David MacFarland Davis was born on March 23, 1926 in St. Charles, Illinois. He received his bachelor's degree in musical education from Northwestern University in 1947, and a MS degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1951.
From 1947 to 1951, while studying for his masters, Davis worked at WFIL-AM-FM-TV in Philadelphia as a producer and a director. During the same years, he also worked as an instructor at Temple University. From 1951 to 1952, Davis worked as a television producer and coordinator for Michigan State University in East Lansing. He then worked as production manager for ABC affiliate station WMAL-TV, Washington, DC. From 1953 to 1956, he was Director of Programs for WUNC-TV, Greensboro, North Carolina. He then worked as station manager at WGBH-TV, Boston, Massachusetts from 1956 to 1967. During his tenure at WGBH, he produced and directed several productions including the 1963 Oscar-winning documentary film Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World and two television series during 1966 to 1967: Aaron Copland: Music of the 20's and Lotte Lenya: World of Kurt Weill.
From 1967 to 1968, Davis was the Director of Programming Instruction at the Television Trust in Tel Aviv, Israel. In 1968, he returned to the United States to work for Ford Foundation's Office of Public Broadcasting as a Television Program Coordinator until February 1969. At that time, he became program officer until September 1969. From October 1969 until December 1974, Davis served as officer in charge. He worked under Fred Friendly until September 1972; Davis retained his position as the Office of Public Broadcasting became the Office of Communications in 1974 due to increased federal support for public broadcasting resulting in the need to refocus on other areas of communications including policy issues, media impact, journalism, and news and the law.
Davis left the Ford Foundation in 1979 to work as a consultant for the German Marshall Fund in Washington, DC. His consulting work continued through 1981 but in 1980 he became President of Public Television Playhouse, Inc., (New York City) which produced American Playhouse. Meanwhile, he also became Vice Chairman of the Indiana Television Services, Inc., also located in New York City. Finally, he was president and chief executive officer of The American Documentary Inc., which produced P.O.V. from 1987 to 1993.
Davis was a member of several national and international associations including the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He also served on several committees including the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Media Committee of the Indo-U.S. Subcommittee on Education and Culture.
David M. Davis died on May 23, 2007.