Archive for the ‘Genre: Politics’ Category

50 Years Later: A Vaster Wasteland?

Monday, May 9th, 2011

On May 9, 1961 FCC Chairman Newton N. Minow, an appointee of President Kennedy’s administration, delivered his historic speech to the National Association of Broadcasters in Washington, DC. The speech is best known for two words he uttered in reference to the programming found on TV stations nationwide: Vast Wasteland. The term became a cultural touchpoint for critics of television, and remains so to this day. Interestingly, in Mr. Minow’s Archive of American Television interview, he discusses not only the origins of the speech itself, but how those loaded words ultimately overshadowed his larger overall message:

“To my way of thinking, that speech was badly misinterpreted. It didn’t condemn all of television. It said there are great things in television which are unique in uniting and serving the country, but you, the broadcasters, have got to remember that you are trustees for all of us. That you have got to pay more attention to your obligations to children. You’ve got to pay more attention to not only the bottom line, but to public service.”

Minow’s insightful video interview covers his two-year FCC chairmanship and his championing of the creation of public television as well as the implementation of satellite communications. The interview was conducted by Chuck Olin on July 21, 1999.

An excerpt from his 1961 speech is below, and you can listen to it in its entirety here.

AUDIO mp3:

“Governor Collins, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. … my subject today is the television industry and the public interest.. I am the chairman of the FCC. But I am also a television viewer and the husband and father of other television viewers. I have seen a great many television programs that seemed to me eminently worthwhile and I am not talking about the much bemoaned good old days of “Playhouse 90” and “Studio One.” I’m talking about this past season. Some were wonderfully entertaining, such as “The Fabulous Fifties,” “The Fred Astaire Show,” and “The Bing Crosby Special”; some were dramatic and moving, such as Conrad’s “Victory” and “Twilight Zone“; some were marvelously informative, such as “The Nation’s Future,” “CBS Reports,” “The Valiant Years.” I could list many more — programs that I am sure everyone here felt enriched his own life and that of his family. When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it….

… Television will rapidly join the parade into space. International television will be with us soon. No one knows how long it will be until a broadcast from a studio in New York will be viewed in India as well as in Indiana, will be seen in the Congo as it is seen in Chicago. But as surely as we are meeting here today, that day will come; and once again our world will shrink.

What will the people of other countries think of us when they see our western bad men and good men punching each other in the jaw in between the shooting? What will the Latin American or African child learn of America from this great communications industry? We cannot permit television in its present form to be our voice overseas…

…I say to you ladies and gentlemen — I remind you what the President said in his stirring inaugural. He said: Ask not what America can do for you; ask what you can do for America.”¹ I say to you ladies and gentlemen: Ask not what broadcasting can do for you; ask what you can do for broadcasting. And ask what broadcasting can do for America.

I urge you, I urge you to put the people’s airwaves to the service of the people and the cause of freedom. You must help prepare a generation for great decisions. You must help a great nation fulfill its future. Do this! I pledge you our help. Thank you.”

50 Years Ago America Watched “The Great Debates” with candidates Kennedy and Nixon

Friday, September 24th, 2010

“The Great Debates”— a series of discussions with then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon and Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy— aired network-wide on September 26, October 7, October 13, and October 21, 1960.  Variety called the first debate a “dud,” but history has said otherwise, labeling it landmark in Kennedy’s eventual Presidential victory.  According to Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV by Alan Schroeder, the first debate “attract[ed] the largest audience that had ever assembled for a political event.  An estimated seventy million Americans watched on TV, while several million more listened on radio.”  The debates have become notable for the reaction of the TV versus radio audience.  As stated in David Bianculli’s Dictionary of Teleliteracy: “Nixon’s gaunt, stubbly, and sweaty appearance, especially the first night, is generally said to have cost him the debate and perhaps the election: radio listeners ranked Nixon ahead of Kennedy, but Kennedy’s ease in front of the cameras reflected a more comforting and commanding image, and TV viewers declared him the winner instead.”

“When that [first] debate was over, I realized that we didn’t have to wait for an election day. We just elected a president. It all happened on television.” — Don Hewitt (Producer/Director)

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the “Great Debates,” the Archive of American Television offers a special curated collection of Archive interviewees at Emmytvlegends’ Kennedy-Nixon Debates— watch an excerpt from the first debate and Archive interview excerpts from debates’ producer-director Don Hewitt, first debate moderator Howard K. Smith, CBS News President Sig Mickelson, and others.

Daniel Schorr— longtime CBS & NPR news correspondent— has died at age 93

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Daniel Schorr was a newsman for CBS from the 1950s to the 1970s, and famously found himself on live TV reading— to his surprise— his own name on President Nixon’s “enemies list” while reporting during the Watergate era.  Schorr was among the initial hires at CNN and was a Senior News Analyst at NPR in his later career.

Daniel Schorr was interviewed by the Archive of American Television on May 22, 2001.

Interview description:

Daniel Schorr was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in Washington, D. C.  Schorr talked about working for CBS News in Moscow in the mid-1950s and Germany in the early 1960s.  He discussed his work on the series CBS Reports and The Twentieth Century.  Other topics covered included the Nixon administration/Watergate scandal and the beginnings of CNN.  The interview was conducted by Don Carleton.

Tim Russert Dies At Age 58– Archive Interview Online

Friday, June 13th, 2008

The Archive is saddened by the sudden death of newsman Tim Russert. Russert was interviewed on the set of Meet the Press by the Archive in 2003.

Click here to access his Archive interview.

Interview description:
Russert spoke about his early years growing up in Buffalo, NY and his decision to go to law school. He then spoke about his transition to television news, joining NBC News in 1984 as vice president — working very closely with his mentor, NBC president Lawrence Grossman. In 1988, he became the Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief of NBC News and in 1991 he joined Meet the Press as its moderator. He spoke about his meeting with Meet the Press co-creator Lawrence Spivak and outlined his philosophy for moderating a news interview show. He also spoke about what he considered the biggest news story of his career to-date, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America. The interview was conducted by Karen Herman on October 12, 2003.

"Meet the Press" Celebrates 60 Years on Television

Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

Network television’s oldest show, Meet the Press, debuted on NBC on November 6, 1947. The guest on this first show was James A. Farley, former postmaster general under Franklin D. Roosevelt and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee; the show was created by Laurence E. Spivak and Martha Roundtree (who served as moderator). Meet the Press made its radio debut in 1945. The series moved around the week in its first few years but since 1950 has been a Sunday staple, as Tim Russert’s tagline suggests: “If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press.”

The Archive of American Television has interviewed several members of the team responsible for the show over the years and we’re happy to highlight two of these interviews:

Tim Russert was interviewed for a half-hour on the set of Meet the Press in Washington, D.C. Russert spoke about his early years growing up in Buffalo, NY and his decision to go to law school. He then spoke about his transition to television news, joining NBC News in 1984 as vice president — working very closely with his mentor, NBC president Lawrence Grossman. In 1988, he became the Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief of NBC News and in 1991 he joined Meet the Press as its moderator. He spoke about his meeting with Meet the Press co-creator Lawrence Spivak and outlined his philosophy for moderating a news interview show. He also spoke about what he considered the biggest news story of his career to-date, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on America.

Betty Cole Dukert was interviewed for four-and-a-half hours. Dukert spoke of her early interest in journalism and her brief production experience in local radio and television. She spoke in great detail about her tenure at Meet the Press, which spanned five decades, for which she ultimately served as executive producer. Dukert offered a history of the show from its earliest years as well as discussing her personal experiences behind-the-scenes. She chronicled her overseas trips, guests who appeared on the show, and the relationship between the series and the world’s political leaders. Additionally, she described the working methods of the moderators who served on the show during her years including: Ned Brooks, Lawrence Spivak, Bill Monroe, Marvin Kalb, Roger Mudd, Chris Wallace, Garrick Utley, and Tim Russert.

October 22, 1962: JFK Addresses the Nation about the Cuban Missile Crisis

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Forty five years ago, the U.S. and the Soviet Union nearly went to war over the placement of missiles in nearby Cuba. Kennedy told the television audience that he would “…regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” The crisis was abated when an unconditional Soviet withdrawal was negotiated.

Soundbites from the Archive of American Television:

Max Schindler (Director, News)

“We all knew that something was happening because people were being called away from parties here in town. Very high placed government officials were being called away. We knew it was serious when they started showing pictures of missile silos opening, we thought Washington would be, probably a prime target because it was very serious. Here was this young President Kennedy facing off with Nikita Khrushchev. And I guess he wanted to push to see how hard he could get this young president to back off. Kennedy said the missiles had to be taken out of Cuba, Khrushchev said nyet, no way. And there were Russian ships steaming toward Cuba, or as Kennedy used to say ‘Cuber.’ It was kind of a scary time, and I don’t know how it was around the rest of the country, but in Washington it was very scary. My daughter had just been born a couple of months earlier, and because of a death in the family, she hadn’t been baptized and I came home one night and my wife said to me I baptized Maggie in her crib, she was that scared that we were going to have a nuclear war at that time. So it was a very scary time here in Washington… The coverage was all kind of secretive. We followed a lot of government officials around and tried to get information from them, but it was very hard. It was a very trying time, but they didn’t want to give any information out so, even though we had camera crews at the White House, and State Department, and the Pentagon and all over, we didn’t really get much out of them. They played it pretty close to the vest during that time and I can’t say as I blame them.”

Click here to watch Max Schindler’s entire 6-part Archive of American Television Interview.

Interview Description:
Schindler talked briefly about his early years as a cameraman/production manager in local television in the 1950s. He described his entrance into network television in the 1960s on David Brinkley’s Journal, as an associate director. He spoke of his transition to director and talked about coverage done for several of the important news events of the day, including the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam War. He described directing news coverage following the Kennedy assassination and capturing the images of the President’s coffin being placed onto Air Force One and the newly sworn-in Lyndon B. Johnson coming out to speak his first words as President. Schindler described covering other ‘60s events including Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. He described in great detail, his two-decade long association with Meet The Press, which he began in 1965. Schindler described preparing for the show and talked about several of the guests who appeared as well as describing the moderators on the series. Schindler described his work from the 1970s to today covering such events as the Watergate scandal, the returning of the hostages from Iran, and Papal visits to the U.S. Finally, Schindler described the work he has done as a Washington director for the Today show, which he has done from 1975 to the present day.

Bill Monroe (News Correspondent)

“We didn’t quite know what was going on… Gradually it came into view. We took what we could find out from the White House and Kennedy used the media to get across the points he needed to make as the thing developed.”

“One time I was at the White House as a producer of a speech that Kennedy gave that was on all three networks. And he told us to give him at the end of the speech a one-minute cue… He was going to improvise the last minute. He felt that reading something, although he was good at it, is not as effective as if he talk[ed] to [the viewer] directly. And he wanted to finish one minute improvised. Most Presidents don’t have the nerve to do that… He was supremely confident about his articulateness and his ability to handle television.”

60 Years Ago — October 20, 1947 — The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) Began Its Probe That Resulted in The Hollywood Blacklist

Friday, October 19th, 2007

“Television Responds to the Red Scare”
By Gary Rutkowski

American television production, halted in its infancy before World War II, continued full-force with the four networks— ABC, CBS, NBC, and DuMont— scheduling programs regularly. Soon after, in 1950, they also began consulting an independently published booklet entitled “Red Channels,” which listed alleged Communists or sympathizers who were not to be employed on television: a blacklist.

With the beginning of the Cold War a strong Anti-Communist wind blew into postwar America and it was exploited. The era would be defined by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose manipulation of public opinion intensified the “red scare.” The “scare” was rooted in two sets of hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 and 1951 which targeted (but was not limited to) the Hollywood film, television, and radio communities. After the first, ten men (dubbed the “Hollywood Ten”), mostly screenwriters, were imprisoned for not cooperating with the committee, having not “named names” of other members of the Communist party of “leftist” organizations.

Many of these and other blacklisted writers found a safe haven in television— writing under pseudonyms and fronts. Others, such as performers and directors, found they could not work at all. Careers were ruined and lives were shattered in a time when any left wing political association, no matter how tenuous, could be considered subversive.

Television provided the first expose of the hysteria with Edward R. Murrow’s 1954 CBS “See It Now” broadcast “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy,” which weakened McCarthy’s credibility by offering film clips of his own misstatements and half-truths. McCarthy received equal time on “See It Now,” only damaging himself further. In a related press conference, Murrow said: “Who has helped the Communist cause and who has served his country better, Senator McCarthy or I? I would like to be remembered by the answer to that question.” Weeks later, ABC and DuMont aired the “Army-McCarthy Hearings,” further weakening McCarthyism’s stronghold.

The blacklist came to an end in the early sixties, after McCarthy’s death, when several producers insisted that writers from the “Hollywood Ten” receive screen credit under their real names again. In 1997, on the 50th anniversary of the first HUAC hearings, formal apologies were given to blacklisted artists by such organizations as the DGA, the WGA, SAG and AFTRA.

(Reprinted from The Vault: The Journal of the Archive of American Television, Winter 2000.)

Selected Soundbites from the Archive of American Television Collection:

Ring Lardner, Jr. (Writer, blacklisted, one of the “Hollywood Ten”)

“HUAC Chairman [J. Parnell Thomas] said: ‘That’s enough, skip to the $64,000 question. Go ahead.’ He turned it over to the committee counsel who then said: ‘All right, Mr. Lardner, are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?’ I said, ‘I can answer that question, too, but I’d like to explain.’ Thomas said: ‘Never mind explaining anything.’ I said one other thing, and he said: ‘Come on, answer the question, any real American would be happy to answer that question.’ And I said, ‘I could answer it the way you want it, Mr. Chairman, but if I did, I’d hate myself in the morning.’ He said: ‘Leave the witness chair. Take him away.’ I said, ‘I think I’m being removed by force.’ And I was indeed.”

Roy Huggins (Show Creator/Producer/Director, “friendly” witness)

“[HUAC] asking me for names that they already had was a violation of their mandate from Congress and so I felt that it was wrong for me to cooperate with them. I didn’t think it was wrong to give them names although I would rather not have. But giving them names they already had didn’t strike me as being a horrible deed. But cooperating with them, with this loose canon committee that was violating its mandate from Congress and violating my rights was, was really not the right thing to do. But I decided that I was going to cooperate with them and I was also going to state that I felt what they were doing was wrong.”

Abraham Polonsky (Writer-Director, blacklisted)

“I was subpoenaed [and] I stood on the Fifth and wouldn’t answer any questions…. I got a letter from a college here recently, and the letter said: “ what is the thing you’re proudest of?” And I wrote back and said, when the U.S. Government pushed me, I pushed back.” And the kid wrote back: ‘That’s why we love you!’”

Tony Randall (Actor)

“Everybody was cleared through that man [Vincent] Hartnett [“Red Channels” author]. He made a living from clearing people. People made money out of the blacklist. And the worst blacklisters were actors who turned in other actors and got their jobs. It was a devastating disclosure of human nature.”

Joseph Wershba (CBS News Reporter/News Producer)

“What Murrow did was to hurl the spear that broke open this whole boiling fear in the American body politic where it wasn’t a question of whether this was going to be constitutional or that was going to be, the question was going to be whether we have a government at all based on a constitution.”

Leonard Goldenson (Executive/Founder ABC)

“We couldn’t afford it. It cost us about $600,000 to run that [coverage of the Army-McCarthy hearings] gavel to gavel, but when that was over, that was good-bye Mr. McCarthy. The public turned on him. And properly so.”

Ring Lardner Jr.’s entire six-part Archive interview is now online.

Interview Description:

Ring Lardner, Jr. (1915-2000) described his work as a screenwriter and one of the most closely identified victims of the Hollywood blacklist. Mr. Lardner described his career as a writer on such films as A Star Is Born (1937), in which he contributed the movie’s famous ending; Woman of the Year (1942), for which he and co-writer Michael Kanin won an Academy Award; and Laura (1944), the classic film noir for which he contributed uncredited. He described the Hollywood “red scare” which halted his career and placed him on an industry blacklist. He described his testimony as an “unfriendly” witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) that landed him in jail as one of the “Hollywood Ten.” He spoke in detail about his work in television, which he did under pseudonym during the blacklist era, working on such series as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955-58), The Buccaneers (1956-57), The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956-57), and Ivanhoe (1958). Mr. Lardner talked about his emergence from the blacklist in the mid-sixties that culminated with his win of the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for M*A*S*H (1970).

Producer/Director Alan Neuman’s Interview Is Now Online

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Producer-director Alan Neuman directed innumerable “live” on-location dramatic, variety, and documentary productions, including NBC’s first televised presidential election coverage and the first show that ever linked four countries together.

Click here to access the entire six-part videotaped interview.

Some interview excerpts are as follows:

On Kate Smith (from part 3):
Kate Smith was a wonderful, remarkable talent. She was a great performer for the theater. When they were traveling she would cut the boys’ hair— she was a barber as well. But I remember the transition. The show became enormously popular. But I remember the girl who cut hair…. Every Friday show, she would sing “God Bless America.” And I’ve probably heard it more than any other person I know has heard it. She had this great voice— big belting voice. And when she sang she filled a room, she filled a hall, she filled anything. She was the one who was always recognized with “God Bless America.” …. In those days, if she walked down the street, they followed her. And she was no beauty. She was not a Marilyn Monroe. But she was Kate Smith. And that meant a great deal.

On the Blacklist (from part 3):
The ad agency would say, the cheese company, or the car company doesn’t want to be in the position of pushing Communism in any shape, manner, or form. They’re out here buying entertainment and we don’t want that. And I could understand their perspective but I wasn’t sympathetic to it…. Who cared if they were a Communist when they were sixteen? It never made much sense…. It literally kept people from functioning, from earning a living…. I found it an abhorrent thing.

On Wide Wide World (from part 4):
I was the first one to do a show in which we linked four countries together— Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and the United States. It was Christmas and we sang “Adeste Fidelis.”…. I had a DC-10, a plane, between Miami and Havana, circling overhead relaying the signal, because that’s what was needed. …. I gave [the Emmy the show won] to the technical supervisor who was responsible for it.

On working with President Herbert Hoover (from part 4):
[NBC President] Pat Weaver called me and said I want you to do [a certain series]. I said I never heard of [that] series. He said that’s why I want you on board— jazz it up a little bit. I said “who’s the guest?” He said Herbert Hoover. I said, “Jazz him up?!”…. But I got Hoover to laugh on camera, I got him to tell stories about himself… This is a man that never smiled on camera. I got him to tell the story about the little girl at Mark Hopkins who came over to him and said, “Mr. Hoover, may I have twelve of your autographs?” And he said, “Twelve? Why do you need twelve?” “Because twelve of yours is worth one Willie Mays.” To get him to tell that story on himself on camera was I felt an accomplishment.

On Maurice Chevalier’s interview for Person to Person (from part 5):
Chevalier had not been permitted to visit this country. He had performed before the German officers. The truth was [he had been given an ultimatum]— “Mr. Chevalier you want to appear before the Frenchmen that we’ve captured, you’ve got to appear before a German camp.” So they gave him that, and he appeared before the Germans, so he could appear before the French. Now we were holding up his visa. He’s a famous French entertainer and we weren’t permitting him to come in. This was during the McCarthy time. I hope that by the story being explained when I did it on Person to Person, it helped, because he was permitted to attend the Academy Awards the following year. [In 1959, producing Person to Person abroad] I informed New York that I was gonna do an entire half-hour [on Chevalier]. They said no. The only ones that ever took a half-hour were Kennedy and Nixon. You’re not gonna take a half-hour— it would break precedent. Why are you taking a half-an-hour? I said because I can’t tell the story in just fifteen minutes. I had visited Chevalier where he had a home. And as I walked up the steps he had a photograph of every woman he had ever been with, all these major stars going on up, ending up with a shrine to his mother that he had outside his bed. And I knew there was no way I was gonna get to any of this without a half-hour at least! He was extraordinary, he was very funny, and it was a delightful half-hour. So what I did is, I shot a half-hour. There was no room for a commercial break in the middle. CBS, when they got the material, was stuck with what I sent them…. There was no commercial break in the middle, they had to give me the whole half-hour— if the man is walking up a staircase you can’t cut away.

Interview description:
Alan Neuman talked about joining NBC as a page in 1947 and his rise through the ranks as stage manager and then director. He described the studios at Rockefeller Center and the early camerawork on such series as Kraft Television Theater. He recalled directing NBC’s first televised presidential election coverage in 1948, anchored by Ben Grauer, which lasted so long that he had Grauer doing calisthenics on the air. He talked about serving as director on such early series as The Three Flames, Mary Kay and Johnny, and Broadway Open House (the forerunner to the Tonight Show). He spoke in detail about his work with Kate Smith and her manager Ted Collins on The Kate Smith Hour. Neuman discussed his work as a producer/director on programs that featured several Presidents of the United States, including Presidents Hoover, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. He talked about the first color remote broadcast done by NBC, for Matinee Theater. He spoke in detail about the series Wide Wide World and Person to Person, for which he served as a producer. Additionally, he talked about the era of the Hollywood Blacklist. B-roll consisted of several photos of Neuman with the presidents he worked with and a photo from the premiere episode of Adlai Stevenson Presents. The interview was conducted by Gary Rutkowski on February 15, 2006.

Producer Martin Hoade’s Interview is Now Online

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Producer Martin Hoade’s seven-part interview is now available for viewing on Google Video. Mr. Hoade produced NBC’s Sunday morning religious program wheel and provides much insight on the topic of how aspects of religion were portrayed on network television.

Interview description:
In his 7-part (each 30-minute segment is posted separately) oral history interview, producer Martin Hoade (1916-2006) recalls his early days in television working for NBC, on programs such as newsreels and political conventions. He talks about his move into religious programming as the producer and director of NBC’s Sunday morning religious program wheel, which was comprised of the series “Frontiers of Faith”, “The Catholic Hour”, and “The Eternal Light”. He speaks of the craft involved in producing religious programming as well as the issue of proselytizing and of religious programming in general.

Click here to access the entire interview.

To read the Archive blog’s obituary of Mr. Hoade, click on the following: Archive of American Television: Religious Series Producer/Director Martin Hoade Has Died