Enterprises (TPE), the production arm of TeleRep. One of the top syndicators of first-run programming, TPE owned and ran Operation Prime Time.
Richard H. Frank, a former president of Walt Disney Television and (1985-1994) and chairman of Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications (1994-1995), later described Masini as "one of the creative forces in the development of non-network programming and a key force in helping to move the industry away from a three-network environment."
Masini created and produced many popular syndicated series and made-for-TV movies. His programs won more than 35 Emmy Awards and include the long-running shows Entertainment Tonight (1981–present); Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (1984–1996), hosted by Robin Leach; Fame, Fortune and Romance (1986-1987); Solid Gold (1980–1988), a weekly countdown of musical hits which originally starred the pop singer Dionne Warwick; and Star Search, a show hosted by Ed McMahon that helped launch the careers of Brad Garrett, Christina Aguilera, Rosie O'Donnell, LeAnn Rimes, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Sharon Stone, Usher, Drew Carey, Alanis Morissette, Sinbad, Tiffany, and Brandy, among others.
For Entertainment Tonight, Masini pioneered the use of satellites to transmit the syndicated program.
Masini and his third wife, April Masini, lobbied to change Hawaii state law to lure movie and TV productions to the islands. They have been credited with persuading the producers of Baywatch and Pacific Blue to film in Hawaii, and they brought the Miss Universe 1998 Pageant to the Stan Sheriff Arena, along with delegations and news media from 85 countries.
Broadcasting Inaugural Hall of Fame, 1991
National Association of Broadcasters, Broadcast Pioneer Award, 2003
Masini died of melanoma in Honolulu, Hawaii. His survivors were Charlyn Honda Masini, whom he had married in 2001, a sister, Melba Marvinny, and two nieces. He had no children of his own.