(Cataloger, The Interviews: An Oral History of Television [Television Academy Foundation])
August 27, 2018
John is the cataloger for the Television Academy Foundation Interviews. He¹s also conducted Academy Foundation on-camera interviews with Garry Shandling, Jimmie "J. J." Walker, Ron Friedman, Chris Carter, Mitzi Gaynor and Wink Martindale. He¹s done research and written questions for countless others. He¹s worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment, King World, and The Paley Center. A graduate of Emerson College in Boston, MA.
In cataloging the TV Academy Foundation's Interviews, what have been some of the most dramatic changes in TV production you've heard discussed by the interviewees?
From a technology standpoint, it’s just that equipment has gotten so much smaller. No more bulky, unwieldy cameras, things like that. Also, that equipment has gotten less expensive to the point where really anyone can make a “professional” looking TV show. Up until the ‘90s something like that was so cost prohibitive it couldn’t be done, which allowed a sort of monopoly on entertainment. From a business standpoint, the “big” money is largely gone. If you were just on a TV show, any TV show in the ‘70s, you were pretty much set. And there were tons of perks. No so much today, except of course for a select few. Lots of older people say that because of corporate consolidation, the fun has gone out of working in television. Working for King World under the King Brothers was much more fun than working at King World under Viacom.
Among the recent interviews, what are some pieces of TV history that you've learned that you hadn't known before?
In my interview with Jimmie “JJ” Walker, he revealed to me that he started a talent agency for young comics in the ‘70s. Letterman and Leno were among his clients-- until a young assistant sometime in the early ‘80s did a hostile take-over. Letterman left out of loyalty to Jimmie. Leno stayed. The name of the assistant was Helen Kushnick. But, you really learn something with every interview. Recently, we interviewed Ellen Holly, who had been a star on One Life to Live. She told a story of being slowly and methodically marginalized, and on really not even knowing it until years after she was fired. That taught me something about how institutional racism can be so insidious and hidden. Really compelling stuff, and she wasn’t afraid to call out some big names.
With the great extent of programming that airs on U.S. television, how can the archives/ museums/ libraries of the country "share" the burden of preserving it?
Yeah, there’s just too much stuff to wade though. The Museum of Broadcasting in 1976 was a noble idea, and a great resource for many years. But the advent of the internet has made that aspect of The Paley Center sort of irrelerent. And, the way things have developed, there just isn’t much interest in seeing a 1973 episode of Dick Cavett, or the finale of The Fugitive. There is too much cultural noise for people under 40 to have any interest in old watching old stuff. I think it’s all about people just saving whatever video/audio they find relevant or meaningful and putting it on a cloud. Maybe there should be some kind of YouTube without copyright restrictions, and also without advertising. I don’t know. Everything is so individualized now, it would be impossible to go through all of the content currently being generated and decide which was historically relevant and which was not.
How could creating a community of TV archivists & curators; collectors & enthusiasts; scholars; and TV's "creatives" benefit your area of concentration?
I think it’s important to preserve different perspectives and opinions. No one person can explain a story or phenomenon. Everyone hates the comments sections, but I love them sometimes. For example, there was some video from the Tony Awards of 1978 on YouTube- a troupe of dancers who’d worked with Bob Fosse. Many of those very dancers were in the comments section, telling the story of that night- and there were disagreements over how it exactly went down. But generally the more people you have who have been involved with a thing, or studied it, or been a fan of it, the more rounded and accurate picture you get of the thing.
What's a favorite TV program of yours from the 1948-60 era that is available for viewing online, that you would recommend?
I have to start with one from 1966. I was SHOCKED to find someone had uploaded to YouTube a pristine color video tape of CBS Playhouse’s production of The Glass Menagerie with Shirley Booth. Certainly worth preserving and watching. I’m fascinated with early color video tape from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. To get a peek at that era “in living color” is a treat, and so little of it exists. A seven minute clip of Jack Kerouac on The Steve Allen Show from 1959, reading an except from On the Road- on video tape in color is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. Partly because it was so unexpected that such a thing would even exist. Mostly because of Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen playing light jazzy piano riffs while Jack reads. My holy grail is still to get a glimpse of one of the color video tapes of What’s My Line? Circa 1964-67. There MUST be at least ONE that exists.
Click here to see a description of the Steve Allen Kerouac show on SaveTV.tv’s catalog of 1948-60 American TV programs-- scroll to Steve Allen Plymouth Show.