There is only one way to get a television retrospective done the way you want it, and that is to do it yourself. Unless you are a television network, there is only one way to do it yourself: Go to New York and luxuriate in an electronic amusement park for the mind called the Museum of Broadcasting.
There you can plop a tape cassette into a Sony Betamax machine, wrap your ears in headphones, and watch as Edward R. Murrow, himself watching the Atlantic Ocean on one TV screen and the Pacific Ocean on another, looks into the TV cameral and says, "For the first time, man has been able to sit at home and look at two oceans at the same time, We're impressed with the importance of this medium. We shall hope to learn to use it and not to abuse it."
At the Museum of Broadcasting, one can pretend that Edward R. Murrow's wish came true.
It's not all there, but much of it is - our recent history and the history of pop culture - waiting to be played back on one of eight video consoles (each accommodating up to three people) in the library of the future; everything's on tape, and books are an incidental adjunct. Some day there may be museums of broadcasting in other cities, and in time, cassette recorders or two-way cable systems could make every home in the country a museum of broadcasting.
But for now there is only one, at 1 East 53rd Street, where for $1.50 (75 cents for children) you can spend an afternoon in the past - near or distant - watching to your heart's content or your eyes' exhaustion.
CBS Board Chairman William S. Paley, through some of his foundations, gave the initial $2 million to open the museum and keep it operating for its first five years, but all the networks contribute radio and TV programs to be taped and kept on file, and a representative of each network sits on the board of trustees. Paley named Robert Saudek, the veteran producer who invented "Ommibus," museum president. Since operation began in November 1976, 30,000 people have made use of the museum; they include members of broadcast historian Eric Barrnouw's Columbia University media class, and trifocalled grannies in wedgles.
On a recent afternoon, two Latino children beheld Freddle Prinze in "Chico and the Man" at one console. At another, a pair of frazzle-haired hippies lilted with laughter at a fat and monochromatic Jackie Gleason. A teen-age girl took notes on a Hamm's Beer commercial, and for a middle-aged theatrical couple, a pumpkin turned into a coach again so that Julle Andrew's could become "Cinderella."
And at still another of the museum's small screens, three 8-year-olds sat in evident rapture at the sight of the Beatles during their 1964 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Of 1,000 TV shows and 861 radio programs now available at the museum, this is the most requested item, followed by "The Best of Ernie Kovacs," Edward R. Murrow's J'accuse to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, (and McCarthy's reply), the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald and, says one museum spokesman, "anything on (President John F. Kennedy."
From her post at the front of the viewing room, librarian Adrianne Benton gestures toward the 8-year-olds looking at the 64 Beatles tape. "Those kids weren't even born then," she winces."Most of the people who come here are under 35. A lot of kids come, many of them to see 'Peter Pan' with Mary Martin, but older People come, too.
"For awhile there was this little old man who used to come in all the time with his wife and look at Toscanini tapes." Arturo Tocanini - believe it or not - once conducted regularly scheduled concerts by the NBC Symphony Orchestra on the NBC Television Network, occasionally from Studio 8-H, now the home of "Saturday Night Live." Benton says, "Sometimems I would look back and see the man conducting along with the tape. It turns out he's an old cello player himself; he was in the orchestra when Toscanini was the director.
"And then from time to time," she adds, "you'll get a bunch of girls, who laugh so loudly at an 'I Love Lucy' that the other people complain." Growing Up
Ethel Merman and Mary Martin have just finished singing "There's No Business Like Show Business." Oliver J. Dragon turns to his friend, Kukla.
"There's no business like television, either," says Ollie.
"It's so young, you know," Kukla notes.
"Yes," says Ollie. "When will it grow up?"
Growing up turned out ot be the easy part. Staying young proved much harder. Television may have been at its very best Monday night, June 16, 1953, when the Ford Motor Comapny bought two hours two networks, NBC and CBS, at once for "The Ford 50th Anniversary Show," most spectacular of all '50s "spectulars," and as exciting to watch on tape as it would be, if it were possible, to suddenly materialize in the opening night audience at "Oklanoma!" or Our Town."
Ford is now planning its 75th anniversary special for later this year. The company might be better off celebrating the 25th anniversary of its 50th anniversary special. Never had such a talent-packed extravaganza been simultaneously accessible to so many people. The segment probably best remembered is the extended medley by Martin and Merman that didn't just make television history; it made history history.
To open his show, producer Leland Hayward, who died in 1971, says, "The Ford Motor Company asked me to do a program about you," the "you" meaning America, the viewer nation. Then, as if to prove it was live, Hayward flubbed a line. There were several subsequent fluffs or delays during the program. They couldn't have mattered less. The aura of peril was contagious; one can sense the exhilarating tension even now that a quarter-century has passed since the program made it safely to 11 o'clock.
Oscar Hammerstein II and Edward R. Murrow joined Kukla and Ollie as hosts for the program's look at the first half of the 20th century. For all the attendant lustire, pretentiousness was slight. Eloquence was not. A few minutes before the Martin-Merman duet, Marion Anderson sant to one camera and an entire country, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."
That moment ramains incomparably moving, but beyond the performance itself, there's the inevitable heartache one may suffer trying to teleport one's self back to the first time it was experienced; back to a two-story frame house on Monroe Street in a small Illinois town - if that's where it was - back to a 14-inch RCA black-and-white, back to an overstuffed couch, back to the lap of an accommodating parent. Just now, just as there is talk of giving up on television, a generation is realizing how inextricably it has become part of life and growth and memory.
That is why television nostalgia will soon be as popular as movie nostalgia is now.
As its conclusion, the Ford show turned less subtly ominous. Hammerstein warned that "the people who invented war have to invent peace," and Murrow voiced hope for "peacetime uses of atomic energy" that would include "cures for incurable diseases." And with unmistakable allusion to McCarthyism. Murrow cautioned against confusing "dissent with disloyalty."
Finally a young Henry Ford appeared - there had been no commercials on the program - to say that however amazing the century had been so far, "In a few years, our life today will seem primitive. See It Now
At the Museum of Broadcasting, one can trace the decline of television - real television, not the transmission of a film or manipulated videotaped events. At present, however, the museum collection is incomplete. Dave Garroway, one of TV's most influential and generic personalities, is not even represented. In addition to the "Today" show and "Garroway at Large," Garroway hosted "Wide, Wide World," a Sunday joyride to the outer limits of TV technology.
According to David Thomas, Saudek's assistant, 1,300 new TV and radio programs will be added to the museum each year, making it a truly "comprehensive collection" by 1982. Not everything ever televised is available if live programs were not filmed off the air, or "kinescoped," they are gone. TV networks have been roughly as careless as motion picture companies in preserving material. Hildy Parks, who wrote most of the ambitious "CBS: On the Air," thought she wasn't going to find any old "person to person" interviews until she learned that each guest on Murrow's show had been given a kinescope. All she to do was track them down.
"The only 'See It Nows' we could find were on Sidney Lumet's closet shelf," Parks said. Lumet, now an established film director ("Network"), is one of many who started in TV. Others included Norman Jewison, who directed Hayward's 1960 epic "The Fabulous Fifites", George Roy Hill, who directed the intircate Kraft Television Theater production, "A Night to Remember," in which the Titanic was convincingly sunk in a TV studio; and Arthur Penn; who did "The Miracle Worker" and later directed the movie version as well.
For all the resonance of the lavish TV specials, the medium remains intrinsically intimate, and it's revealing to check out the pioneer performers who revelled and excelled in that intimacy. There is only one Jack Paar program in the museum, a very early one - the first edition of a mid-morning CBS review that premiered November 13, 1953 - but it reveals what made Paar tick on television. This "Jack Paar Show" also featured a new young singer, Edith Adams, who had yet to marry Ernie Kovacs, and conducting a tiny band, Pupi Campo, "a young Cuban boy" said Paar.
"I've never seen a theater with so few people in it," Paar observed as he walked onto a patently fake studio patio in a giant baggy suit. "I'm not very well known, but John Crosby (an ex-TV critic) said, 'Jack Paar is always a summer replacement. I'm wondering what he does in the winter.' Now I'm gonna be on in the winter like the big people."
Peter was essence of television even then. Never had a mass medium so openly brought its backstage out into the spotlight, partly because once the camera got you, there was no place to hide. Paar exploited this vulnerability and transformed it into certification for credibility; from the beginning, TV conceded the camera as movies never had and admitted the microphone as radio did not.
"It isn't that I want to look informal; it's just that I don't know what I'm doing, Paar told the audience. Later, startled when a station break ended, Paar said to the camera, Why, you caught me, didn't you? I'm not used to this business." He tidled his hair: "This show is already 40 minutes over an we've only done 20 minutes." After a song by Adams: "I don't know how to from that camera to the big one." Instructions from the wings. "Just get up and walk over?" He did.
Paar's comedy material on this program was woebegone - the punchline for one joke was, "Get your sooty footy outta my tutti-frutti" - but one can see the birth of a personality absolutely ideal for the medium. Paar made himself family figure, confidante and crony to each of us individually.
"On my word of honor as an amateur gentleman, this actually happened," Paar said as a preamble to anecedotes about his daughter, Randy (now a practicing attorney), "I'd never thought of doing my personal life but - " Offstage instructions "Move down? All right. See, I'm from radio, you know." Then came tales that matter only for the way Paar told them.
"This is honestly true," he interrupted himself at one point. "On my word of honor -" (hand raised) " - everything I tell you is true."
In those days - days not necessarily more innocent but perhaps less guilty - it may have seemed that everything television told us was true. In time we learned how to decipher TV's codes; each new manipulative device available to broadcasters required an addition to that vocabulary, but we made it. We continue to adapt as best we can.
At the Museum of Broadcasting, one can dash back to a time when all the transaltion was not necessary; when the distance between viewed and viewer was much narrower, when what appeared to be happening often really was happening and when we first experienced the 20th-century sensation of being an eye-witness among millions to the same event. We saw it now, and it was honestly true.
"This is Earth," said Henry Fonda at the opening of Hayward's "Fabulous '50s," swan song of the live spectacular. "And THIS is YOU." The picture changed from a shot of our planet to one of a rustic four-turret studio TV camera. For a decade, this was us; the Museum of Broadcasting lets us see that "us" we used to be - through an eye, brightly. We are the face in the mirror, we are the picture in the frame, and we view the world again from an overstuffed couch in a two-story frame house on Monroe Street.
This was when television showed us the world. This was before television remade it.