New York Times: Broadcasting Museum Seeks TV’s Self-History (1987)

Sunday, January 25, 1987

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Thousands of people will videotape Super Bowl XXI today. But fans looking for a copy of the first Super Bowl broadcast — in which the Green Bay Packers trounced the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 and Max McGee grabbed two touchdown passes — are out of luck.

Two networks carried the game. Both later erased their tapes. In an attempt to save money, television’s pioneers may have shortchanged their own legacy. Networks and production companies routinely threw away tapes and film to save shelf space, gutted old kinescopes for their silver content and erased videotapes so they could be reused.

Among the missing: President Truman’s first televised speech, broadcast in 1947; Johnny Carson’s debut as host of ”The Tonight Show” in 1962 (he was introduced by Groucho Marx); the first time (on ”Cavalcade of Stars”) that Jackie Gleason threatened to send his wife skyward with a ”bang-zoom!”

But officials of the Museum of Broadcasting in Manhattan hope that these and other lost programs may have survived in the hands of individual collectors. To help the museum find them, Fuji Film Photo U.S.A. last week promised the museum at least $75,000 to begin an advertising and public relations campaign. 

Jets’ Triumph Survives

”The real problem is that a lot of people have collections or copies of programs, but they assume that everybody has them,” said Robert M. Batscha, the museum’s executive director. ”They assume that networks keep copies or that production houses keep copies.”

”For example, they would assume that we would have all the Super Bowls; they’re among the best-rated programs ever,” he said, adding that Super Bowl II, also, was missing.

Mr. Batscha said the network broadcast of Super Bowl III, in which Joe Namath led the New York Jets to a startling upset of the Baltimore Colts in 1969, was discovered only last year through the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Engineers at Ascap, which often monitors television programs to insure compliance with music royalty agreements, had recorded the game. Last year, Ascap officials found the tapes in their archives and offered them to the museum.

”It is very expensive to store film or two-inch tape or one-inch tape or whatever,” Mr. Batscha said. ”There is a real cost. And who would have thought 20 years ago that there might be a market for this material? You look at your bottom line and you see this very big figure – storage costs. And you ask yourself, what do you do about it? It’s still a problem.”

Samuel T. Suratt, the CBS News archivist, said that because laws limited the number of programs networks could own – the production companies retained control – there was little incentive to keep entertainment programs. ”If you don’t own it, can’t do anything with, why store it?”

The profusion of cable channels and independent stations has created a market for old programs and an economic incentive to keep them. Production companies make more money syndicating programs than they do selling shows to the networks. For example, ”The Cosby Show” is expected to net Viacom International Inc., its syndicator, more than half a billion dollars. Shows such as ”Leave It to Beaver,” ”The Honeymooners” and ”I Love Lucy,” if less lucrative, continue to yield hefty profits.

Most programs from before 1947 are lost because there was no effective recording device. A few early examples survive, among them a sound recording of a 1938 drama starring Gertude Lawrence and newsreel footage of a television broadcast at the 1939 World’s Fair. By 1950 the kinescope recorder, a device that synchronized the scan frequency of a television picture and the frame interval of a 16-millimeter movie camera, had become fairly standard.

Kinescope recordings were kept ”to have a record in case there was a legal problem,” Mr. Batscha said. ”In the early days the country was not connected by coaxial cable, so you had to bicycle around the kinescopes to different time zones.”

The museum, which is at 1 East 53rd Street, has contracts that entitle it to select up to 300 hours of programs a year from each of the networks and as many as 50 hours from most major production houses, Mr. Batscha said. About half of the museum’s collection is from those sources; the rest is from private collectors and from producers, directors, technicians and others connected with shows. 

Looking for ‘I Love Lucy’

Ronald C. Simon, curator of the museum’s television collection, said the detective work could take years. For example, he said, he has been looking for the unbroadcast pilot of ”I Love Lucy” for four years.

”There are photos of it,” he said. ”We’ve been able to trace it through the 1970’s. At different times people who worked at Desilu said they had a copy. Desi Arnaz thought at one point that he had a copy, but he didn’t. Lucille Ball checked her personal film vault, but it wasn’t there, either.”

Mr. Simon said the pilot depicted the Ricardos as ”very much a Hollywood couple.” Their neighbors, Fred and Ethel, do not appear.

Some of the museum’s searches have a happy ending. For months curators scoured archives and made inquiries about ”The Petrified Forest,” a 1955 production that was Humphrey Bogart’s only television acting appearance. One night, Mr. Batscha met Lauren Bacall, the ”Forest” co-star, at a dinner party, and he told her about the project. Miss Bacall said she would look in her personal collection; she found it last October.

”She had no idea that she had the only copy,” Mr. Batscha said.


New York Times, “Broadcasting Museum Seeks TV’s Self-History,” January 25, 1987.

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