Archive for the ‘Television Producers’ Category

International TV Executive Donald Taffner, Sr. dies at 80

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

We’re sad to report the passing of Donald Taffner, Sr., who died early this morning. Don founded DLT Entertainment in 1963 — specializing in international television distribution. DLT was responsible for bringing Three’s Company (adapted from Man About the House), Too Close for Comfort (adapted from Keep it in the Family), and The Benny Hill Show to American audiences. DLT Entertainment continues to be engaged in television distribution and production worldwide. The Archive of American Television, in association with BAFTA, interviewed Mr. Taffner in 2008. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

On starting his own production and distribution company

At that time, there were also people from Australia — [Jim Oswin] and a fellow named [Len Major], who ended up over here, representing, in America, the Seven Network in Australia.  And Len went back to open up a third network, which was then called the O Ten Network, and he asked me to represent them in the States.  So  uh, I made the judgment that if I’m going to go on my own, now is the time to do it because I don’t have to make the amount of money that I would be making 10 years later somewhere else.  It would be relatively easy for me to do it now.  So I got representation of that. I started my own company, representing originally broadcasters from overseas to buy their shows — to buy American shows for them.  I had a group of stations in Canada and the network in Australia.  And that’s how it started.  Gradually, as the business grew and the broadcasters in America or the distributors in America had offices overseas, they didn’t need somebody that way.  So I then switched and sold shows from overseas in the American market.  And that’s how the business grew.  The first show that I sold was  getting an animation studio in Australia to do work for King Features, and we did some of the Beatles’ cartoons, and we did “Crazy Cat” and “Barney Google.”  They did the scripts here.  And then there was “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo,” which we sold to Kellogg and then Skippy peanut butter.  It’’s always fun to sell shows –  there, my speech was, “Think of Lassie, except that the pet is a kangaroo.”  And we sold it to Kelloggs and then we sold it to Skippy on a market-by-market basis.

On the business aspects of owning a show outright (video clip)


As far as television production was concerned, the way I did that was I find the properties, put them together, help get it started, let the creative elements work on the properties, and when they were finished with it, sell the properties so that we get the maximum out of all of it.  But leave the creative people, more or less , to do it themselves.  There were a lot of gambles in that originally with “Three’s Company” when I came to Thames and told them we’re not going to sell the format, we’re going to produce the format.  But that means we were going to be responsible for overages if that happened.  I had some luck in that Thames Television said, “Oh, we’re not going to do that.  We’re not going to be responsible for it.”  So since I didn’t have any dollars, I don’t know why I said this, but, “Oh, I’ll be responsible for it.”   I didn’t know how the hell I was going to get it, but I said I’ll be responsible for it.  And that’s how I got more or less involved with the total control and the bigger piece of the action from everybody else in the show.  By being responsible for it in the beginning.  The theory behind that was if I go to the network and say, “Here’s the rights,” I end up with 2%.  If I go to the network and say, “Here’s the television show,” I have ownership, and that I don’t have to give up all but 98% to be in a position.  So I ended up in a very good position between the producers on the west coast and the network controlling the show — controlling the rights.

On his approach to negotiating a deal

I’ll tell you what I do, and then I think it’s salesmanship after that.  I look at a show and try to find all of the elements in that show that I like.  And then I talk about it.  And that’s the only thing I talk about in a show.  Whether it’s the little monkey that’s jumping around in a section of the screen, whether it’s the guy falling off the ledge, whatever the joke is, I talk about that.  I couple that with knowing your marketplace.  To know what the buyer likes and then try to get my language about my show into the language of knowing what the buyer likes.  And if I can put all of these likes together, I’m selling the show.  The problem that sometimes happens is after you sell the show, I’m sure there’s a formula.  There’s a diminishing return on how successful your salesmanship was.  And if you don’t get it to the next step quickly, it slows down.  So you’ve got to keep on piling on all of the good things about a show.  But the first thing is to sell yourself on the show.  And the first thing that I had to do was to sell myself to know this is the only thing I’ve got to sell, so I’d better find the right things to sell about the show!

On being a totally independent producer

There aren’t many that will go my way of totally independent because the government allows the networks to control all of this television business.  If they just allow them to be in their business of being studios or — or telephone lines between the producer and the people out there, that’s what they should be, and there’s a lot of money in that.  Because they used to want to own my property and I said, “No.  I’ll tell you what, if I can share in your income from advertisers, I’ll let you have a piece of my action.”  That was a lot of bravado because they ended up with a piece of my action because I had to get on the air.  But they never shared their advertising money and they always wanted more.  I remember fighting down in Washington against the networks.  I remember meeting up with the then-FCC chair Mark Fowler — and telling him that you’re taking my livelihood away and you’re taking the livelihood of a lot of other people who think independently –  if you let them control the business.   I also gave him another piece of advice.  No matter how they own the show, one question should never be asked — how much of it do I own?  If I own 50% of “Father Murphy” and I own no percent of “Three’s Company,” why should ‘Father Murphy” be renewed and the other one canceled?  Ownership has nothing to do with it if the FCC is doing what I think they’re doing, trying to get good programming on the air.  Don’t get me too excited about the networks because I think they control too much.

On how he would like to be remembered

The people that like me, like me.  That’s all.

Interview description:

Donald L. Taffner, Sr. was interviewed for one-and-a-half hours in New York, NY.  Taffner talked about his work in the television division at the William Morris Agency in the 1950s, commenting on the shows that the agency packaged in those days.  He talked about his move to Paramount, running their New York office and selling such series as the adventure program Mr. Garlund.  He described his founding of DLT Entertainment in the early 1960s, representing broadcasters overseas in the purchase of U.S. shows.  He talked about his company’s association with Thames Television and described the tradition of programming on the BBC.  He chronicled the packaging of The Benny Hill Show to market it for American television, and commented on Benny himself.  He described the adaptation of several British sitcoms into successful American series, including: Three’s Company, Too Close for Comfort, and Check It Out! He spoke about his later work in live theater and series Mystery Wheel of Adventure, As Time Goes By, and My Family.  The interview was conducted by John Fitzgerald in a joint venture with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), on August 26, 2008.

Norman Lear on comedy

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

“Life is a serious matter, but I see it through a prism that finds comedy in anything.”- Norman Lear

A very happy birthday today to TV writer, producer, and legend Norman Lear, who is 89!

In this excerpt from his 1998 Archive interview, Lear addressed the question of how he uses humor to diffuse a serious situation or an emotional issue, without becoming dogmatic:

See the full interview with Norman Lear here.

About the interview:
Regarding his contribution to television, Norman Lear notes: “Flying across country [one] night I remember looking down and thinking, hey, it’s just possible, wherever I see a light, I’ve helped to make somebody laugh.” Norman Lear’s writing career began in the 1950s, and reached its zenith with a series of socially conscious sitcoms, the crown jewel of which was the highly rated, multi-Emmy Award-winning All in the Family. In his Archive interview, Lear speaks about his early work in publicity and his move to Los Angeles, where he teamed up with comedy writer Ed Simmons. He recounts how he broke into the business by finagling Danny Thomas’s phone number from his office and pitching a comedy routine idea to him personally. He enumerates his continued television writing jobs for such stars as Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis on television’s The Colgate Comedy Hour.He fondly recalls writing for The Martha Raye Show, which he also directed, and describes how the show ran afoul with its ad agency and was cancelled. He outlines the creation of his own production company, with producing partner Bud Yorkin, and his work on The Andy Williams Specials and The George Gobel Show. For All in the Family, he discusses the creation of the show (based on a British series but inspired by his own family) the struggles to get it picked up by a network, and the show’s impact. On his collaboration with Carroll O’Connor on the iconic Archie Bunker he candidly comments: “When Carroll O’Connor realized he had to embrace the script, not without some of the changes he suggested, but without the wholesale changes he would insist upon; that when he finally accepted it and slipped into the character, none of us could write Archie Bunker the way it flew out of him— realized he had to embrace the script, not without some of the changes he suggested, but without the wholesale changes he would insist upon; that when he finally accepted it and slipped into the character, none of us could write Archie Bunker the way it flew out of him— in his understanding of the character, and the idiom, the language, the malapropos. It was worth all of the aggravation to get to that moment, I’d wait for that moment with awe.” He outlines the conception and casting of the numerous successful series he subsequently launched, including: Sanford and Son; Maude; Good Times; The Jeffersons; One Day at a Time; Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman; and Fernwood 2-Night. Lastly, he comments on series he refers to as the “misses and near misses.” Norman Lear was interviewed in Brentwood, CA on February 26, 1998; Morrie Gelman conducted the five-hour interview.

“Gilligan’s Island” and “Brady Bunch” Creator Sherwood Schwartz dies at 94

Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

Sad news: Legendary comedy writer/producer Sherwood Schwartz, best known for creating and producing Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch has died in Los Angeles at the age of 94.

Schwartz began his career as a radio writer for Bob Hope in the 1940s, and soon transitioned to television as a writer for I Married Joan (where he worked with Jim Backus, who he would later cast as Thurston Howell III on Gilligan’s Island), The Red Skelton Show (where he had a volatile relationship with Skelton), My Favorite Martian, and other early comedy series. In 1967, he created the first of his signature series Gilligan’s Island, and in 1969 premiered The Brady Bunch. The two series spawned a array of TV movies, animated series, and in the case of The Brady Bunch, two reunion series. He also created Dusty’s Trail and developed Harper Valley PTA for television. Schwartz was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 2008.

In 1997, he graciously gave the Archive of American Television a wonderful “five hour tour” of his life and career. At the interview’s conclusion, when asked how he’d like to be remembered, he replied:

“As a man who tried to explain in his own way that people have to learn to get along with each other. I did it with comedy because that’s what I’m familiar with, and I think it’s more acceptable to tell it in comedy form. But that’s how I’d like to be remembered.”

Here are some video excerpts from the interview:

On working with Bob Hope early in his career

On working as script supervisor on My Favorite Martian

On the concept of Gilligan’s Island

On casting The Brady Bunch

On the impact of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch

See his full Archive of American Television interview here.

“….It’s in the Archive, Bob!” – “The Newlywed Game” turns 45

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Forty five years ago, on July 11, 1966, The Newlywed Game premiered on ABC with host Bob Eubanks. Eubanks is most closely associated with the show although there were many other hosts throughout its run. Produced by Chuck Barris (who also wrote the catchy theme song), the show was created by Nick Nicholson and E. Roger Muir, and focused on newly married couples who were asked a series of revealing questions about their spouse to determine how well they knew, or didn’t know, one another.

The series also has the reputation for airing one of the most notorious bloopers ever — a response by a contestant named “Olga” in 1977 to the question “Where specifically, is the weirdest place that you personally have ever gotten the urge to make whoopee?”

In his Archive interview Bob Eubanks debunks the myth of this blooper, and reveals what Olga actually said:

Here is the clip as it aired on television in 1977:

Bob Eubanks’ complete Archive of American Television interview can be viewed here.

TV Comedy Writing Legend Sam Denoff has Died

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

Very sad news, the Archive of American Television has learned that TV Legend Sam Denoff, not only an Archive interviewee, but someone who passionately supported the Archive as an interviewer, passed away on July 8th at the age of 83.

Sam began his prolific career in radio at WNEW in New York and later moved to Los Angeles to work in television, starting with The Steve Allen Show. He worked on The Andy Williams Show before landing a job with partner Bill Persky on The Dick Van Dyke Show, where he and Persky co-wrote such classic episodes as “Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth” and “That’s My Boy!” He and Persky then co-created and co-produced That Girl, starring Marlo Thomas, as well as the short-lived series Good Morning World. Other series he created include The Funny Side, Big Eddie, On Our Own, Turnabout, and The Lucie Arnaz Show. Denoff also wrote for such specials as: The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special (1967), The Bill Cosby Special (1968), Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman Mary Tyler Moore (1969) and Hallmark Hall of Fame: “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” with Orson Welles (1972). He also wrote for The Annual American Comedy Awards and working as a consultant for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. Along with being an Archive of American Television interviewee, Sam contributed his time as an Archive interviewer — he conducted historic interviews with TV Legends Sheldon Leonard, Art Linkletter, Jerry Lewis, Hal Kanter, and Charles Cappleman.

Here are some excerpts from his March 9, 2000 Archive interview:

On being hired to write for The Steve Allen Show in 1961

We [Denoff and Bill Persky] were going to be the last two hired on the writing staff — the two of us and another new writer called Buck Henry. Did they love our material? We found out they never read the material. What happened was there was a meeting and names were being thrown out. Our name came up and Bill Dana said, “Sam Denoff, I know Sam, he and I were pages together, he’s really funny. He’s good.” Steve said, “book him.” That was Steve Allen, we’re talking about generous, nurturing people. Steve Allen is one of those giants. He has started off the careers of so many people, performers and writers, Billy and me among them. But his attitude was if somebody said, hey, “I know this guy, he’s a good singer,” Steve said, “put him on the show. What could it hurt, if they’re no good, they’re no good.” So we got the job. It was a three-week contract… They liked what we were doing. I brought my family out, which was good, but it was bad because the show was canceled after fourteen shows. But, one thing leads to another, if you just go ahead and do your work. I think it’s important to say that our ambitions were not to be producers. We wanted to be, get a job as a writer and work as writers. And especially for variety shows, because we knew we had a good sense of satire and doing satirical sketches.

On writing the classic The Dick Van Dyke Show episode “That’s My Boy”

“That’s My Boy” was our first episode, and certainly it was exciting. It evolved to being a momentous moment in the show’s history. It was the opening show of the third season and the story was that Dick was obsessed with the idea that their son Richie was the baby of another couple whose wife was in the hospital at the same time giving birth. And all the evidence that he could dig up, it was very funny being this precise, almost an Inspector Clouseau character — he says, their name was Peters, ours Petrie, very close names, and you were in room 387, and she was in room 378…. At one point, he was even going to footprint the baby, when Laura caught him. Of course, he had to keep all of his suspicions to himself, which is a great comedy device. He didn’t want to upset his wife. Anyway, he finally calls the Peters family, and says, “my name is Petrie and you guys had a baby the same day as my wife, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, and I think we have to deal with this fact that we may have the wrong babies.” He tells Laura and of course, she says, oh that’s ridiculous! He says, no, sweetheart, I’m sure…the doorbell rings and in walks Greg Morris and his wife, the black actor, Greg Morris, who became famous on Mission Impossible. When he walked in that door, the audience exploded and they didn’t stop laughing. I think Sheldon [Leonard] and Carl [Reiner] have said that’s the longest single laugh ever on that series. But the joke was not on the black couple, the joke was on Dick Van Dyke, the schmuck. As Dick Van Dyke used to say, schmuckery is the best thing you can do. Have a guy who thinks he’s something else and he’s being a schmuck. Well, that stunning laugh, and then with Greg Morris and his wife characters just standing there laughing at him, because they came knowing what this guy would react to. It was one of the biggest surprises, which is one of the essences of a good comedy show. There was no hint. And, it was one of the first examples of using a multicultural storyline without being condescending or getting into trouble.

(l-r): Sam Denoff, Dick Van Dyke (in-costume), Bill Persky on the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show

On the legacy of The Dick Van Dyke Show

I think The Dick Van Dyke Show deserves the attention that it gets today because it was done so well. And again, that’s not because of us. It’s because of Carl’s [Reiner] vision and because of what, it absolutely deserves all the attention it gets. It’s one of the milestones of great television. Certainly a lot of great, wonderful shows have followed it. But I know a lot of the men and women who have written on those shows when they were trying to break in, like Billy [Persky] and me, and even the younger guys say that was like a landmark. A landmark piece of perfect kind of work. Absolutely.

On reuniting Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore in the special Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman

Mary’s career, after The Dick Van Dyke Show, had kind of a valley…. We thought it would be fun to do a special reuniting the two of them, which was called Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman because people thought they were really married, that’s how believable they were. The special material was written by our friend, Ray Charles, and in it he wrote one number which, which was magical, “Life is Just a Situation Comedy,” and they did a song and dance, little sketches in that. In the other memorable piece we had Dick and Mary as the two little bride and groom statues on the top of a wedding cake, waiting, at, at a wedding, but they talked to each other. And he doesn’t want to be there and she wants to be there, and she says, this is the most romantic thing…. And then, the wedding is over and they’re stuck in the freezer and we see them later taken out for the 25th anniversary of the couple and they’re all full of ice in the freezer. And the culmination of the number was really so sweet. They sang the great number from Fiddler on the Roof, “Do You Love Me.” It was a terrific special. Mary, quite often, has credited that special with rejuvenating her career, which it did, because CBS said, “oh, wait a minute, why don’t we do a series with this girl, because she really is good.” They’d forgotten about her. And then Allan [Burns] and Jim [Brooks] wrote The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which was great.

On working with longtime writing partner Bill Persky

Working with a partner, as Billy and I did for 20 years, we brought different sensibilities to the comedy writing. We both had tremendous respect for each other’s ability. He was into much more warmth than I was. A lot of partnerships are that way. But what evolved from our differences was a great dynamic which was that we would work together on every scene, we didn’t take separate stuff. When you work with a partner, you trigger each other. Very often people would say, who wrote that? And we said, the third person. A third writer evolves from the two different writers.

Writing comedy is a lonely job if you’re by yourself. That’s why there are so many partnerships, because you can bounce off each other. The writing process is so difficult that when you can do that and one guy’s personality is this one and one is that one, and you can reap from both of those two different personalities. I don’t want to go into details of what’s that different, because, because it cost everybody too much money in psychiatrist’s office to get through that, but, it worked very well. I mean, the main reason that the partnership broke up was because Billy really wanted to be a director, which he became. A very successful comedy director.

On co-creating That Girl

While in the last year of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Danny Thomas, knowing it was the last year, would come into our office repeatedly, say, “hey, why don’t you write a show for my kid?” We said,” Marlo? She’s terrific. Is she funny?” He said, “she’s my kid, she’s got to be funny.” We hemmed and hawed because we were doing a pilot for another series at the same time called Good Morning World, about our experiences at the radio station WNEW. Finally, Danny said, “look, you’ve got to see her, she’s in London now working in ‘Barefoot in the Park’. They gave her great reviews and they didn’t even know who I am. I’ll buy you a ticket and hotel.” So, Billy and I fly off to London and we go to see her in the play and she was terrific. We came back and we started to talk about a pilot. She was known in her family as “Miss Independent”. She always had that very air of independence about her. However, and I don’t know whether it’s true, but when she was an out-of-work actress in New York she lived at The Plaza, so I don’t know how independent…. the idea about being a single girl on her own in New York evolved from all of those discussions about this independence. They wanted to call it Miss Independence at one time. We didn’t like that, it sounds like a musical.

So Billy and I wrote the pilot of her leaving her family who lived in Westchester and going down to live in New York. Discussion started about, okay, she’ll be a single girl. But then we said because of our training from Carl Reiner, she’s got to have a boyfriend. Why? Well, because we don’t want her to be single and what guy is she not going to sleep with this week — especially in those days in 1966. She agreed. We wrote the script and hired Ted Bessell. The original pilot was recast. Some of the actors didn’t test well, that nonsense. We didn’t know at the time, we’re credited in books and articles by the feminist movement as being on the forefront of the feminist movement. No, we were trying to do a show for Danny Thomas’ daughter. We had no agenda. Maybe Marlo did at the time. She professes now that she did. I don’t know whether she had the agenda as this woman’s statement. She wanted a show.

On his work for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon

A fun job, as well as an often heartbreaking job is, is working as a consultant on the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Jerry is an old friend, I met him when I was at WNEW. He came in to town and William B. said, “this guy wrote that funny promo for you.” So Jerry and I have known each other for a long time and though he claims to be nine years old, I think I’m a little younger than he is, emotionally. We keep having a lot of fun together. Plus, for that cause, it’s worth all the effort, you know, and we do that.

On how he would like to be remembered

As being tall and very good-looking.

See Sam Denoff’s full Archive of American Television interview here.

Diane English on “Murphy Brown”, “My Sister Sam” and more!

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Archive Interviewee Diane English is no stranger to the big or small screen.  In her two-and-a-half hour interview, she discusses writing for television’s Foley Square, My Sister Sam, and Ink, among others; tells of her feature-film directing debut for The Women; and describes the creation of Murphy Brown.

In the following clip she explains how she came up with “Murphy Brown’s” unusual name:

Watch Diane English’s full interview here:

About this Interview:
Diane English was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in North Hollywood, CA. English discusses her upbringing in Buffalo, New York, where she first worked as an English and drama teacher before moving to New York City to pursue a career in playwriting. She describes how she instead landed her first industry job at public television station WNET, and began writing for the small screen –penning PBS’ first television movie, The Lathe of Heaven. English outlines her first forays into half-hour comedies as a writer for Foley Square and for My Sister Sam, and speaks at length on the creation and production of her hit series, Murphy Brown. She divulges which actress she asked to play “Murphy Brown” before Candice Bergen won the role, and sheds light on the infamous debate on single-motherhood sparked by then Vice President, Dan Quayle. She chronicles the formation of her production company, Shukovsky/English, with husband Joel Shukovsky, and details her film and television work (The Women, Love &War, Ink) since Murphy Brown went off the air. Jenni Matz conducted the interview in a joint venture with American Comedy Archives (at Emerson College) on February 8, 2007.

Noted TV Producer Bob Banner Dies at 89

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

We’ve just learned that legendary TV producer Bob Banner has passed away at 89.

Banner was one of the pioneers in  the new medium of television, beginning his career at WBKB, and later WMAQ in Chicago — part of the historic “Chicago School” — where he worked on Kukla, Fran and Ollie and produced Garroway at Large. He later moved to the The Fred Waring Show in New York and then produced The Dinah Shore Chevy Show among others.  He also executive produced a number of memorable TV movies (including My Sweet Charlie) and many variety series including The Carol Burnett Show, Solid Gold, Star Search and It’s Showtime at the Apollo. The Archive of American Television interviewed him in 1999.

“Bob was a true television legend,” says John Shaffner, Chairman of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “Over a long and elegant career he produced much memorable programming.  He mentored so many of us, educating and encouraging young people to enter the television profession, including myself so many years ago. The television community has lost one its founders, and it is a deep personal loss for many of us. We will remember him with fondness and gratitude.”

Bob Banner interview excerpt on how he would like to be remembered:

Watch his full Archive of American Television interview here.

Remembering TV News Legend Joseph Wershba

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Legendary news producer Joseph Wershba passed away on Saturday, May 14th at the age of 90. Wershba, who decided to become a journalist at a very early age, began his broadcast career in radio, and transitioned to television at CBS News, where he worked on See It Now (where he was part of the core team to expose McCarthyism), CBS Reports and 60 Minutes.

Here are a few excerpts from his 6-hour career-spanning Archive of American Television interview conducted by Jeff Kisseloff in 1997:

Joseph Wershba on the genesis of See it Now
It was what we had on the first broadcast.  Open with something that nobody had ever seen before, which was two oceans live in the same time frame; the Brooklyn Navy Yard where Eddie Scott was, and the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay, which was live. Murrow said, “Ed, will you give me the uh, the Brooklyn Navy Yard?”  And he said, “coming right up!  There it is.” Murrow said, “well, this is the first time we’ve ever seen two oceans live.”  You know, small potatoes today, but very big.  It was like the landing on the Moon.  The coaxial cable had just been opened for many of us to go by cable to the west coast.  Before that, it wouldn’t have been done.  And Murrow’s introductory line, “this is an old team on a new job.” Meaning, CBS, his colleagues and Fred Friendly using uh, and entirely new mode of communication, and we hoped to use it and not abuse it, which referred to his own feelings about what the news was about.

Joseph Wershba on preparing See It Now’s historic program on Senator Joseph McCarthy
We looked at the program, it was cut.  Ed [Murrow] went around the room, What do you think? The editors were all for it, scared.  The cameramen worried about their jobs and things like that.  My position was, it all depends on what you’re going to say at the end of this broadcast.  Because, if you just run what we have looked at, the people who think McCarthy is a great man, will think he is doing the Lord’s work.  And the people who are fearful of him and hate him will think he’s more fearful and more hateful than they ever knew.  What are you going to say?  And, instead of telling me to go mind my business, he said, “Well what I’ll say is that, if none of us ever read a book that was different, if none of us ever joined an organization that somebody thought should be outlawed, if none of us ever had friends who, who were suspect of something or other, we’d all be, all be just the kind of people that Joe McCarthy wants.  The whole country’d be that way.” But he said it even more, I don’t have it down word for word.  He said it powerfully, he’d been thinking about it all along.  And I said, “Well Mr. Murrow, it’s been a privilege to have known you.”….I felt that this was the greatest thing that I’d, in my personal life, had ever come across.  We’re standing at Armageddon, ready for war, and we could easily have been destroyed.  Just McCarthy coming back, ripping us apart.

Joseph Wershba on the legacy of CBS News president Fred Friendly
I don’t like what’s happened in recent years in an attempt to downgrade Fred’s contribution.  I will say to my last breath that without Fred we wouldn’t have had the impact that we had on See It Now.  That Fred helped give Murrow the means whereby Murrow could make the mark that he wanted to.

Joseph Wershba on his work as a producer on 60 Minutes
See It Now was the mother lode, it was the fount of all these magazine shows.  The first one to come along which I’m proud to say I also worked on. I spent twenty years with 60 Minutes, I was one of the founding producers.  That’s a title that is a showbiz title, but it meant a reporter who went out, got all the details, came back, conferred with the correspondent who was doing four other stories at the same time, wrote up the  outline, placed the questions, told them what answers he can expect, and if they got a different answer, how to approach the next question.  That’s what a producer does.

See his CBS News obituary here.

Mark Burnett Has Spoken!

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

The creator/producer of Survivor, The Apprentice, The Voice and many other hit series was recently interviewed for the Archive of American Television. In his newly released interview, he discusses the production of the competition-based reality series he’s best-known for, and the “reality tv” genre in general. Watch Mark Burnett’s full interview here.

In this video clip, he discusses his philosophy behind Survivor and the tribal council:

About the Interview:
In his Archive interview, Mark Burnett details his upbringing in England and his time in the British Army before discussing his move to Los Angeles, CA. He describes several of the jobs he held before venturing into television production and recounts his love of the outdoors and adventure sports — passions that led to his involvement with the physically demanding Eco-Challenge race and its corresponding television show. Such experience proved invaluable for his next hit competition-based reality series — and perhaps the show most closely identified with him — Survivor.Burnett goes on to discuss the production of Survivor, as well as that of several of his other successes, including The Apprenticeand Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?He also touches on a few of his more short-lived series, like The Contenderand The Restaurant, and comments on what the term “reality television” means to him. Mark Burnett was interviewed in two parts: in Santa Monica, CA on September 1, 2010 and in Malibu, CA on September 29, 2010. Stephen J. Abramson conducted the combined two-and-a-half hour interview.

Scripting Reality: “An American Family” comes Full-Circle

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

40 years ago, in 1971 in suburban Santa Barbara, TV history was quietly being made as cinematographers Alan and Susan Raymond, along with producer Craig Gilbert, brought their cameras into the home and lives of the Loud family. The culmination of their work, the 12-part An American Family, aired on PBS  in 1973, and has since been considered the first true “reality” series. Now, the genre comes full circle with a fully scripted version of the story as HBO premieres Cinema Verite, a docudrama about the making of the documentary starring James Gandolfini, Diane Lane, and Tim Robbins.

In this Archive interview clip, Alan and Susan Raymond discuss meeting the Louds for the first time in New York and realizing how groundbreaking depicting an openly-gay Lance Loud on television would be:

The Archive of American Television interviewed the Raymonds (who continued to change the cinematic landscape with other acclaimed documentaries featuring grainy handheld footage and other techniques we take for granted) for four hours in 2010, just as Cinema Verite was in production. “It’s going to be another life experience,” they said. “First you see Steve Bochco take your footage [from The Police Tapes for the opening of Hill Street Blues]. And then you see the guy who makes Cops take your footage. Then you see reality TV like Real World, springboard from your work.  So now there’s going to be a narrative version of you, in which we’re characters in the movie.”

Cinema Verite trailer:

Again, as a sign of the times, apparently Craig Gilbert is not thrilled with his portrayal in the film. Hopefully, there was a crew filming a reality show of the making of the docudrama to help sort things out.

A reality TV footnote: in the Archive’s very recent interview with executive Tom Freston, who headed MTV as The Real World was developed, Freston mentioned that the series came out of an idea for a scripted soap opera featuring young adults. The concept proved too expensive, so the network opted to mount cameras in a house, and let the script write itself. The more things change….