TV’s rich history on display with new archive website
Los Angeles -- Diahann Carroll recalls a date with Marlon Brando that yielded a slap and career advice.
Robert Adler tells how he co-invented the TV remote control.
Walter Cronkite shares his dismay over learning that White House pressure trimmed a CBS report on Watergate.
Their accounts are part of an extraordinary collection of 4,000-plus hours of video Q&As recorded over more than two decades by the Television Academy Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, organizer of the prime-time Emmy Awards.
Last week, a new website made the full collection of 895 interviews — and counting — available free to all comers, who can watch complete interviews or search the curated treasure trove by individuals, shows, events, themes and more. Even such minutiae as the origin of TV catchphrases including “Come on down!” from “The Price is Right” is there.
The Interviews: An Oral History of Television (TelevisionAcademy.com/Interviews) is a browser’s delight. You can listen to producer Chris Carter’s account of making “The X-Files,” or hone in on how he cast Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny.
“The arrangement is key,” said archive director Jenni Matz. “I’ve done research at the Library of Congress where they just point to a box and say, ‘Dig.’ What we’ve done is we’ve really dug through it for you, and we’ve sifted it and sorted it out and made it acceptable and searchable.”
Some of the interviews, including those done in the early years on videotape and gradually digitized, were available online at Emmy TV Legends, which is being replaced by the new site.
“We are living in a digital, sound-bite world, and I believe that we are enjoying a second golden age of television,” said Madeline Di Nonno, foundation chair. “It’s really critical that as the leading industry organization for television we stay relevant” and accessible to all, especially younger generations.
Judd Apatow is an unabashed archive fan. “I just love it,” the producer-writer (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Girls”) said, calling its in-depth, hours-long interviews the “definitive record of people’s careers and their feeling about it and approach to their work.”
For a new documentary on the late Garry Shandling, Apatow licensed footage from what he called a “fantastic” interview the comedian recorded for the collection.
The website was the mid-1990s vision of industry leaders including Dean Valentine and Thomas W. Sarnoff, who believed that first-person accounts of TV as a business, a creative medium and the national town hall deserved to be saved and, ultimately, made readily available to scholars, aspiring industry members or anyone with an interest in what TV is and who makes it.
“For my money, this project is the single most important contribution that certainly the foundation and maybe even the academy, aside from the Emmys, makes to the industry,” Sarnoff said.
The archive has its roots in another, deeply somber one: the Shoah project, a University of Southern California-housed repository of meticulously cross-referenced interviews with Holocaust survivors and witnesses founded in 1994 by Steven Spielberg. There is no comparison between ensuring a record of Nazi inhumanity and the story of an industry, Valentine said, but it brought home what the passing of TV’s founders meant.
“With their loss, memories of what happened in the early days of television and the creative ferment would be gone, too,” he said.