Jim Lewis Remembers: Julia Child’s Car Talk

From Jim Lewis

In 1985 Julia Child received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Smith College. One of WGBY’s supporters, cookbook editor Charlotte Turgeon, arranged for her old classmate to stay on the day after the ceremony to do a reception for our donors called Tea with Julia.

Julia_Child_at_KUHT2Charlotte asked me to pick Julia and Paul Child up at a hotel in Northampton and drive them to the WGBY studio in Springfield.

Julia and Charlotte hopped into the back seat of my car, while Paul sat next to me. I tried to engage him in conversation, but he didn’t want anything to do with me or the event, so just sat there sulking.

While we rode in silence, Charlotte and Julia, who sat immediately behind me, chirped back and forth as I drove south on I-91.

“And these food faddists,” Julia exclaimed, “always going off in some strange, new direction. These vegetarians! How can you have a lovely dinner party and not serve meat?”

Suddenly it got very quiet in the back seat. I could feel her staring at me. She reached forward and pounded me on the shoulder. “Oh, dear,” she said, “you’re not one of THOSE, are you?”

My Favorite Story: Child and Cosby

From David Sloss

Julia Child from WikipediaIn 1966, the people who produce the Emmy awards decided it was time to recognize Educational TV, as it was then called.  They created a couple of award categories for ETV, and nominated several people.  The only winner was Julia Child, who had risen to national prominence by then.  

Several of us from WGBH were at the award dinner at the Americana Hotel in New York.  The host of the Emmy broadcast that year was to be Bill Cosby, but he didn’t make his entrance until they went on the air.  In the meantime, before the broadcast, a number of the lesser awards were given out, including Julia’s.  

Julia collected her Emmy and returned to the table.  Then someone came over and asked her to come along to the next room for a publicity photo.  Julia walked in, and there was Cosby.  The plan was to take a picture of Cosby handing the Emmy to Julia.  So Julia walked up to Cosby and said in her breezy way, “Well, I’m Julia Child, and who are you?”

Cosby said, “I’m Sydney Poitier!”

Julia said, “Oh, Mr. Poitier, well, I’ve certainly heard that you’re a fine actor!”

At that moment they took the picture, and the quizzical look on Cosby’s face was priceless.  The photo was posted on the wall in the lobby of the building on Western Avenue, and it was still hanging there when I left the following year.  I looked for it at the reunion, and was terribly sorry to see it had gone.

When the broadcast began, Cosby was introduced with a big flourish.  Julia, now back at her table, looked very puzzled.  “I don’t understand,” she said.  “They’re calling him Cosby, but he distinctly told me that his name was Poitier!”  

We soon enough figured out what had happened, and explained to Julia that Cosby must have been kidding.  “Oh, but I have to apologize to him,” she said.  “I just have to explain that I don’t watch his kind of television!”  

We assured Julia that the explanation was unnecessary.

Jean Shepherd tells his first WGBH story

This entry is part 7 of 21 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection
Jean Shepherd (1970)

I first heard Jean on the radio in Boston. It was 1961. I was babysitting my young son and, while idly scanning radio stations, I heard this person, this intense personal voice, talking to me.

Whoa! Is it possible? Something clicked in me. Had I found a kindred soul?

Jean had grown up in the Midwest, in Hammond, Indiana, the industrial Midwest. Me, too, I grew up just an hour away in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My father worked in a factory, International Harvester, and my mother worked in a factory during the war, Perfex. My neighborhood was surrounded by all kinds of factories. You could smell them in the air.

Jean was weaving a tale about The Steel Mill, running, delivering the mail. He recalled a horrible accident: a vat had turned over, killing one of the steel men. But he also talked about the beauty of the giant plant. He talked about tapping the heat.

He never played any music, he just talked! Come on! This was a Saturday afternoon, for God sake. Who the Hell is this guy? Right then and there I knew I had to work with him.

Fred Barzyk (2007)

I was a young television director (22) working at WGBH-TV, a little Educational Television station housed in a former roller skating rink, above a drugstore at 84 Massachusetts Avenue and right across the street from MIT. There were 45 employees running the TV and FM radio stations.

I was on contract to direct a series of French Language shows aimed at grade school students. But what I really wanted to do was dramas for TV. Maybe this Jean Shepherd person might be the storyteller I was looking for. Maybe.

“How the hell am I going to meet him, or get to work with him?”

Youth is great. I figured I would just write him a letter and offer him a half hour of airtime on our little station. I huddled with Mike Ambrosino (a fan; Mike was responsible for the development of the Eastern Educational Television Network and created NOVA) and John Henning (a fan; John had grown up in New York City listening to Jean on the radio. John became one of Boston’s most distinguished newsmen.)

Here was the problem: WGBH had no money. We were lucky to meet the weekly payroll. I was making $80 a week and trying to support a wife and baby, and I had no money. So we offered an artist the one thing they can’t resist. Free airtime to do anything he wanted to do.

I was directing a series of French Language shows, but what I really wanted to do was dramas for TV. Maybe this Jean Shepherd person might be the storyteller I was looking for.

We couldn’t afford his airfare. He would have to sign a release devised by our financial officer, Jack Hurley. Jack insisted that some hard cash pass between WGBH and the talent, so each person was to receive $1. The chances of Jean Shepherd even responding to this offer were very low. Probably, non-existent.

Boy, was I wrong. He wrote back and agreed! We talked on the phone and decided on a date. Now I had to tell management that I had made this offer and it had been accepted. (No, I never did get permission before I sent the letter. What the hell? I never thought he would respond.)

Bob Larson, programming manager, looked dubious. A comedian? No, I said, a great storyteller. How much will this cost? A one-dollar release. Somehow (don’t remember what I said) Bob agreed to let me go ahead with the show.

Bob had graduated from Harvard and was very erudite. He once told me I would never be a producer because of the school I had gone to, Marquette University in Milwaukee. I shrugged and said OK, time will tell. Bob took a chance on this one and, for me, it started a 30-year working relationship with Jean Shepherd.

There is an important event that I forgot to mention. That little TV station above the drug store — it had burned down to the ground several months before. With an amazing amount of public support from institutions and viewers, a campaign to build a new state of art studio was created. We were offered free space from many institutions while the new studio was being built. WGBH was spread out across the city in 7 different locations.

Museum of Science (2000) by Don Hallock

The TV studio was a small room in the basement of the Museum of Science. There was a window from which the paying visitors could watch us make TV shows: We were an exhibit. The producers, directors, and execs were housed in a small red wooden building behind the Museum, right on the waters of the Charles River.

Bob Larson laid out the rules of the game. I would have a single camera and the show would be a half hour live and recorded on tape. (That original tape exists in the WGBH archives: “JEAN SHEPHERD, AMERICAN HUMORIST.”) I decided we would shoot from the dock behind the building.

I would need a big light to cover the area since the show would air at 9:00 p.m.. The opening and closing credits would be created on a large piece of cardboard perched carefully on an easel. Camera starts on cardboard, pans to Jean, he talks for a half hour, pans back to the cardboard. Done.

The day arrived and so did Jean with a young woman, Leigh Brown. She was introduced as his secretary. She never said much but watched with great interest.

Jean was affable and eager to do his bit. I introduced him to the crew and we headed out to the dock. He had a crew cut, wore a summer jacket and tie. He was fit and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to do this for WGBH. I later found out that it was our connection to Harvard, MIT, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Brandeis, Tufts, and Boston University which made this gig really appealing. Jean was looking to forge his credentials in the world of academia.

Jean Shepherd
Jean Shepherd on the dock behind the Museum of Science for his first TV show with Fred Barzyk. With him is Margy Pacsu, a “GBH Staffer. By Dan Beach.

Jean had brought his theme music on audiotape. The time arrived and we were on the air, in living black and white, with the Charles River behind him. He proceeded to tell us two of his classic stories. First came the Ovaltine story and the magic decoder ring. He ended with the blind date story.

The stage manager gave him the one-minute cue, he concluded his bit, and we panned to the cardboard credits. The crew applauded. Egad, this wasn’t like our normal shows. I mean we were doing lectures, piano shows, educational courses for distant learners. And here was this guy entertaining us. Wow! This called for a celebration.

We were doing lectures, piano shows, educational courses for distant learners, and here was this guy entertaining us. Wow! This called for a celebration.

Jean, Leigh, myself, and most of the crew made off to one of our favorite watering holes; this night was going to be on me. (Might blow the family budget, but it was worth it.) I would pick up Jean and Leigh’s drinks. I had assumed that Jean was a beer drinker, like my Dad, but no. He ordered a martini! And just one. The rest of us bought the cheapest beer in the house. We laughed and talked.

And then something amazing happened. Jean asked how WGBH was doing. We said what do you mean? How are the ratings? We all laughed. We never knew if anyone was watching us. Jean asked what kind of shows did we do. At that moment, WGBH was doing a lot of Harvard extension courses for the Navy. Physics, calculus, trig, a series of shows for the crews of atomic subs that stayed submerged for months at a time. The crew could get academic credit for taking this course when they took an exam on returning to base.

Shepherd’s eyes twinkled. He smiled that crooked smile of his, and he created a story right in front of us in the seedy beer-smelling bar. Jean began:

I can see it now. Professor Schmidlap appears at a blackboard and begins to explain calculus to the TV audience. He is amazing, his voice flying out over Boston … talking MATH!

Suddenly, after just two weeks of his little show, the ratings are soaring. The local commercial stations take notice.

“Who the hell is this guy? What’s going on? Maybe it’s that theme music. I mean who the hell can understand calculus?”

Four weeks later, Professor Schmidlap is number one in Boston TV.

The news spreads to New York. They call up and get an air tape. These Big time execs gather in a large conference room and they watch!

The theme music comes up. (They lean forward.) Prof. Schmidlap appears and begins, writing a long equation on the blackboard. (They lean in further.) Professor smiles as he shows us the solution. (They are now standing.)

“Get this guy on the phone. Now!”

Professor Schmidlap is at home when the phone rings. It’s one of the big time New York agents.

“Professor Schmidlap?”

“Yes?”

“This is _________. Who’s your agent?”

“My insurance agent?”

By months end, the Professor has his own show on NBC. His show is broadcast over the entire nation. And the ratings take off. Before long he has won the coveted 9 p.m. slot NATION WIDE. The other networks respond. Soon there are shows on Physics, Metaphysics, Epistemology.

And what happens to WGBH and educational TV? They start running old Ed Sullivan shows.

It is worth noting that, in the year 2002, WGBH aired several episodes of the Ed Sullivan Show. After exactly 39 years, Jean Shepherd’s prediction came to pass.

Remembering the original WGBH

Art Singer is president of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Fifty years ago this past September, as I began an intensive one-year Masters of Communication Arts program at Boston University, I also was approved for a volunteer internship assignment at Channel 2. And for most of the academic year, on several late afternoons a week, I would take the twenty minute walk from BU across the Charles to the station’s studios on the MIT campus for a night’s work.

Who knew at the time it was to be the very best part of my graduate year and would direct a good part of my career?

84 Massachusetts Avenue

To enter the building that housed the WGBH studios was from the beginning a thrilling experience. The feeling was one of being part of grand experiment (this educational television) and also due in large measure to the fact that most of the programs I was assigned to as “crew” were produced and aired live.

As I recall, we’d begin with the children’s show, underwritten by Hood’s, at 5:30 pm and then jump to the inimitable Louis Lyons and the News at 6:00pm. A distinguished journalist for the Christian Science Monitor, Louis would unabashedly read from his notes with an occasional look up over his spectacles to remind himself and the viewer that was on camera.

At 7 p.m., one night a week, legendary theater critic Elliot Norton held forth for a half hour and his guests would be the elite of Broadway whose shows were trying out in town before opening in New York City. There in the guest chairs would be the likes of Rogers and Hammerstein or Julie Styne, or the directors, producers, and stars of the shows.

And scattered elsewhere on my assignments were tapings of other shows. These ranged from Brandeis President Abe Sachar’s “The Course of Our Times “series to Madame Anne Slack and her “Parlons Francais” French language instruction show (Madame Slack would say “Bonjour mon ami” then wait for the viewer to repeat the phrase while she mouthed the words in support). The same late afternoon or evening Eleanor Roosevelt and other luminaries might be taping shows as well.

Studio A, 84 Massachusetts Avenue

The studios were constantly in use. And with so much of it being live, everything was or seemed to be in continuous motion. The likes of Dave Davis and Greg Harney seemed to be everywhere. The man himself, Hartford Gunn would make an occasional appearance in the halls or on the set . And the atmosphere bubbled over with energy and knowledge, talent and creativity.

This was educational television and we were there at the infancy of what many of us sensed could be a new direction for broadcast television. I may have been learning broadcast history and production theory at BU, but here I was learning what actually was necessary to create a TV program, And to boot, I was getting a bonus education –in current events, theater, language, cooking, and journalism.

And music. My most favorite assignment was being on the crew for the live telecasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. At the time, the BSO performed with some regularity at Sanders Theater in Cambridge. And on a number of Tuesday evenings, we were there to capture and broadcast the event. I don’t believe that GBH had permanent cameras and mikes in the hall. I believe everything had to be trucked over and set up anew each time.

The producer responsible for these major productions was Jordan Whitelaw. And I can vividly recall attending, along with the director, the camera operators, the audio guys, the switcher, and others the rehearsals in Jordan’s office.

After personnel assignments were confirmed for each of us in the room (most often mine was as a lowly cameraman assistant), we would do a mock production of the evening’s program, each attendee having been given a “shot sheet” to note which shots were assigned to which camera.

Next to Jordan’s desk was either a phonograph or a tuner-turntable-and speaker arrangement. And ready for play was an LP recording by the BSO in most cases performing the very work(s) on the Sanders program that week. We’d all settle down, pencils and paper in hand and Jordan would begin:

“Camera One ready with wide shot of the orchestra. Take Camera One. Ready for opening credits. Roll credits. Camera Two ready to follow Munch as he enters stage right. Ready Two, take Two. Follow him to the podium. Camera Three on First Violin. Ready Camera Three, Take three.”

This continued through the playing of the entire piece. To me it seemed brilliant, but now I suspect that he was mimicking the pre production approach used by the NBC Symphony or the New York Philharmonic on network TV. Yet it could be that he was breaking new ground. Who knows?

Truth is we were all breaking new ground. That ‘GBH experience made a convert of me and I remained hooked for more than 35 years in what became the public broadcasting business.

Yet through all those years, no coverage of an event, development of a series, no dramatically successful nights of on air pitching, gave me more insight and purpose and pleasure than my intern days at this offbeat, eclectic, determined operation known as WGBH-TV Boston.

Recording Buckminster Fuller (1963)

This facilities request was found in a 2” videotape box as this program, featuring the renowned architect/inventor Buckminster Fuller, was being dubbed in 2010 to a modern tape format.

Click image to enlarge

It is rare to come across such a document. It denotes that the show was taped 47 years ago at Stearns Hall at the Museum of Science. This was one of the temporary homes to WGBH television productions after the 1961 fire and during the time the Allston facility was being built.

It appears that 2 VTRs were utilized: one as a master, the other a backup. It is likely they did this for 2 reasons. One is machine failure, the other is tape failure.

Notice this: “After recording, do NET evaluation. If master is good, then wipe the backup. If not, evaluate backup….” The tapes would be technically evaluated before delivery to the National Educational Television Network, for video dropouts and other servo/mechanical discrepancies, specific to the state of the art video recording equipment of that time. One or the other of the tapes were erased for later use.

This document provides a glimpse into production life at an extraordinary time in WGBH history.

Remembering “The Club”

“The Club” began on channel 44 as “Club 44.” I think it was around 1977-80.

Studio A was converted into a bar/club where each Friday night we would tape four, half-hour, back to back, “live” 30 minute segments. These featured local bands and musical acts, cooking segments, political editorials from Barney Frank, interviews with local celebs, and a variety of Boston based info segments. It was made more interesting by the audience who was served wine and beer. They roamed about standing, sometimes tripping on camera cables and generally being helpful. As the night wore on the fun increased.

Silvia Davis was the Executive Producer. She and her team did a great job coming up with fresh talent and ideas for the show. I recall Dick Cavett doing a guest host spot, as did Garrett Morris from SNL. We did segments on CB radio (all the rage at the time) and hot tubs (one night we had a 6′ wooden barrel that mostly didn’t leak all over.) There were movie, book and eatery reviews and even the odd pet segment.

Some might remember the unique innovation called “the stick”.  This was used to ID guests. During a segment, David Atwood who was the ringmaster and chief would call out, “Okay, give ’em the stick.” At which point a piece of foam core attached to a dowel would be thrust into the frame…usually in a mostly lower third position. The guest’s name was painted on the sign.  This all happened in the days before Chyron.  You will hardly ever see it done today.

I’m sure others have fond “Club” memories… Care to share?

Bruce Bordett: The place I wanted to be

From Bruce Bordett

Bruce Bordett (left) and Russ Morash at the 2000 Reunion

Sometime my senior year in college I decided that WGBH was the place I wanted to be. I started in the mailroom in 1971 and made it onto the crew about a year later. This I learned later was the time-honored path for many who had gone before me to find job happiness at the foundation. In truth, it was a great place to start… as I soon learned just who was who, where they sat, and what they did.

I loved working on the crew from day one. ‘GBH was such a great place to be in the ’70’s. Every day we worked on a different show. One day I was learning about strawberries from Jim Crockett, the next day speaking ubbie dubbie with the Zoomers. I learned about Itallian food from Franco and Margaret, and Ludvig B from Lenny Bernstein. Where in the world could you be surrounded by so much cool stuff and have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful characters?

When the Ronald Reagan put the squeeze on PBS and CPB in the early ’80’s things began to change. Money got tight, and a number of us were casualties. It worked out well for me as I landed a production spot at Digital Equipment. They were riding high in the ’80’s and seemed to have lots of dough for production. I had the opportunity to develop my craft learning to shoot, edit, direct, and design facilities.

For me, the ’90’s was the decade of Lotus Development. I was fortunate to have the chance to produce hundreds of projects for marketing, corporate communications, etc. In 2001, I started Bordett–MediaWorks, a small production company in Newton. I’m still involved in all kinds of projects for educational, corporate, non-profits, and private clients. My latest venture is making family documentaries to help people preserve their stories and histories. (milestonespictures.com)

I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for all the wonderful people and experiences that were my WGBH days. I was, we were, very lucky to have shared that place.

We’re in the “understanding business”

Vice President for Branding and Visual Design Chris Pullman retired in October 2008, after 35 years of skillfully defining and shaping the visual persona of WGBH across an expanding array of media platforms.

The chance invitation to work here at WGBH placed me in an environment that was a perfect fit for my temperament and aspirations as a professional and as just a plain person. Once here, I recognized, gradually, why it felt so right as a place to work and associate. I’d like to take this opportunity to share:

10 lessons I learned (or at least had confirmed) at WGBH

1. Work on things that matter

If you possibly can, use you skills and your time to make a difference.

Long before I came here I had developed a preference for non-profit projects. In my free lance work and in my years at the office of George Nelson, the projects that interested me most were the ones for non-profit, pro-social clients.

By the time the opportunity to work here, I had already made the decision that I wanted to work someplace that made a positive difference for people, and that affected a lot of people, not some boutique studio doing design for other designers.

Frankly, when the phone rang and it was Ivan Chermayeff saying that there was an opportunity to work at a TV station in Boston, my first reaction was “definitely not.” This was because my teachers and mentors at Yale had made it clear that the only way to squander a good education faster than going into advertising, was to go into television.

But I was vaguely curious to see what a TV studio was like, so after a while Esther and I decided to just go up and scope the place out. After about 20 minutes with the then General Manager, Michael Rice, it became clear to me that what WGBH was up to was very different from what television in general was up to. So I said “yes,” and have found myself for the past 35 years in the ideal environment to do the kind of work I had hoped to do.

In this first lesson I may be preaching to the choir, since here we all are. But I think it is particularly pertinent for the younger people at ‘GBH for whom this may be a first way-station on a longer professional journey. Given all the ways you could use your skills and your valuable time, pick something that serves the greater good.

2. Work with people you like and respect

Birds of a feather flock together. That is a natural thing. Most of the people here are here (or certainly stay here) because of our mission. Certainly, my long tenure has been largely because of the people in this room, who together and individually have shared with me such personal and heart-warming recollections of our time together.

Since April, when I first announced my intentions to leave WGBH, the private expression of these feelings has been so gratifying, both personally and professionally, that I recently suggested to Jon and Henry that maybe we should institute the policy of encouraging individuals to make periodic “mock retirement” announcements, with the goal of releasing more regularly the flow of kind remarks for the nourishment of the individual, since we are otherwise so reticent to praise or encourage others in our busy, self centered daily lives.

Which leads me to:

3. Be nice

And be positive. And be respectful of the work of others. Strive to understand each others professional contributions and then respect them (as you would want them to respect you) with your actions and your comments. Remember: we are all applying our own particular skills towards a shared objective.

4. Have high standards

High standards are something that has set this place apart. Even in hard times, it is important to keep hold of this core distinction

Don’t settle for “whatever.” The corrosive Dilbert mind-set is depressing and demeaning. Don’t give it a foothold here. I prefer the “see you and raise you one” escalation of good ideas, even crazy ideas.

High standards is something that has set this place apart. Even in hard times, it is important to keep hold of this core distinction, whatever it costs.

5. Have a sense of humor

Humor is the grease of communications. Wit not only engages your head, it engages the other guy’s. Be serious, but don’t take yourself too seriously. As an institution, don’t loose sight of the potential to use sly humor to make connections and put people at their ease.

6. Design is not the narrow application of formal skills, it is a way of thinking

I knew this before I came here, but my time here has reinforced this idea.

My position, first established in 1973, and unusually high up in the org chart, allowed me (and I should say: expected me) to attend to all aspects of the way this organization expressed itself.

My job, and that of scores of designers I have worked with in my area, has been to help define and then express through our work, a consistent, honest and engaging persona for WGBH. (Today’s name for this, by the way, is branding, but it is a process as old as the profession.)

This role has led me into a weird soup of assignments, many of which you have seen here today:

  • wacko projects like the 2-mobile and the Julia Child pre-stained dish towel
  • important projects like a capital campaign case statement or the first proposal for the American Experience
  • inspiring projects like the informational graphics for Vietnam: a Television History or four different title sequences over the years for Masterpiece, and
  • gnarly projects like how to help frame the long-term strategic goals for this company

Each of these projects was a puzzle to figure out within the constraints of budgets and timelines, and with respect for the unique context of that particular problem. Whether it was how to draw a dog with low self-esteem or how to convince a company to underwrite a project, all of it was design to me.

Ultimately this led to the biggest project of all: the design and construction of this new building. It was an honor and an incredible 5-year high to work on this project. It threw me into intense relationships: with our architects, who understood our mission and our culture and came up with a building that works for us; with our trustees, whose guidance and enthusiasm was so helpful; and with my partner-in-crime, Dave Norton, whose contribution to this project on so many levels has earned my greatest respect. This was the project that for the first time gave us an opportunity to apply the same high standards we insist on for our programming to the physical environment in which we all work and in which we welcome the public.

The practice of design — dare I call it “intelligent design”?? — has helped WGBH achieve a distinction among broadcasters and public media publishers. It is my hope that he next person to hold this responsi- bility for the foundation will have as much fun and have as expansive a mandate as I have had.

7. Variety is the spice of life

When I came here in the early 70’ s the trend was toward monolithic design programs governed by a thick and sacred style manual.

As I got to understand the business, this strategy seemed to me to make no sense for WGBH. With programming as diverse as The French Chef, NOVA and ZOOM, no one mode of visual expression could logically suite this range of content. It occurred to me that in fact variety itself can be a kind of consistency.

But when the visual expressions of a company are always and rightfully different, you have to have some other constant that binds the work together, something that lets individual expressions be different, but makes them recognizable as a family of related materials. The goal in this game is to strive for the smallest number of constants and the largest number of variables. And you have to turn to non-visual sources of consistency.

So, soon after I got here, I proposed to Doug and the rest of the designers that we adopt a set of non-visual criteria to define “good design.” Without resorting to the normal formal jargon, if you and your client could answer “yes” to the following questions then it probably is a good piece of design.

  • is it clear? (can I understand what it is, can I read it, can I sense it’s purpose)
  • is it accessible? (does it engage me, does it invite me in, is it easy and intuitive to use)
  • is it appropriate? (to its budget, to the amount of time available to make it, to the language style and level of the audience, to the medium, to the objectives of the project, and to the family of materials it will join, etc.)

“Of the highest quality” does not mean expensive. It means thoughtful and well-executed in its genre.

A final measure, and perhaps the key measure in a business where variety is the norm, is quality. “Of the highest quality” does not mean expensive. It means thoughtful and well-executed in its genre. If all these things are present in a project, then it is likely to be successful, from a design point of view, and otherwise.

8. Institutions have a character, just like people do

In fact it is impossible to NOT have an institutional character or image. It is the sum total of a person’s experience of our staff, our physical plant, our programming and services, our communications — everything we say and do. Every person out there experiences a different assortment of these expressions, but they average out to define our institutional character or persona.

This character cannot be contrived. If it is contrived it will only fool people for a little while. Like a person you know who says he is one thing but whose daily behavior suggests another.

But a person’s character inevitably shifts as they mature. The same thing happens to companies like ours. Over the years I have observed that our own institutional character has shifted as our own self-image has shifted.

  • In the 70’s: we identified ourselves as a local public broadcasting stationAnd we acted locally. We were know by our channel brand: Channel 2. We had two mascots: the digit, which Chermayeff and Geismar had proposed could be treated anthropomorphically, a device we delighted in taking to extremes (the 2-mobile being the most ridiculous variant); and our zany, self-deprecating President, David O. Ives. These devices, plus our size, and our self-image as an upstart local broadcaster willing to make a lot out of a little, encouraged a kind of smart-alecky attitude in our local persona.
  • In the 80’s: we identified ourselves as a national producerBy the early 80’s WGBH had grown out of its local-centric persona, having established its lineup of key national strands, producing “1/3 of all prime time on PBS,” a percentage that remains constant to today. Now the focus shifted our national, institutional, WGBH identity. Staff increased dramatically and we became more of a big business.
  • In the 90’s: we identified ourselves as an educational publisherAt the end of the 80’s and into the 90’s the media options began to proliferate. We were major publishers of program related books. We had a catalog and product division. The whole place became computerized. We began to dabble in new media, publishing video-discs and CD’s and producing content for new on-line services like Prodigy. In the early 90’s as “new media” opportunities emerged we created the Interactive Department, and then came the World Wide Web. In the 90’s we began to see ourselves as a “content company,” down-playing the “broadcaster” moniker and focusing on our role nationally and internationally as a high quality educational publisher.
  • In the 2000’s: we identify ourselves as a major public media producer and distributorWe began to do “deals” with the cable companies and produce programming for other channels. We established a Commercial Policies subcommittee of our board. We built a new and more sophisticated headquarters that could welcome the public.As we became the most reliable and most prolific producer for public television, we first struggled with PBS over policy and ownership issues and then, finally, found ourselves in a role of “most trusted supplier” and the key innovator (and partner) in issues like cable carriage, rights and aftermarket sales, that would affect all of pubic media. In this environment, we became more “business-like” and saw our need to be a major driver of public media policy in the future. We recognized that as technology and user behavior changed, we were now both a producer and a distributor in all media.

Each of these shifts in self-perception, required a slight shift in expression for our work, ideally without changing the underlying DNA of the place. We are now approaching the end of this decade. What will our self-perception be in 2010? How will we express it? How can we respond to these natural and gradual shifts while still maintaining our core character, a character that people, both locally and nationally, know and respect (and willingly support)?

9. We’re all in the “understanding business”

No matter what we call ourselves, what we all do here is ultimately about helping people understand the world and their own life.

This term was first coined by the architect Richard Saul Wurman to define the design profession but it strikes me that, no matter what we call ourselves, what we all do here is ultimately about helping people understand the world and their own life.

This is the idea that our mission statement (now part of our building so it will be harder to change!) reflects, and is at the heart of our institutional character. And it is what has attracted me to this work all this time.

10. You are what you eat

We are all the result of a lifetime of experiences, some good, some not so good. My 32 years of experiences before I came here prepared me to be useful to a place like this. My 35 years here have enriched me and allowed me to grow in ways I never would have imagined. Now I’m going to see how that diet has prepared me for my next life. I will miss you all.

Bye.

A tribute to Dave Davis

From Don Hallock

As I remember, a 30 year old Dave Davis came to us at WGBH-TV from the University of North Carolina campus TV in 1957. That was the same year I, at 19, began in the scene shop as assistant to Peter Prodan.

Dave was a musician and veteran television Producer-Director. He succeeded John “Rocky” Coe as Production Manager, as I recall, and first occupied a tiny cubicle at the far end of the upstairs TV production office area where there was, quite appropriately, a little window looking down into Studio-A.

I very much loved working as cameraman for Dave. His precision, expertise and intelligence were absolutely inspiring.

I didn’t see or know much of Dave for several months following his arrival. I think that was because David MacFarland Davis was Scottish to the core — a distinctly quiet and private person who in time, though, proved pivotal to the future development of my entire later life.

My very first acquaintance with Dave happened one morning when I nervously approached his desk to say that I might have to quit working at the station as I was having a terribly painful and difficult time working under Peter. I really don’t know how Dave had any knowledge of who I was, or what my talents or enthusiasms might be (I aspired at that time, more than anything else in the world, to be a television cameraman). His reply, however, nearly knocked me off my seat — and profoundly changed the course of my life — forever.

He told me that in June and November respectively the station was going to be hiring two full-time cameramen. Frank Vento, who was already assistant Studio Manager under Bob Moscone, was to be the first, and that, if I could stick it out in the shop until November, I could be the second one. In the mean time, he said, I could be the station’s title-slide photographer after hours, and run microphone boom on a weekend science series he was directing for NET.

I was nothing short of astounded because, although I had as a teen, done some unofficial assisting in the TV studios at WBZ-TV on weekends, and had several years of theater experience, I had never run a boom or camera before in my life. But I accepted, and with so much excitement I could barely get any words of appreciation out of my mouth. Obviously, I stuck it out.

Dave was as good as his word (he always was). And so, subsequently, I found myself working for him, I believe to our mutual satisfaction, and definitely to my great pleasure, for nearly seven years thereafter. I ran camera on most of his directing stints and after he became Assistant General Manager for Television and didn’t direct further, it was he who powerfully changed my life yet again, by agreeing — on the prompting of Greg Harney — to promote me to Producer-Director. And again I was awed by this show of faith on his part (I was also, I must admit, perfectly terrified).

You see, the station rule, formerly strictly adhered to, was that all Producer-Directors must have college degrees, and I was only a high school graduate. I wish I could say I knew it at the time, but it only gradually seeped into my consciousness that, though incredibly detail-conscious and formal, Dave’s softer jazz musician side would sometimes very quietly reveal itself, and that he actually navigated a surprising amount on intuition.

I very much loved working as cameraman for Dave. His precision, expertise and intelligence were absolutely inspiring. I respected his work greatly, and we probably disagreed, rather humorously in the long run, on only a couple of very minor issues. Actually, our differings stemmed from my having been an impassioned student of television since I got my first TV set at age 14, and by age 16 having read every book on television in the Boston Public Library.

The romance of the medium absolutely enchanted me from the beginning. I watched TV constantly through high school, and had probably seen every one of all the great network programs of the time (Wide Wide World, Studio One, Goodyear Playhouse, Kraft theater, Omnibus — all the shows that were breaking ground and breaking rules). I absolutely loved the excitement of “live TV,” the constant innovation in a very new medium, and especially the rule-breaking (I have always been something of a rule-breaker).

As a director, Dave went, I found, somewhat by-the-book. I was not at all disappointed in him for that. Dave just “had his ways,” and I respected him for those. They worked well for him, and for me also as a hands-on student of TV technique. I did find some of them amusing, though, and our accords as well as our divergences later helped me, of course, form my own styles of directing.

In the category of divergences, for instance, “Takes” were Dave’s rule of thumb for virtually all music shows, including the Boston Symphony broadcasts. I, on the other hand, have always loved dissolves. I don’t remember Dave ever using a dissolve, even on the slowest, softest and sweetest of music. While cameraman on Dave’s music shows, my heart yearned so much to have a dissolve or two that, after I started directing music programs myself, I probably used a few too many for a while. In those later times when I was directing, Dave was likely in frequent disagreement about my choices of transitions. But always the fair-minded Scotsman, he never once objected.

In those later times when I was directing, Dave was likely in frequent disagreement about my choices of transitions. But always the fair-minded Scotsman, he never once objected.

Dave also seemed to feel that the cyclorama, drapes or black curtains were the only proper backgrounds for music programs — and cameras were never to be seen. Being a jazz musician himself, and “THE jazz director” of the station, that was Dave’s convention for jazz as well. Lew Barlow dutifully continued that tradition when he became director of Jazz with Father O’Connor.

Well, about the time I inherited that program from Lew, I happened to see kinescopes of two CBS programs that Jack Sameth had recently done with Miles Davis, Gil Evans and combo. They blew my mind! Unlike the usual TV setting, Sameth had set the musicians in a loose horseshoe with Gil Evans conducting his arrangements from the horseshoe’s opening. All were thusly facing each other – more like a recording session. Furthermore, there was no set, only dimly lighted studio walls, and the cameras were allowed to dolly into and out of the backgrounds of each other’s shots. So powerfully beautiful was the music and the presentation (they both broke so many rules so elegantly) I thought immediately, THAT was the way jazz should be shot! And THAT’S the way I will do it!

Well, needless to say, I was distinctly nervous on the night of my first show as nobody but the people in the studio, the cameramen who just loved the impending freedom, and Father O’Connor, who not only couldn’t have cared less, but thought it was an interesting idea, knew my plan. We now got every shot we wanted, moved anywhere we wanted to move, saw lights, booms and cameras, and used takes, dissolves and supers as much as we felt was evocative of the real spirit of jazz.

All responses to the program were decidedly positive (thank you, Jack Sameth). And Dave, who’s opinion most worried me, never uttered a word of disparagement. I don’t know if he objected to the approach or not, but I do believe he felt it was creative (creativity was a concern of paramount importance to Dave), and that it was only right that he respect my aesthetic decisions as much as I had respected his. I gained much greater confidence as a director in this particular adventure (thank you, Dave).

One rather amusing note: After I left the station in 1963 I did see one Boston Symphony broadcast where Dave slowly and beautifully dissolved into and out of a very wide shot of the whole hall from the Symphony Hall balcony. I do believe that Jordan Whitelaw, the Boston Symphony producer who, when I directed music programs, had liked my choices of dissolves and takes — and was much more of an open romantic than Dave — finally got to him on that occasion. Nevertheless, it was Dave who taught us all how to properly televise music, and if that had been Dave’s only gift we would all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

There was really only one other, rather humorous, area I remember where Dave and I differed frequently, and that was where the choice of lenses was concerned. This may not mean very much technically to present day camera operators who use only zooms, and not fixed lenses as we had to do then, but Dave had an absolute phobia about (against) the use of any lens of a focal length shorter than the normal (50mm) — and that lens only for the widest of cover shots. He felt that, on anything closer than a waist-shot, even a normal lens introduced an intolerable depth of perspective, which Dave saw and denounced as “distortion.”

Therefore, on shows he was directing at least, he insisted on the use of a 90mm or longer for almost all shooting, including cover shots. This, of course, made smooth dollying, especially on 84 Mass. Ave’s. washboard studio floors simply impossible, and was absolutely infuriating to camera operators, as it made them feel terribly incompetent. In all fairness, I must observe that the wider lenses did make the use of a tele-prompter, which was then mounted below the lens turret, more obvious. But even when a prompter was not being used Dave had his fairly strict preferences, and held to them firmly.

To the best of my memory, he never ever used the station’s one 35mm lens, barely tolerated the 75mm when we got it, and, I believe, abhorred the 28mm lens we eventually bought (super-wide for the day) that I simply loved. He staunchly stood by the perspective flattening that the longest usable lens would give.

I, on the other hand, loved the feeling of depth, perspective and dynamic camera movement that the wider angle lenses gave. I knew that long lenses had their place, and never resisted their appropriate use. I always strove to use the right lens for the right shot, and tailor the use of lenses to the show and the director.

But I was also an avid enthusiast of John Frankenheimer’s television drama technique, namely that of invariably using the widest lens possible. He made abundant use of crane shots, and rarely used a lens shorter than 35mm (wide angle) even for close-ups. I found those image dynamics absolutely exhilarating — something like flying. So, I frequently tried to slip one over on Dave by using a wider angle lens than I knew he would want. Often he caught me at it, and a few times he didn’t. But he never did get rasty about it. He just invoked the dreaded “D” word, and we made the change to the lens he preferred. Because he very much liked me to add my contributions to what he was directing, and to “sell him shots,” I think he secretly enjoyed our little “lens-joustings.”

In truth, I believe the lens issue went deeper than the merely technical — to the level of personality. Longer focal length lenses give a subtle feeling of “viewing subjects from a safe distance,” which better suited Dave’s preference for interpersonal relating. The wide angle lenses, in contrast, made one feel “inside the action” — more of a participant in the drama — which, in my youth at least, felt very exciting.

It would probably be impossible to enumerate all that Dave Davis gave and meant to us while at WGBH. He constantly and insistently emphasized — and through that gift we all learned — “creativity” and “quality.”

One area where Dave and I were in perfect agreement was in shot calling. That directing technique was almost as important to cameramen as to switchers. Ask any old-time ‘GBH director (and probably some of the younger ones too) about “1-1-1-take!” and “ready 2…dissolve.” Dave brought those camera calls to us when he joined the station.

The method was both elegant and precise. The repeated number always meant to the switcher that a cut was next, while the “ready” always signified an impending dissolve. At first some directors found the new calls annoying, and preferred to stay with the old ones (they were the “ready 2….take 2” crew with whom you, as switcher, never knew if the “ready 2” preceded a cut or a dissolve. When switching, you therefore had to try — too often unsuccessfully — to be ready for both).

But eventually, when their almost fool-proof effectiveness in preventing “mis”-takes were appreciated, (and, it should be said, on Dave’s fully justified insistence) the new calls were universally adopted. In fact, I believe that those camera calls of Dave’s are still being used, at least by some. (Bill Francis knew them as TD when I employed them while directing the Summer Symphony in Montana in 2002.)

Dave’s shot call system only failed once that I know of. That was on a performance program where Dave Nohling was switching, and a novice Whitney Thompson was directing. Nohling was known for having a very peculiar sense of humor. So when Whitney became flustered, lost his place in the score, and called out 3……2……1……take! Dave simply accepted the call literally and punched those buttons one after the other in quick succession – 3,2,1. Needless to say that didn’t look any too good going out live.

It would probably be impossible to enumerate all that Dave Davis gave and meant to us while at WGBH. He constantly and insistently emphasized — and through that gift we all learned — “creativity” and “quality.”

Dave really taught us pretty much all we knew about good music work, in all genres — especially classical and jazz. He brought much significant childrens’ programming to the station. And, of even greater importance, he modernized and stabilized many of our key production methods, initiating many of the essential innovations that first carried us out of the more primitive realms of production technique and into national prominence (a work-in-progress that Greg Harney ably continued).

Directly or indirectly Dave Davis “fathered” all of us in TV in the very best of ways. He knew well that to have creativity, space must be made available for individuality …

Dave’s role in the station’s spectacular recovery from the fire at 84 Mass., in the emergency use of the Cathholic TV Center, in the successful move to the Museum of Science, and in the planning of 125 the Western Ave. plant, are un-erasable as memorials to his wonderful resilience, determination, dedication, and savvy. Dave was, as we all know (or should know), one of the major forces behind the preeminence that WGBH eventually achieved. Directly or indirectly Dave Davis “fathered” all of us in TV in the very best of ways. He knew well that to have creativity, space must be made available for individuality — he never expected us to go about like a bunch of “little Daves.”

In my experience, Dave was a remarkably complex, and even at times enigmatic, person. He was a rather terse, emotionally somewhat remote, always impressive, clearly ingenious, unswervingly purposeful, occasionally humorous, at times intimidating, but always a gentle, fair and kind human being, who should, I feel, remain a justifiably revered figure in the history of
WGBH.

Finally: and I wish to say this to you personally, Dave, wherever you may be: I have long suspected that the man who dramatically changed my young life in unforeseeably beautiful and lasting ways; who introduced me to an appreciation and knowledge of music which has stayed with me my whole life; who gave me chances I would almost certainly never have gotten from anyone else; who helped me to get a foothold doing what I dearly wanted to do and loved doing, with people I came to love, in Public Broadcasting — a field which you were steadfast in supporting, and which I continue hold in the highest esteem as indispensable to our society … that that man was still alive, somewhere in the Caribbean making the music he so loved making. I’m deeply happy to hear that that was indeed true. It’s what I would have wished for you, Dave.

And this knowledge ameliorates, just a tiny bit, the tears I can’t seem to hold back, right now, as I write this, in deep respect of your wonderfully admirable service, and in profound mourning of your passing … because, Dave, I have so very much to love you for.

WGBH Pioneers: Michael Ambrosino – Part 2 (1998)

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series The Michael Ambrosino Collection

Michael Ambrosino — the creator of NOVA — describes his early years at WGBH, an era of live and live-on-tape TV productions at the 84 Massachusetts Avenue studio in Cambridge.

Watch Video — Part 2 (57 minutes)

Transcript — Part 2

INTERVIEWER: June 18, 1998, the second hour of a conversion with Michael Ambrosino.

Michael we were talking about the fire at WGBH in 1961.

Do you remember any great stories about the fire?

MICHAEL AMBROSINO: Well, we were very lucky because several days before the fire, two cameras had been moved into a million mile Greyhound Bus that was sitting out back.

It was going to be the big mobile unit for ‘GBH.

And the day before the fire I think two black and white videotape recorders were moved in and that equipment plus loaned equipment from the Catholic TV Center allowed us to go back on the air the next Monday.

But after the insurance money came in and we bought new equipment and that was put to use,

we still had those two ancient black and white videotape recorders and Hartford had, or I guess the chief engineer had, contacted a company that specialized in the repair of damaged videotape.

And of course, you forget that when you have a fire, there’s water everywhere.

And there was soot, and there was muck, and there were pieces of charred paper and wood and pieces of the roof…

and this was all sitting in sodden masses on all the very delicate electronic gear.

And the company proposed something like $15,000 to repair each recorder and there was no way the station could pay that as well as, but we had the other two recorders and that would be fine.

And they said, oh, you’re the Boston station that burned down, the educational station?

Oh well, that’s different.

We’ll tell you what we do and you do that and you see if it works.

You take all the stuff out of the videotape recorders and you mix one part Vel and one part water, and you paint everything with it.

And then you hose it down and then you plug it in.

If it blows up, you replace it.

And this is what they were going to do for $15,000.

And that’s what the engineers did and most of the stuff had dried out sufficiently in the week with fans and with heaters.

And stuff they plugged in, blew up, and they replaced that.

And so we had four black and white tape recorders.

But if you’ve ever wondered how some commercial companies make their money that’s one of them.

It was no fun for three years operating out of seven or eight different locations.

The inner cohesiveness of the station really fell apart for awhile: management in one place and studios in another.

It meant very long days and great difficulty of moving things back and forth.

It was hard.

INT: So, you had mentioned the Eastern Educational Television Network.

Can you explain it a little bit more?

You had moved from the in-school programming now to the EEN?

MA: I was at home with the flu one day and Hartford Gunn called me at home and said,

I want you to help start a regional network of public educational TV stations in the Northeast.

There were two at the time, New Hampshire and Boston.

And we got together at Mittersill, and we actually planned with what were Boston and a bunch of committee Heads — Vermont ETV Commission, university presidents, League of Women voters — groups that had been for years testifying to committees trying to raise money to do this.

And, step by step, we actually put together a network which transmitted programs off the air to other people’s transmitters and kept relaying these signals from station to station and instituted videotape exchange.

We’d get together every three or four months and figure out what else we could exchange.

We had a huge staff, a secretary and me.

And the first job was to help get stations on the air and to exchange programs with them,

to start to build what eventually became the country’s first interconnected educational TV network …

which ranged from Boston up through Maine and up through Vermont through New Hampshire out to Western Mass, down to New York and Washington.

INT: When was that Michael?

MA: These were in the ’60s.

I joined in ’60 and left in ’64.

In that time, we had not only become an interconnected entity, but had invited places like San Francisco and other stations around the country to join us in the tape network in an informal way.

And that was good because it was the beginning of what has become the American Program Service which is a sort of public television secondary network and is now doing a lot of origination and commissioning rather than just distributing programs.

INT: Just to rehash, when you first came it was a local station broadcasting live for a very few hours a day and then eventually went to kinescope and tape and from then it went to a rotation of tapes and broadcasting on a small regional network.

MA: Remember this was not all the day.

We were signing on at about 5:00 and going off the air at 10:00 everyday, every weekday, and then Saturday was added and then School Broadcasting was added in the morning and then we go dark from 12:00 to 2:00 and School Broadcasting would come back on for an hour or so and then we’d go dark.

It was a lot of what was called test pattern.

You kept your test pattern up because when the man came to your house with the TV set, and he put it in your living room, and he plugged it in and connected to the antenna, he wanted to see a test pattern because that’s what he used to make sure that the tube gave you a real circle.

And the test pattern and music filled much of the air in those days.

And then we expanded to Sunday and then the hours groped up to 11:00 and at 11:00 we all went to bed.

INT: Did we have an audience in those early days?

MA: Yes we had an audience in those days.

It was always more than the little old gray- haired ladies in Cambridge, which we were always accused of broadcasting to.

And even in those days, I remember discovering that people loved to learn — they hate to be taught, but they love to learn — and the proverbial cab driver would, if they knew you were from ‘GBH, would start telling you of programs that they had seen.

It wasn’t a big audience, but it was a very devoted one.

It’s not a big audience now, if you measure it up against the top 20 commercial shows, but I invite everybody to do a little experiment once a year.

If the newspapers ever print not just the top 20 shows, but the next 70 shows so all those programs that get cancelled over a season, that pulls 2’s and 3’s and 4’s, you realize that the programs on public broadcasting outdraw many of the programs that are 30 ranked and 40 ranked and 50 ranked on commercial television.

It’s just that we always hold ourselves up to those shows that are the blockbusters.

The audience is a genuinely connected one.

INT: So up to ’64 you were kind of deeply involved in the setup of the Eastern Educational Network?

MA: I was a suit, yeah.

INT: What happened in’64?

MA: Well, let me tell you one story about what happened before that because it was fun.

Those were the druggie days and Tim Leary was coming to MIT to give a lecture.

It was going to be difficult to film because it was going to be a lecture by candlelight.

A very enterprising Austin Hoyt grabbed Bloyd Estes and they went and shot this lecture and came home and started to edit it and it was going to be a wonderful local program.

The network heard about it and wanted it ready for the network and it was made for the network.

It consisted of Tim Leary with one candle glowing on the stage, sitting cross- legged at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium basically telling the kids they were fools.

They should not go to MIT.

They should dropout.

They should drop acid and they should really learn about themselves.

And for 20 minutes he held the kids spellbound.

And then Jerry Letvin stood up.

Jerry Letvin, Professor Letvin, is a physicist and a psychologist, M.D. doctor.

Not only was he very learned and had done a lot of research, some of it with Tim Leary, but he was the MIT guru.

When you were in trouble you went to Jerry, and Jerry, between smoking all his cigarettes, would tell you how he could help you.

And so he stood up and said to, directly to Tim Leary, who was still seated cross-legged by his feet, “Tim, we’re friends, we’ve done work together.

“Tell me as a clinician, what is it when a person hears smells and sees sounds, two weeks after dropping acid.”

And Tim looked up at him and said, “Oh I’d called him a visionary mystic!”

Oh, and the crowd went wild.

That was a nice put down.

And Letvin said, “Bullshit.

“It’s a … hematoma and you know God damn well it is”.

And for the next 20 minutes he sabotaged Tim Leary and told the kids what happens when they dropped acid to the chemicals in their brain.

This was a wonderful program, it was offered to the network.

In those days, you made 40 tapes, sent it to the top 40 stations, they played them a week, dropped them to the next 40 stations, they played them and on it ran.

And the stations complained.

Not that Tim Leary for 20 minutes was given an audience to tell the kids to drop acid, burn their brains, not that Jerry Letvin had savaged another human being without being chastised for 20 minutes, in the cruelest possible fashion.

But that Jerry Letvin had said, “bullshit.”

And they asked the program to be edited.

‘GBH refused.

So they edited themselves, sent out 40 new tapes to 40 stations.

The stations complained.

Why did they complain? Because Jerry Letvin now said “bullsh…”. because in those days, you edited by taking the tape on the two inch reels and moving it over the sound head.

So, WGBH finally decided it would edit it.

A third set of 40 tapes was sent out to the network.

But as Director of the Eastern Educational Network, I informed my stations that they would have, if they wished, the unexpurgated feed from WGBH.

And of course, they all said yes.

First amendment!We will stand by our rights! We will say the dirty word! And then the telephone calls started coming in.

Well, we’ve had a meeting of our Advisory Committee and we….

so in the end, as with most stupid or brave things, only San Francisco and ‘GBH were going to run the offending word.

That is why my son Jonathan is named for John Rice who was then Program Manager, KQED San Francisco.

And that evening, only those two stations were to broadcast the offense … except the microwave linked north failed about one minute before 9:00.

A very astute transmitter engineer at WENH decided, I know what I’ll do I’ll save the day, I will pick up the off air feed from ‘GBH.

So in the end New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine with their managers knowing full well the offending word would not be there.

It says something about broadcasting then and now that the offense was a word rather than a thought.

It says something about public broadcasting, something about commercial television and I always remember it as sort of a pivotal idea that certain things really bring offense that big ideas don’t and it’s a big shame

INT: Terrific story, terrific story.

MA: It was true.

INT: So at the end of’64 where were you at that particular moment?

MA: Tired of being a suit.

I realized that my future in public broadcasting was probably going to take over the National Association of Educational Broadcasters.

You know that just seemed like more administration, I didn’t want to run a station.

And I told Bob Larson that he was overworked.

What he really needed was an assistant program manager and I knew somebody who could fill the job.

I then left the network and became Assistant Program Manager to Bob Larsen and suggested Don Quayle, who had radio experience and television experience and had been radio manager here at WGBH and he took over as my replacement at EEN and built it into the empire that it is today.

He ran it for four years and then John Porter took over and ran it for 20 years.

INT: Well, what did you do when you were Assistant Program Manager?

What are your great accomplishments?

MA: Oh yes, I scheduled the station.

I decided what programs went where, you know, obviously with Bob’s concurrence and changes.

I helped oversee local programming and national programming and continued doing that up until 1969.

INT: What was in your early years of Assistant Program Manager, what was a day like?

How would a ‘GBH programming day run?

What would you see on the air?

MA: Where’s my list?

INT: Well sort of, I mean, you don’t have to have it exact.

MA: Well it was interesting.

We were then really expanding what we were doing.

There were a lot of arts programs.

It was usually high arts.

I mean if it was music, it was classical music.

Too, there was a jazz program.

But it would be…

instead of the one or two camera with one piano, it would be the symphony broadcast or it would be music in rehearsal, it would be opera.

There would be dance.

There was dance early, even in 84 Mass Avenue, we made the national program “A Time to Dance” that Greg Harney directed, Jac Venza produced, and it had all of the great names of dance.

I mean, it is a treasure trove for the dance historian.

Julia Child had started by then because we had the mobile unit in the post fire days.

Those programs were recorded in Cambridge.

You forget that it was very hard.

Dave Stuart, just did a recent piece in “Current” about Julia and he left out an essential point, I thought.

Hartford could not sell Julia to public broadcasting.

It wasn’t serious enough, it wasn’t high art enough.

There was a meeting of the television stations of the nation in Denver.

We all met in a bar in one of the ghost towns out in the woods in Denver, and Hill Bermont, the program manager of Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia, made a very impassioned speech that it was all too high art and he ended by screaming at Curt Davis, “When, when will we stoop to Swan Lake?”

And the answer was never!

It was only after Curt Davis left as being head of “Culture” did we “stoop” to something that was as prominent a ballet as Swan Lake.

The stations were now starting to do what were real political programs, documentaries about the way the nation worked and about the way the nation didn’t work.

So that “NET Journal” and you know we would try to feed programs into that.

I had seen a fellow called George Page who had done a documentary in Georgia called “Blockbusting Atlanta Style” — a wonderful program about how white real estate operators would try to introduce a black family into certain neighborhoods, the rest of the families would flee, the real estate operators would buy the houses up very cheap, sell them dear to black families.

And Hartford was looking for a documentary producer and I suggested he look at George.

George was working here several weeks later and he and Don Fauser and Austin Hoyt started making many of those early series and programs that tried to analyze the way this country was working at the time.

INT: And George Page then went on to WNET?

MA: WNET did more documentaries and then became the person in charge of “Nature” and ran that series into the great series that it is today.

INT: And George Page’s voice is well associated I think with public television.

What are some of the other important things that you were doing?

MA: “The Reporters”.

I was fascinated with the uproar at this station some years ago when the “Nightly News” went off the air because I had lived through several uproars like that in the past.

An educational station just doesn’t have enough resources to have a real news presence in the community.

The first news programs were basically talk with Louie Lyons and they never really progressed much further than that: a 15-minute reading of AP wire copy.

There were a variety of strikes that went on in the newspaper industry, and KQED, probably the most resourceful of the educational stations at the time, created something called “Newsroom” in which they brought all the reporters in and basically looked as if they were having an editorial meeting and they would say, Fred, what’s the story on your page today?

And Fred would say what the important news happened in his area and then he would be questioned by the other people as they would in an editorial meeting.

WGBH did one of those as well and out of that grew the idea that well maybe we could have a nightly news presence and I forget what the first one was called.

I’ve got it written down here as the “Reporters.”

INT: I think you’re right.

It started from a Globe newspaper strike and then it led to the “Reporters.” Wasn’t Allan Lupo one of the first….

MA: Alan Lupo was on it, Sharon Rivo, Joe Klein who’s now known as the Mr. Anonymous from “Primary Colors.”

These were ‘GBH reporters going out and finding stories.

Howard Spurgle was a member.

Howard was the most professional of the group and he had the education beat and the problem was, was at the editorial meetings, Howard would present five, six, seven, ten stories on education and the executive producer had to be very careful that you know education didn’t carry the whole night, but Howard was right there with his stuff and the rest of the people were running around, trying to found out what was going on.

We also did the conventions, and I remember the convention when Chub Peabody was nominated in the Hines Auditorium.

Sharon Rivo was directing and all the reporters were covering the floor and at 2:30 in the morning Chub Peabody, who had just been nominated by the convention, turned to the reporter who was interviewing him and said, do you think anybody’s really up and listening to us?

And the reporter sort of looked out into this vast empty scene and no, I guess we’d better call it a night.

And that’s how we went off the air.

‘GBH was doing an auction then, of course, and in those days they were a bit less hectic than they are now.

We would stop and dance for a half hour.

I remember Olivia doing jitter bugs on the stage.

We would raise, I guess, a $100,000 a year and think that was great.

I don’t know if auctions are cost efficient these days, but in those days they certainly did bring the community together.

Thousands of men and women, mostly women, went out into the community and scoured things and really found out that people did really feel that they belonged to the station.

INT: Do you think that the fire and the auction were the two major catalysts of really bringing WGBH into predominance in this awesome community or do you think it was the other programming like Julia Child and “The Reporters?”

MA: I think it was the other programs.

I think the fire and the auction just reminded people that we were here.

INT: We were a local station, weren’t we? I mean, when did we become national? When did it really start happening?

MA: From the earliest days it sought national.

I think “Discovery” was distributed nationally.

“Science Reporter” was distributed nationally.

We had one of the first kinescope machines and we would record programs.

In those days, national programming meant local programs that were recorded and sent out. And then you’d get maybe a $100 to do better visuals and then the program facilitators at the Educational Television and Radio Center would make some suggestions and then they would make some suggestions as to the kind of series that they could use looking for a balance in their schedule and then they made the programs themselves.

Stations like WGBH and the rest had to sort of fight to get their nose in.

And they assembled producer staffs in New York to do “NET Journal” and, you know, Fauser and Austin and George Page would have to fight their way into those series.

It’s the natural progression.

INT: The emergence of WNET or NET as it was a division, became kind of an important part of the structure of the network in those days where ‘GBH was a supplier, but it was really a network operation called NET that was really functioning as the kind of major distributor of programming, am I right?

MA: Well there was a station called WNDT, New Dimensions in Television, that went on the air, of course, it was struck by the union and I hate to say this guys, but I and a bunch of people from ‘GBH scabbed, went down, put them on the air, they went off the air right after that opening program, it was with Ed Morrow, and then for two weeks negotiated and it went back on the air with a union contract.

It thought itself the most important station in the world.

It had as its manager, Dick Heffner, a very self-important man.

That station sort of made us all feel as if we were just hicks, but I don’t think they ever came up to the job in terms of doing the really great things.

The Ford Foundation demanded that NET in New York and WNDT merge because they were tired of funding the two groups.

And then of course they became the national producer and it even became harder for other stations, including WGBH, to get in to the documentary area or the cultural series because they had the facilities, they had the staff, they had the commissioners, they had the producers and they became a real necessary and vibrant part of public broadcasting and probably that’s where the more daring programs were made.

INT: Such as’?

MA: “The NET Journals.”

INT: The series the “Dream Machine.”

MA: What was the name of that program?

INT: “Great American Dream Machine.” Did you have anything to do with it?

MA: Minuscule.

Some of the real fun things came too.

A sense of humor was to be brought…

INT: “The American Family”

MA: “The American Family” by Gilbert?

INT: I forget.

MA: “The American Family” was a program about the Loud’s … cameramen living and a husband and wife living with them for months …

Over the objections of the head of documentaries at the time.

Jim Day merely took $80- or $100,000 out of the budget and gave it to these independent producers.

“The Great American Dream Machine” was segmented pieces that allowed a lot of creative people, including somebody who’s sitting on the dias, to make segments for that program.

Mickey Lenley…

INT: Mickey Lenley, oh my.

MA: You …

INT: … and the animator, Fouser’s dear friend…

MA: Yeah.

MA: He did all the openings for the Boston Pops, all the animated openings.

I can’t remember…

INT: It sounded as if the culture in the high arts was now moving into a news program, into documentaries, into coverage of local conventions.

It sounded like the very quality of the kind of programs and the very subject matter of the programs of WGBH was changing radically in the early days of the ’60’s?

MA: Yes, we were moving from the educational TV station to the public television station.

We were moving from seeing ourselves as the extension of the Harvard University extension classes to a station that actually look into how the nation worked.

I was doing a lot of stuff that dealt with the coverage of the UN.

In ’67 the Arab-Israeli war broke out.

We were covering the United Nations when there was no morning programming right up until 5:00 when we would go into our regular stuff.

And in those days you just bumped the schedule.

I mean we never thought that the schedule was filled with such wonderful programs that we couldn’t wipe it out for a moment’s notice for coverage of important events.

There were war and anti-war protests and the station was involved in those.

KQED was doing a lot of stuff out on the streets.

I remember at one point when the students at Harvard took over buildings and President Pusey would not speak to them.

And Studio A was emptied and a huge table built and the students and some of the board of overseers or the Board of Directors of Harvard sat in that room and basically talked to Nathan Pusey via WGBH’s transmitter.

I remember being in this studio, myself on camera, after the bombing of Cambodia and for two or three nights in a row broadcasting what people in the City of Boston could do to protest the bombing in Cambodia.

I remember, in the death of Robert Kennedy, commissioning programs on poetry and music that influenced Robert Kennedy and calling Fred Rogers saying …

“I’ve commissioned two or three half hours.

“If you could do a half hour we’d then have two hours of programming for children … because all they’re going to see is dead bodies going past Capitol steps.”

And Fred said, “Oh, we’re already making that one.”

And so, you know, we used the Eastern Educational Network and the stations had something for children during that time.

PBL was created by the Ford Foundation to be an experiment on Sundays, two and a-half hours of interconnection, you know, a rental of big telephone lines and the whole country was pulled together, a new staff was pulled together.

And again, the fight as to whether WGBH would get into that kind of program.

I remember going to a little play with Greg Harney, in a little theater directed by David Wheeler, watching a very tall guy and a very short guy in a play called “The Dwarfs” by Pinter.

The tall guy turned out to be John Voight, the short guy was Dustin Hoffman and the decision was should we televise that as part of PBL.

Greg directed it.

INT: The acronym was Public Broadcasting Laboratory.

MA: Public Broadcasting Laboratory.

It was to show what we could do if somebody would give us enough money and in those days, of course, the funder was the Ford Foundation, they did everything.

INT: Was Dave Davis at the Ford Foundation at that time?

MA: After ’67 he was.

There was the “James Brown Show.”

Martin Luther King was murdered and the cities burned.

Boston did not burn.

James Brown was doing a concert the day after King died, and the Mayor suddenly realized that 12- or 13,000 black youngsters would be let out of the Boston Garden at about midnight and probably would walk through town on their way to Roxbury because there were no buses or the T wasn’t operating and decided that was not to be done.

He got in touch with WGBH.

I was called into Hartford’s office at 5:30 and asked if we could go on the air from Boston Garden by 8:30 because the Mayor was going to buy the house and every TV station in town was going to tell kids not to come.

An argument ensued among the executives at WGBH whether this was a good idea.

At which point I said, “You continue talking. If you want me on the air by 8:30 I’m now leaving.”

I got in touch with three men, the four men that I knew could get us on the air by 8:30 — Greg Harney, Russ Morash, David Atwood and Al Potter — and we screamed down to the Boston Garden.

We laid out the cameras, and about two hours later I met Mr. Brown and his bodyguards and with an alpaca coat on his shoulders.

I thanked him very much for allowing us to televise the concert and he said, “What television?”

At which point, he and Tom Atkins, the Mayor’s black assistant, got together and talked about it and an hour later they came out and agreed, yes we could televise.

And we broadcast that program once and twice and I think three times that night.

About 1,000 people had come and were allowed in to the concert.

Brown brought Mayor White onto the stage.

The two of them basically said to the City of Boston,

“This city is different from other cities and this city should not burn.”

And the major conflagrations that were happening all over the country did not happen here.

Interesting use of media at the time and interesting that WGBH was asked to do it.

INT: I remember Louis Lyons crying on the air when Martin Luther King died.

MA: No, when Bobby Kennedy.

INT: Was it Bobby?

MA: Yes.

Bobby Kennedy was shot after Martin Luther King.

Louis Lyons arrived.

I arrived at the station, Louis arrived at the station, Fauser arrived at the stage.

Louis demanded to go on the air immediately.

He was in an absolute rage.

I was the only executive at the station.

I cancelled the program at the time.

Louis went into the studio, Fouser directed, and he basically said, “This nation is rotten,” and gave a four or five minute editorial, a statement, about his thoughts of the depths that we had descended to.

We faded to black, came up with reports of the death and then went back into regular program.

All of broadcasting was sort of held in abeyance over the next couple of days except for the funeral.

INT: Quite a moment.

MA: Yes.

MA: Louis Lyons was quite a man.

INT: Well Louis was, by nature, a very, how should we say, conservative journalist.

He was a reader of copy, he did not express in any emotional way of how he felt, his words were always very carefully selected, and in this one he really just was in an outrage.

MA: Not exactly.

Louis was a man of great passion.

He may have read his copy in a mild way, but his idea of the news was to tell you what the news was, and then with his 40, 50 years of knowledge, was to tell you what it meant and it was his own perspective and it was quite strong at times.

He was the news presence of the station for many years.

He and Bob Barram did Regional New England News.

He was head of the Nieman Fellowships and ran that with great distinction for a number of years.

And everyday he would come and the smallest of the trees in front of WGBH — the one that is dying because it gets the least water — would be picked over by him as he walked in.

He never forgot that he started life as a agricultural reporter and would always tell you what was happening in the agricultural fields.

INT: I don’t want to make too short of a period of time up, you know, when you were Assistant Program Manager, but when did you go on camera Michael?

I mean you had your own show there for awhile?

MA: I had been on camera before.

I did a lot of stuff on the auction.

I was the only person I think at WGBH who still had a working actors equity card, I mean, I was professional theater background.

I had interviewed all of the candidates….

I had done a lot of stuff in the ’50s … on-camera interviews.

I had interviewed, in the ’60s, all the people running for Congress.

And in 1969 we were going to do a program that dealt with the high arts and it was to be a critical evaluation of opera, music, dance, theater in Boston.

And I said, gee, we do that all the time.

Why don’t we do something that’s really on the streets.

Let’s get out and do something.

There had been only one series that had ever done that in our lives and what was the name of that program?

It was called “What’s Happening Mr. Silver” produced by you.

I thought we should really be doing that.

That’s where we are, that’s where the studio, but this piece should be out there.

And Michael Rice, who was then Program Manager, said, “Well, what would it be like?” And I said, “I’ll tell you Monday.”

Monday I came in with a proposal, he said, “Oh that’s interesting, who will do it?”

I said, “I’ll do it.”

He said, “But you’re assistant, associate then, director of programs.”

I said, “I’ll do both jobs.”

He said, “Who will appear as host?” because in those days every show had to have a host.

I said, “I will be the host.”

The only person with professional theater training.

We started out to make a series and I forget who the first director was…

The first director was Fred Barzyk and the first couple of shows were shot out the side of the mobile unit because that was as mobile as we could be.

You then designed a rig for the back of the bus and we could shoot 270 degrees off that.

And I remember Greg McDonald, god bless him, driving the truck, no it was on camera, Greg was driving, somebody was on camera …

We were on the Mystic River Bridge at about 8:00 in the morning at the head of rush hour and you were talking in the headsets to the truck driver, to the cameraman, and I was listening in and you said, “Slower, slower, stop”.

And you were then directing, we were doing a program about the environment of the city, you were shooting smoke stacks.

And Greg said, “Fred we’re parked on the Mystic River Bridge in the middle of rush hour”.

And your response was, quote, “We’ve paid our toll.”

INT: That’s true.

We got the shot and moved on.

MA: We paid a Boston policeman with a motorcycle $27.00 and we could go anywhere.

Lee Polk and Jerry Slater from WNET came up to see us do ” Michael Ambrosino’s Show” and they couldn’t believe what we were doing because the City of New York and its regulations and the unions…

There’s no way you could run a cable on the sidewalk.

No way you could stop, as we did, in the middle of Harvard Square and put me on the top of a chair for a half an hour, stopping direct traffic in all directions to do a lead-in.

We quickly discovered in that series that we could either do a studio show with studio segments or we could do exterior segments, but we didn’t have enough money to do both and you, god bless you, said, we’ll do it all outside.

And so we did credits, and everything.

And we did in those days 18 programs in 28 weeks.

About half were videotaped and half were film.

Boy, that’s with just reversal film.

There would be a day for shooting, a morning for videotape editing or a day or a day and a half of film editing.

Dick Bartlett cut most of those.

And it was my attempt to remind myself … a primer of what could be done outside.

Some were interviews, some were little documentaries.

There was a program about Inman Square, there were programs about pollution, there were programs about dawn.

We showed little rock concerts, we showed what autumn was like, we showed what flying was like.

We did a program about Boston Harbor.

And I remember we finally were getting it right, I think Dave Atwood was directing at that time, and we had … you were directing, Inman Square?

INT: Inman Square.

MA: You directed that one, and I remember we came in, the show went out on Tuesday nights so we came in probably on a Monday morning and Ralph Schuetz walked up to us, with tears streaming down his face and holding two, two-inch cans of tape and said …

“I have tapes two and three of ‘Michael Ambrosino’s Show’,” and we said, “Where’s tape number one?”

And he said, “We recorded Governor Furcoloon over it last night.”

So, we made a show of tapes two and three.

Luckily, you had said that the six to eight minute intro that we had shot on tape one was no good and we should do it over and that was on tape three and that was the Inman Square program.

INT: An important factor, at least the Boston history, was that was the first time that a little seafood place had been showcased on camera has gone on to become probably Boston’s number one seafood restaurant, Legal Seafoods.

MA: Legal Seafoods.

George Burkowitz gave me a lesson on how to buy fish.

He stuck a fish in my face and said, “Smell that, smell anything?”

I said, “No I don’t smell anything.”

He said, “Ah, it’s fresh fish.”

INT: We have to get to this point …

You and WGBH went separate ways there for awhile….

MA: Yep.

There had been a putsch in 1967, there was a change in management, and having been told I would be program manager, I wasn’t.

I resigned.

I ran around the country for three months.

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington flew me out.

I came back to the station and said, you know I don’t want to go anywhere.

I’m going, the terrible, you know, all the macho stuff is I should quit now, you choose Michael Rice instead of me.

No station around the country for the next five or ten years is going to make the kind of programs that this place can make.

So, I stayed.

In the middle of making that series “Michael Ambrosino’s Show,” I guess I said to myself, you are the programmer you thought you were.

Probably the best thing that ever happened to me was that I was not made the program manager.

I think Michael made a better program manager than me.

I think he gave more freedom to people like you than I would have given you in “What’s Happening Mr. Silver.”

And he gave me that freedom in “Michael Ambrosino’s Show.”

In the middle of that, I told the station to fill my job.

That if I came back, I would come back to do something else and Mark Stevens was made Associate Director of Programs.

It was also a sort of a personal thing.

I was going to be 40 in June and I had literally been working since the age of five, when my mother made my first apron in the store and I felt the 40th year was mine, nobody else could have it.

I quickly discovered that Fulbright gave a pittance and you had to teach somewhere.

Guggenheim gave less and the Ford Foundation was not interested in giving me a grant to sit on my duff in Northern Italy and contemplate what I do next.

And the Corporation for Public Broadcasting had a fellowship, but the previous year it had been at Nippon Hoso Kyoki , NHK in Japan, and although I still spoke some Japanese from 18 months in the service there, I knew that I would go to a foreign network in a fellowship and be an observer and that wasn’t for me.

And about two months later it was announced that the 1970, ’71 fellowship would be in London at the BBC and I said, that’s mine.

And I applied for it and went after it and four days before I was 40, in which I would be ineligible to receive it, I got the grant and that really changed my life and changed my ideas about programming forever.

INT: So, how did it change and what were those ideas?

MA: Well, the BBC said, we have a wonderful plan for you.

We’re going to set you up in nine different divisions, you know, one month at a time.

The first month you’re going to eat with everybody and I said, you know if I were 21 that would be great, but I’m 40.

I didn’t come here to look at all of your different divisions.

I came here to work.

You’ve got a very pugnacious program that goes out 45 minutes every night, BBC One, called “24 Hours” it was news and current affairs, had three production teams that worked in rotation.

If I’m any good and I get assigned to that, I’m going to actually work there and get the kind of experience that I want.

And the BBC being the BBC said, “Oh, you’ve got your own ideas, that’s fine.”

So for the first month, I did eat with everybody from Hugh Whelden to David Attenborough, to the heads of radio, to the heads of all the major divisions, the drama, music, opera, etc.

In radio in overseas and then in television.

And then I went to work.

Monday, I observed.

Tuesday, I was given an assignment.

I was given an assignment which I later learned had been given to two other people and it had been rejected.

A young associate producer on the program had proposed an interview by a well-known British rock star and the executive producer of the program was so entranced in getting to meet him that he directed it himself.

A filmed interview, 45 minutes long, without one cut away, no pictures of the apartment, no pictures of his bedroom, the socks, the books in the bookcase.

And so the other people had cut it and it you know had butchered it.

Coming out of “Michael Ambrosino’s Show,” we had done video editing, snap editing.

We’d done a lot of it and I was not an expert, but certainly was more expert than they were.

I had found a piece of music that this fellow had done, in a recent film, and edited the interview to the beat of the music he had been performing.

So that everything had a cadence and Thursday night of that week, an 18 minute piece on a little known rock star called Mick Jagger went out on BBC One and I was no longer an observer, I was then a member of the staff.

It’s interesting that I owe my whole future in programming to him.

I worked on that program, a dear man left his position as an associate director of the program and allowed me to take over because the American elections were on and so I was directing teams of film makers in America to cover Rockefeller, to cover Bob Drinan’s run for Congressman, the first Jesuit to go to Congress.

We had satellite feeds and that was a rather glorious four or five months.

And I wrote that up hoping that public broadcasting would do something like that instead of the sort of newsroom approach that we were following.

I then spent about four months watching something strange called “Features Group” make documentaries out of programs that we normally would have thought of as educational television or further instruction.

Programs about music, about dance, about the arts, about science and technology and religion and these were very popular documentaries on BBC Two.

At that time in England commercial television had come in and BBC One was reorganized to give them a real fight for their money because BBC One had been losing its ratings and all the educative kinds of shows went to BBC Two.

And about a month before I was to come back to America, Bob Larsen came over and we took a seven hour walk talking about if I came back, what would I come back to do?

And he asked me what I would like to do?

And I said, I want to take over Channel 2.

I think we should separate local and national programming.

Local programming is going to be screwed by the impetuous for national and he said, “No ‘GBH will never separate the two.”

“What else would you like to do?”

I said, “Well I think I would like to start a science series.”

And May the first, 1971, I wrote a five page letter to Michael Rice outlining basically what a science program for public broadcasting would be like.

INT: And of course we all know that’s “NOVA” that came out of that five-page letter.

MA: Yes, I came back to WGBH on a Rockefeller Grant for a couple of months to develop a science project.

Actually Michael’s letter welcoming me back, welcomed me back to do “Michael Ambrosino’s Show” and maybe to create a science series.

I also was developing a project called “Dying” because one of the Michael Ambrosino programs was going to be about leukemia kids at Childrens Hospital.

And another project which failed.

Development took a year, raising the money took another year and a half and we actually went on the air in 1974 in March with the first 13 programs in the “NOVA” series.

INT: And the BBC and all that connection at BBC and WGBH were co-producers, am I right in saying that?

MA: Not co-producers as much as, it would not have happened had we not taken on the strand technique that BBC had created.

INT: The strand technique?

MA: Well there was no way in hell anybody was going to give me the millions necessary to do 13 new science programs and we were not equipped to make 13 new science programs in a series.

If we would make three or four ourselves with BBC producers that I brought over, with American associate producers and PAs who could then be trained to do this, and we co-produced one or two with BBC, and we bought some of their best award winners that they made in the last 10 years.

We could spread that money out and get more programs for a few dollars and actually create a TV series that meant that the programs we made had to come up in quality to the award winners that we were buying because I had 150 programs to choose from for the first series.

So, we were off and running.

INT: In that first year or two of “NOVA,” which of the shows are you most pleased with?

What are the ones that really stand out in your mind?

MA: “Why Do Birds Sing”.

Typical I think of “NOVA” is that it would take a subject that you’ve never even thought you’d be interested in, and show you something that was just so stunning and so beautiful that it made you look at the world a little differently.

Recently, the National Science Foundation gave an award to “NOVA” in its 25th year and I told a little story that I thought the perfect “NOVA” was a film about a lot, a vacant lot, done by a “NOVA” producer in such a way that you would never think of a lot as ever being vacant again.

And I think that is the charm of a series like that.

That, yes, it could deal with things like the “Plutonium Connection” by John Angier, in which we showed that stolen or lost plutonium could be made into a terrorist weapon and had it checked with scientists in Scandinavia.

We dealt with the issues of bombing and whether bombing was effective for the First World War up through Vietnam and showed that indeed it wasn’t effective and did not destroy the morale of any population, it only galvanized it.

Along with the public policy questions of whether there was enough water in the country to feed Los Angeles.

There were these films that took place, you know, infinite delight of beauty, that just looked at a desert and shows what happens in a desert in a course of a year …

That dealt with bird migrations and how they can travel thousands of miles and come back to the same place.

The inner beauty of finding out how the world worked.

It was never meant to be a science series.

I think it is not a science series, it uses science to show how the world works.

Excellent tool, as film-making is an excellent tool.

INT: Well from a viewer whose benefitted much from “NOVA,” thank you for writing that five page memo.

I’m glad you came back.

The end of our second hour.

June 18, 1998 with Michael Ambrosino.

Thank you.