Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, May 16, 2018 1:00 am

Historic interview archive being placed online

LYNN ELBER | Associated Press

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.

Today, a new website will make some 800 interviews – and more to come – available free to all comers, who can watch complete interviews or search the curated treasure trove by individuals, shows, events, professions, 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 accessible and searchable.”

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. Such commercial use is one source of the money needed to preserve and expand the archive.

“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,” Thomas W. 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.

He took his idea for a TV archive to Rich Frank, then president of the TV academy, and to Sarnoff, who was foundation chairman. Sarnoff, now 91, had a particular reason to value the medium's history: his father, David Sarnoff, pioneered the development of TV and created NBC, the first broadcasting network.