He is the father of anime dubbing voice actress Lia Sargent.
Sargent was born as Giuseppe Danielle Sorgente in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of Italians Maria (née Noviello) and Domenico Sorgente. Sargent began his career as an actor, appearing in numerous films and television programs.
He appeared in an uncredited role as a soldier in the film From Here to Eternity (1953) where he also meet his first wife Mary Carver on the set. In the mid 1950s Sargent switched to directing; over the next 15 years his directing credits would include episodes of television series Lassie, The Invaders, The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and Star Trek.
In 1969, he directed his first feature, science fiction thriller Colossus: The Forbin Project, and in 1972 The Man, starring James Earl Jones, which was begun as a television movie.
He alternated between television movies and feature films during the 1970s. Sargent's directorial work from this period includes; The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, the TV movies Hustling with Lee Remick and Jill Clayburgh and Tribes with Jan-Michael Vincent and Darren McGavin, as well as international award-winning ABC film The Night That Panicked America. In 1974, he won his first Directors Guild of America Award for The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973), which was the TV movie pilot for the Kojak series.
In the 1980s, Sargent directed mini-series Manions of America, which featured Pierce Brosnan, and Space. In 1987 he directed Jaws: The Revenge, the third sequel to Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic. The film received mostly negative reviews. Roger Ebert called his directing of the climactic sequence "incompetent," and he was nominated for Worst Director in the 1987 Golden Raspberry Awards.
He concentrated on TV movies after Jaws: The Revenge, including The Karen Carpenter Story, The Long Island Incident, Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and the 2007 remake of Sally Field docudrama Sybil.
Joseph Sargent and his wife Carolyn Nelson Sargent laid the groundwork for Deaf West Theatre.
Sargent spent time as the Senior Filmmaker-in-Residence for the Directing program at the American Film Institute Conservatory in Los Angeles.
Sargent died of complications from heart disease at his home in Malibu, California, on December 22, 2014. He was 89.
Sargent was nominated for several Emmy awards. He won four. His first nomination came for his direction of TV movie Tribes (1970). His second nomination, for Kojak pilot The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973), resulted in his first Emmy win. He also won Emmys for Love Is Never Silent (1985), Caroline? (1990) and Miss Rose White (1992).
Sargent was also nominated for Amber Waves (1980), A Lesson Before Dying (1999), Something the Lord Made (2004) and Warm Springs (2005), in which Kenneth Branagh played president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Early in his career, he won a Directors Guild of America award for the Kojak pilot. Sargent was nominated for eight DGA awards for television movies, more than any other director in this category. In 2005 he won the DGA Outstanding Directorial Achievement award for Something the LORD Made, and another the following year for Warm Springs.