News from the Archive

Anderson Cooper: Journalist. Moderator. Press-pass Forger.

October 9th, 2016
Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper is a name familiar to nearly all of us today as the host of CNN’s AC360, a frequent contributor to 60 Minutes, and moderator of the second Presidential Debate between Hillary and Donald, airing Sunday, October 9. We have watched him cover major news events for years - from war zones and natural disasters, to U.S Presidential elections and celebrity interviews.

But many may not know of Cooper’s beginnings and early losses. Although he was born into fame and privilege as the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, Cooper made his name his own. The death of his father, Wyatt Cooper, created a drive to be self-sufficient. And so he went on his own to Africa at age 17 to learn survival skills. Later, the tragic death of his brother motivated him to go out and earn his colleagues' respect as a journalist -- even faking a press-pass to get him into Burma to cover a student rebellion with his own camera (a Hi-8, which he still has), the Rwandan genocide, and the famine in Somalia. He submitted those self-produced reports to Channel One, which was his first entree into news reporting. He explained his work ethic in his interview, "You work harder than anyone else around you, you out-hustle everyone else around you, you show up first and you leave last, and you volunteer for all the stuff that nobody else wants to do and you put yourself in positions where when things happen-- you’re the one who’s on camera."

There are pivotal moments in history, now part of our collective consciousness, that Cooper was there to cover and inject his own perspective on. In his interview he talked about that struggle -- maintaining neutrality when facing a real life tragedy -- and how sometimes the response is so visceral that it's difficult to maintain an objective point of view. We watched as he confronted Senator Mary Landrieu on-air during Hurricane Katrina when she was thanking Congress for their aid -- pointing out to her that there were still dead bodies in the streets of Mississippi. We watched as he put down his camera to help a local boy, caught in the midst of chaos in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and carried him to safety.

On witnessing tragedies first-hand, Cooper said, "This isn’t about me. This is about these people who are suffering and I’m privileged to be here and bear witness to their suffering. There is no magic way to deal [with it]. I think it should keep you up at night. It should make you cry and it should change who you are. And it should always do that. It does that now [to me] just as much as it did 20 years ago."

In the clip below, he explains the moment when he realized he had becomed desensitized to what he was reporting, causing him to leave news altogether and take a job as the host of ABC's The Mole. He keeps that memory close.

But 9/11 was the event that made him return to hard news. "The world has just changed and here I am on a reality show... it's been a nice year off, but I’d like to get back to what I really love."

As our interview wrapped, Cooper shook every member of our crew by hand and thanked us by name. He had spent almost four hours talking to us that day. He got up, walked straight to the newsroom outside his office, and within minutes was back on-air, covering the stories of the day. Of his career he said, "I can’t believe that this has all happened. From when I started out with this idea of going to wars by myself, building a little fake press-pass and a hand-held camera, that I’ve actually able to kind of forge a life out of it. And I’m very, very lucky."

Cooper has said he finds elections "fascinating" -- he covered the 2007 Presidential race and the 2012 Presidential election for CNN, and moderated Presidential debates for both. This weekend, he will put his moderator's hat on once again, to cover the second Presidential Debate in the 2016 election.

He told us what he thinks makes a good interview - listening is key. Think these qualities he names also make for a good debate? Given the media maelstrom that erupted in the past 48 hours over both candidates, we expect it will be a memorable night on television. Tune in Sunday to see if Debate #2 meets your expectations.

- by Jenni Matz

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Remembering Rocky Kalish

October 7th, 2016
Rocky Kalish

We’re sad to learn that writer Austin “Rocky” Kalish has passed away at the age of 95. Kalish grew up in the Bronx and began writing while serving in World War II. His first professional writing jobs were in radio, including writing for Rowan & Martin with his wife/writing partner Irma. The pair went on to write for early television shows including The Colgate Comedy Hour. They co-wrote the pilot for Gilligan’s Island with Elroy Schwartz, and wrote on many other series of the 1960s and 1970s including I Dream of Jeannie, F-Troop, Good Times, and Family Affair. The duo also wrote groundbreaking episodes of Norman Lear series including the All in the Family episode “Edith’s Christmas Story,” which tackled a breast cancer scare and the Maude episode “Maude’s Dilemma,” which dealt with the subject of abortion. They continued writing for a variety of series through the 1980s. 

Below are some selections from Rocky and Irma’s joint 2012 interview:

On the All in the Family episode "Edith's Christmas Story":

On their legacy in television:

Watch Rocky Kalish's full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

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Archive in the Clubhouse - Watch What Happened!

October 5th, 2016
Andy Cohen

After conducting nearly 100 interviews with television writers, producers, journalists, and legends - many who had been working in the industry on shows that originated on radio -- my friends were curious why I was so excited to interview the creator of “Bravolebrities." 

Reality TV certainly gets its share of hard knocks. After all, it’s given a platform to people famous for nothing more than being famous and the entire genre has been blamed for bullying scripted television out of existence. And yet I had more people pepper me with questions about my interview with Andy Cohen than I did for interviews with Vince GilliganBetty White, and (Cohen's touring-pal) Anderson Cooper, combined. The Emmys have only recognized reality television programming since 2001, but “unscripted” television has been around long before Terese flipped tables on RHONJ. Before “Gym-Tan-Laundry”, “Make it work!”, “Please pack your knives and GO”... there was MTV’s The Real World, there was An American Family, and before all that, there was Candid Camera. But there is a decidedly different flavor to the genre of shows that Cohen has made a source of public-bonding. But how real is this Reality?

Stepping into the pop-culture Narnia that is the Bravo Clubhouse is pretty unreal itself. Yes, the booze is real. Yes, the skyline image of St. Louis that frames the host of Watch What Happens Live IS made out of Lite Brite. I "plead the 5th" over whether or not I did a shotski. But I did freak out over the ‘Giggy’ photo. The entire set is a shrine to the freakishly exquisite world of characters that Andy Cohen has promulgated. But as soon as we sat down to talk, what you immediately sense is how real these characters, these actual people and their stories are to Andy Cohen. He knows his audience. He knows that they identify with the characters on his shows -- and also judge them, love/hate them, feel empathy for them, but mostly, want to TALK about them. And he bet on the fact that if he finds these characters interesting, that audience will, too.

Like The Real World’s creator, Jonathan Murray, Cohen cut his chops in TV News. Some may be surprised to learn the person responsible for Being Bobbi Brown and The Kardashians was a senior producer for Dan Rather on 48 Hours, and won a Peabody Award for The N Word. Cohen readily admits that the “Bravo wink” comes directly from what he learned at 48 Hours: A typical edit shows a Real Housewife talking about being healthy, then the camera cuts to a shot of her smoking. But Cohen insists they are not making fun -- “it’s just about letting the reality tell the story. We were winking at the audience from the edit room.”

Cohen’s current mantra is that if it happens on-camera, it’s in the show. He did have a moment that gave him pause early in his career, while interviewing the writer Nicholas Sparks: “While the crew was there (Sparks) got a call from home saying that his father had died. And he called me up and said, ‘this is the most personal moment of my life. I beg you not to use it.’” And Cohen not only didn’t use it -- he didn’t tell anyone the tape even existed. But by contrast, his attitude towards Real Housewives is more fly-on-the-wall. And that fly catches everything. Cohen said, “I’ve had countless calls from people, ‘please don’t use the fight between my sister Kim and I in the back of the limo.’” Sorry -- you signed up for a show about your life and we’re going to air everything. We aired Vicki Gunvalson getting a phone call from her daughter telling her that her mother died. And it was the most real moment I think in Real Housewives of Orange County. Would I air Nicholas Sparks getting the call if it happened now? It would certainly be a discussion.”

One thing that is undeniable about meeting Andy Cohen in person is that he is exactly the same off-camera as he portrays as the host of Watch What Happens Live or refereeing the Housewives reunions. When our crew was wrapping up on set, Cohen immediately ducked into the adjacent edit room, and began giving notes on that night’s episode. You get the sense he’s still watching as a viewer, completely captivated by what is unfolding. And that captivation is clearly infectious. So, enjoy. We know you’re watching.

On his mentors and lessons learned from a disastrous interview he conducted with Robin Williams:

On learning it was “all about the characters” at 48 Hours:

On "Bravolebrities" and coining that term:

On the success of The Real Housewives Franchise as "Theater of the Absurd":

- by Jenni Matz

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TV Tunes: Some Thoughts on the Theme Song

September 30th, 2016
It's Garry Shandling's Show

Television theme songs, at their best, trigger an almost Pavlovian response in the viewer. After seven years, when one heard, “Woke up this morning…” one became instantly primed for the superb writing, fine acting, and sometimes horrifying violence of The Sopranos. The jaunty I Love Lucy theme always got us ready for black & white hijinks and laughs. The serious, hard-hitting theme of The McLaughlin Group meant it was time to open your ears and mind for intelligent talk and opinions.

There are several different types of theme songs. There’s the instrumental with a sweeping orchestra like Dynasty or The Simpsons. These kinds of theme songs get the audience ready for the show by duplicating the mood the series is going for. These instrumentals are sometimes huge hits, like the quieter Hill Street Blues theme, or the theme from Peter Gunn. An unusual example was the Taxi theme song. The show Taxi was uproariously funny, at times, but also had its moments of melancholy. Their theme song, originally written for the classic season 1 episode “Blind Date” and known as “Angela’s Theme,” focused on the melancholy. 

In another type of theme song, the lyrics spell out the theme of the show, or hint at the storyline without getting too specific. These are your Welcome Back, Kotters or your Laverne & Shirleys. These songs can also become big hits, as in the case of “Believe it or Not” from Greatest American Hero or “Everybody Knows Your Name” from Cheers. It was very common in the ‘70s and early ‘80s for some of these songs to get massive radio play. And, before watching a second of the show, you’d get a pretty good idea of what it’s about. A great example (which actually reached number 1 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart) was Charles Fox’s theme to the short-lived Donna Pescow vehicle Angie. Sung by Maureen McGovern, the song was arguably better than the series! Mr. Fox gave us the thrill of a lifetime when he played a bit of it for us during his interview.

NOW, to get to my favorite - it’s a long, lost art- the theme song that tells the specific story and premise of the show. This would mean that any first time viewer could be caught up instantly no matter which episode they see, because in those days nothing of lasting consequence ever happened during the run of a typical sitcom. The classic examples are The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, and my favorite obscure one, The Pruitts of Southampton, starring Miss Phyllis Diller. Then there was the Chico and the Man theme. It was such a big hit for Jose Feliciano that they actually had him sing it on the show, directly to the characters it was about!  

My personal favorite theme song of all time defies characterization, as it is unique. The theme to It’s Garry Shandling’s Show was a meta-commentary on the nature of the theme song itself. Complete with a Randy Newman-style “whistle break,” this was truly the theme song to end all theme songs.

Today, while the television theme song with any kind of lyrics is sadly disappearing, the instrumental theme song is growing strong. The ‘80s, synth theme to Netflix’s Stranger Things is absolute perfection. When you hear it, it puts you squarely back in 1983 reading a Stephen King novel. The Game of Thrones theme makes one want to hop up on the couch and hoist a sword of Valyrian Steel in the air. Ok, maybe that’s just me, but it’s still a great one!

We’re particularly proud of our vast collection of interviews with the great composers of television. In addition to Charles Fox, we have Mike Post, Vic Mizzy, Mark Snow, and Alf Clausen. To hear from them and others about your favorite television theme song, search the collection!

- by John Dalton

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Remembering Agnes Nixon

September 28th, 2016
blog post image

We're sad to hear that soap opera creator Agnes Nixon passed away this morning at the age of 88. Nixon started in soaps shortly after graduating college when she was hired by the legendary Irna Phillips to write for Woman in White. She then moved to New York and wrote for anthology dramas Robert Montgomery Presents and Hallmark Hall of Fame as well as for the early soap Search for Tomorrow. She worked for Phillips on Guiding Lightco-created As the World Turns with Phillips and Ted Corday, and also created the soap operas All My Children, One Life to Live, and Loving

Below is an excerpt from her 1997 Archive interview on creating One Life to Live:

Watch Agnes Nixon's full Archive interview and read her obituary in Deadline.

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