Sunday, August 23, 2009

An Amazing Look at Television History

If you have any interest at all in television, particularly its history, you owe it to yourself to spend some time exploring the Archive of American Television.

Part of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation, the Archive's goal is to "capture television history one voice at a time" by sitting down with actors, writers, directors, producers, executives, and crew members from your favorite shows and capturing their memories and thoughts in a series of video interviews. Many of them are now available for viewing on YouTube, and the interviews I have watched are truly fascinating.

For instance, I've recently been listening to Robert Butler, who may be the most successful director of pilots in history, having helmed the opening episodes of classic shows like BATMAN, MOONLIGHTING, HOGAN'S HEROES, and HILL STREET BLUES. Butler isn't a household name, but he's one of the fascinating figures of TV history who's rarely (if ever) interviewed, and he has a lot to say, having started in live television in the 1950s.

Although Butler has a habit of calling almost everyone he ever worked with "savvy," he's sometimes candid about his actors. The BONANZA crew was overly rambunctious, and Adam West liked to play Batman overly arch, so his Malibu buddies would know that he was in on the joke. Not exactly HOLLYWOOD BABYLON territory, I know, but Butler seems to have gotten along with just about everybody. He does have an interesting story about a friendly argument he had with HOGAN'S HEROES co-star Ivan Dixon about whether or not the black Dixon should join the other POWs in leering at a white woman in an episode.

I really enjoyed the seven-part chat with the late actor Richard Crenna, who was reared in Los Angeles, where he became a child star in radio before entering television stardom on the '50s sitcom OUR MISS BROOKS. Crenna, of course, enjoyed a long, varied, prosperous career in film and television, and reliving his memories with him over nearly four hours was a rewarding experience for someone like me who's fascinated by the medium.

While you may be fine with watching the talking heads on your computer, I advise that you use software to transform the YouTube videos into mp3s, so you can listen to them while driving or exercising.

1 comment:

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