Friday, November 6, 2015

The Paley Center Needs Your Help

Ernie Kovacs, television comedian
The Paley Center for Media in New York City, formerly known as The Museum of Television and Radio, has published a "want list" of films for their archive. And they are asking for your help. Founded in 1975 by William S. Paley, president of CBS, the museum was renamed The Paley Center for Media on June 5, 2007, to encompass emerging broadcasting technologies such as the internet, mobile video and podcasting, as well as to expand its role as a neutral setting where media professionals can engage in discussion and debate about the evolving media landscape. Instead of collecting memorabilia for display in glass cases, the Paley Center comprises mostly of screening rooms, including two full-sized theaters. Nearly 160,000 television shows, commercials and radio programs are available in the Paley Center's library, and during each visit, viewers can select and watch shows at individual consoles (and radio programs are accessed through these same consoles). This includes television films you cannot find on commercial video including numerous Playhouse 90 television episodes.

For many years researchers, historians and authors were disappointed in the service provided by the museum -- the staff forgetting that they did not provide a product, but a service. A historian placing a phone call to the museum to ask for information regarding a particular television program, such as "How many episodes of [title of show] do you have in your collection?" would get a terse response: "Sorry, but we do not provide that service over the phone. If you want to know what episodes we have available for viewing, you need to visit the museum personally and look them up on our computer database." Naturally, historians went in spending hundreds of dollars for travel and hotel expenses, only to discover the museum had little -- if anything -- of the type of shows they were looking for. And the staff could have saved the historian both time and money had they been cooperative over the phone and taken 60 seconds to look up the titles on the computer in front of them.

One horror story, provided by a historian, was a phone call he received by a member of the staff, asking if he could donate two rare recordings they have been seeking. He agreed to send them to the museum if they would return the favor -- they had two radio recordings he had always wanted to listen to and was unable to travel to New York City to listen to the dramas. The museum said they could not honor a trade. When he told them "Sorry, no deal," the museum staff member made threats over the phone and how they could legally have the recordings confiscated and turned over to the museum. The historian wisely hung up the phone and then wrote of his experience in an article for a national film magazine. That article generated a number of letters to the editor from other people sharing their terrible experience with the same museum, some harshly critical, citing evidence and details of the careless disregard for preservation and destruction of original archival materials after a transfer to a newer -- and later proven -- unstable format.

Thankfully, the museum has undergone a change for the better in the past few years. Such horror stories seem to be obsolete now. If you had a bitter taste for the museum, I recommend you give them a second chance. A complete list of their holdings is now available on their website, providing scholars and historians the necessary information needed before making plans to visit the museum. At least one of their staff is now willing to make corrections to incorrect titles and/or broadcast dates. (I myself have sent them a list of corrections and they made the adjustments... later this year I plan to send them another list.)

With video streaming and YouTube, the museum suffers stiff competition. Counteracting this difficulty, the museum offers a large number of programs throughout the years for members who sign up for an annual membership. Most notably is the inclusion of today's television pilots for screening before the programs are televised, cast reunions for present-day programs, and whether you are a member or not they offer a free e-mail newsletter if you visit the following page:

Now it seems the museum has a "want list" of television programs and the list is reprinted below. If you happen to have any of these recordings in your private collection, drop them a line. I feel certain they will be pleased to hear from you and willing to work out a deal. For me, personally, I did not know some of these titles existed. And so I myself begin a hunt for some of these for my own curiosity.

The Opening of the World's Fair with David Sarnoff and Franklin D. Roosevelt

(April 20, 1939)
This event marked the beginning of regularly scheduled telecasting, yet little visual record remains of these experimental years through World War II, including the first network program (October 17, 1941), in which a Philadelphia station carried a program originating from New York.

News: 1946–55
Esso Newsreel (NBC); CBS Evening News (CBS); All-Star News (ABC); Camera Headlines(DuMont); Camel News Caravan (NBC)

Texaco Star Theatre
(June–December 1948)
The first six months of this series have been lost, including a competition for the host's spot—which, incidentally, went to a man soon to be known to millions as "Mr. Television," Milton Berle.

Actor's Studio
We are searching for examples of this live anthology series that featured such students of the legendary acting school as Kim Hunter, Julie Harris, Jessica Tandy, Martin Balsam, and Marlon Brando.

Three to Get Ready (WPTZ, Philadelphia)
Ernie Kovacs's first television series

NFL Championship Game: Los Angeles Rams vs. Cleveland Browns
(December 23, 1951)
The first network coverage of a National Football League championship game is missing. In fact, many of the most famous televised sporting events are lost, including Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the classic 1958 NFL championship between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts.

CBS Evening News
(November 30, 1956)
This broadcast marked a technological breakthrough: the first network news program recorded on videotape for rebroadcast on the West Coast. We are also looking for other technical milestones, such as the first use of instant replay. 

Open End
Few episodes of this David Susskind series remain. We are particularly interested in: "The Young Giants" (February 1, 1959) with directors Fred Coe, John Frankenheimer, and Sidney Lumet; "Always Leave Them Laughing" (February 14, 1960) with writers Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin, and Mel Brooks; and "Television Tempest" (September 25, 1960) with Ernie Kovacs, Rod Serling, and Sheldon Leonard.

The Tonight Show
(October 1, 1962)
Wheeeere's Johnny? The Center has the audio track of this program, on which Groucho Marx can be heard introducing the show's new host, Johnny Carson. No visual record has been found.  

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