David Gerber, an award-winning television producer and executive whose career included roles as executive producer of the 1970s series "Police Story" and "Police Woman" and the 2006 TV movie "Flight 93," has died. He was 86.. Gerber died of heart failure Saturday at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, with his wife, actress Laraine Stephens, at his side, said publicist Dale Olson.

In a more than 50-year career in which he headed studio television divisions and his own production companies, the Brooklyn-born Gerber was an Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody award winner.

"Gerber was a legendary, larger-than-life figure in the television business," said Peter Chernin, former president and chief operating officer of News Corp. and former chairman and chief executive of Fox.

Early in his career as an independent producer in the late 1960s and early '70s, Gerber was executive producer of the situation comedies "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" and "Nanny and the Professor."

But he was best known in the industry for dealing with serious, often controversial subjects as one of television's pioneers of social realism.

He shared an Emmy Award for outstanding drama series as an executive producer of the groundbreaking "Police Story," an anthology series created by ex-cop Joseph Wambaugh that ran on NBC from 1973 to '77.

"Police Woman," a spin-off dramatic series starring Angie Dickinson, aired on NBC from 1974 to '78.

Among Gerber's other credits as an executive producer are the 1975 TV movie "Medical Story," the 1976 TV movie "The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case," the 1980 miniseries "Beulah Land," the 1984 miniseries "George Washington" and the 2001 TV movie "The Lost Battalion."

More recently, he was executive producer of "Flight 93," a TV movie based on the story of the United Airlines flight that was hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed in a Pennsylvania field.

Gerber was known as a mentor to many TV industry leaders, including Chernin and Jeff Sagansky, who were development executives for Gerber in the late '70s and early '80s.

"I probably learned more from Gerber than anyone in my life," Chernin said.

Said Sagansky, former head of CBS Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment: "He was a giant, and he had an undying enthusiasm for the business. And people just loved being around him because it was infectious."

Although Gerber was one of the biggest producers in the TV industry, Chernin said he was so "fundamentally un-snobby" that during visits to the networks, Gerber always took extra time to roam the halls, stopping to kibitz with everyone from pages to secretaries to junior executives.

"It was the essence of who he was," Chernin said.

But as Gerber would tell his associates: "You never know, that kid could end up running the network."

Born July 25, 1923, Gerber served as a radio gunner tech sergeant in the Army Air Forces during World War II and became a prisoner of war after his B-17 was shot down over Germany.

After earning a bachelor's degree at what is now the University of the Pacific in Stockton, he joined the Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn advertising agency in New York as a TV supervisor.

He later became a television packager at the Famous Artists Agency, senior vice president of television at General Artists Corp. and vice president of sales at 20th Century Fox TV, where he sold and packaged more than 50 prime-time series and specials.

After forming his own company in 1972, Gerber became affiliated with Columbia Pictures Television, where he put in a stint as executive vice president of worldwide TV production.

In 1981, he was recruited to head MGM Television. He was promoted to chairman and chief executive of MGM/UA's new Television Productions Group in 1988, during which the studio was involved with TV series such as "thirtysomething" and "In the Heat of the Night." He became chairman and chief executive of MGM Worldwide Television Group in 1991.

Gerber launched another independent company in 1992 and later served as president of All American Television.

Gerber also owned a successful winery in Calaveras County in Northern California. It is named after Laraine, his wife of 39 years and his sole immediate surviving family member.

Donations may be sent to the David and Laraine Gerber Endowment Fund at the University of the Pacific, 3601 Pacific Ave., Stockton, CA 95211; the USC Cardiac Electrophysiology Service, c/o Dr. Leslie A. Saxon, 1510 San Pablo St., Suite 22, Los Angeles, CA 90033; or the House Ear Clinic, 2100 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, CA 90057.

Funeral services will be private. An industry memorial is pending.

dennis.mclellan@latimes.com