Steve Binder is an American producer and director. He found success behind the camera on television shows showcasing music, when he was only in his early 20s. He was also influential in creating music programs with racially and ethnically diverse casts, featuring a variety of musical styles.
Binder is arguably best known as director of The T.A.M.I. Show, Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special, and Diana Ross' Central Park concert in which a torrential thunderstorm passed through minutes into Ross' first set, and The Star Wars Holiday Special. In addition to working with Petula Clark and Elvis, Binder also worked on numerous TV shows and specials with Steve Allen, Chevy Chase, Patti LaBelle, Barry Manilow, Wayne Newton, Mac Davis, Liza Minnelli, and Pee-Wee Herman.
In 1968, Binder was working at NBC. Its executives invited Petula Clark—who had appeared on Hullabaloo—to host her own special. While singing a duet of On the Path of Glory with guest Harry Belafonte, she touched his arm, which prompted complaints from the advertising manager of the sponsor of the show, the Plymouth division of Chrysler. The car giant feared the brief moment would offend Southern viewers at a time when racial mixing was still a major issue of controversy in the US. The manager, Doyle Lott insisted "the touch" (as it became known) should be edited and substituted with a different take. However, director Binder, Clark and her husband/producer refused, destroyed all other takes of the song, and delivered the finished program to NBC with "the touch" intact. Lott blamed fatigue for his reaction, but Belafonte rejected that reasoning and Chrysler relieved Lott of his duties. It aired on April 2, 1968 to high ratings and critical acclaim, and marked the first time a man and woman of different races exchanged physical contact on American television.
NBC executive Bob Finkel was keen to find a producer/director to work on Singer Presents Elvis. Finkel had heard about the controversy of the Clark special, and thought Binder's rebelliousness would suit Presley. Partner Bones Howe, who had engineered a Presley album, overheard Binder on the phone declining the offer to direct Presley. Howe urged him to change his mind and at least agree to meet the singer.
Subsequently, Binder impressed Presley with his honesty: Elvis asked him where he thought Presley's career was at, and Binder claims to have replied: "I think it's in the toilet." Both Binder and Presley had reservations about doing a TV show; Presley said the recording studio was his turf, so Binder said: "Then why don't you just make a record and I'll put pictures to it?" Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, already had firm ideas for the show: "Thanks to the courage of a young producer named Steve Binder, Elvis did not appear in a tuxedo and croon 'Silent night' to a room of cameramen for his upcoming Christmas special." as Parker had planned. In a move slated to recapture the raw Elvis of the 1950s, Binder continued to stand up to Parker and reunited the star with Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana. Presley was filmed performing informal sessions in front of a live studio audience, where Presley could re-create his rebel image wearing a black leather outfit.
Any harbouring doubts Elvis may have had about doing the special were put to rest by one piece of ingenuity by Binder. He took Presley into the street and showed him how virtually no-one recognized him.
According to Samuel Roy, Binder also "tried to warn Elvis of the danger of his environment and the people around him," but the singer was "rather naive and would not listen." Because Presley’s manager hated Binder for challenging him, Parker seems to have put an order out that Binder was no longer to get through the Graceland secretaries, who screened all calls.
In 2008, for the 40th anniversary of the "Singer Presents Elvis" television special, Steve Binder wrote his memoir of his time producing the television special titled, "'68 At 40: Retrospective." (JAT Productions)
The Star Wars Holiday Special was a two-hour prime-time special on CBS, starring the original cast along with actors such as Art Carney and Bea Arthur. It combined the Star Wars universe with the traditional television variety show. Generally, The Star Wars Holiday Special has received a large amount of criticism, both from Star Wars fans and the general public. David Hofstede, author of What Were They Thinking?: The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, ranked the holiday special at number one, calling it "the worst two hours of television ever."
Binder appeared on Ken Reid's TV Guidance Counselor podcast on July 15, 2016.
Binder is portrayed by Jack Noseworthy in the 2005 CBS TV miniseries Elvis.