“What’s going on here?” – Louis Lyons and the News

From David Sloss

Louis Lyons used to do a 15-minute newscast every night. Louis was a salty old New Englander who said whatever was on his mind. His show was as simple as could be – just one camera on Louis. All the director had to do was cue the opening slide and announcer, and then dissolve to the camera on Louis. Novice directors were given the show as a first assignment.

05-P-P-Louis-Lyons-1One night a newbie was directing for the first time. Everything was ready to go; camera 2 was set up on Louis. Then, just before they went on the air, the engineers decided something wasn’t right with camera 2, and substituted camera 3. The director didn’t notice the change, and said, “dissolve to 2”. The switcher dutifully did as he was told, and what went on the air was a lens cap.

Louis started to talk, and then he noticed that the little red light on his camera wasn’t on. He knew very little about the technical stuff, but he knew that wasn’t right. He stopped in mid-sentence, not sure if he was on the air or not. In the control room, people are screaming “Three! Three!” at the novice director, who’s paralyzed. Finally someone reaches over and punches the button for 3. Louis appears on the air, just as he’s saying, “What the hell is going on here?”

Two days later we got a note from a viewer, who said “Thanks for the refreshing start to the news. I’m a farmer. We’ve been asking that question for years!”

Tom McGrath, 80

From Tributes.com:

Thomas McGrath was born on February 1, 1936 and passed away on Wednesday, June 15, 2016. Thomas was a resident of New Paltz, New York at the time of his passing.

He earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Marquette University in Wisconsin Tom received a scholarship for graduate studies at Boston College via WGBH TV.

From Paul Noble:

Tom was a colleague at WGBH-TV in the early days of public TV. Great worker with a fine sense of humor.

From Dick McCullough:

Tom was  a wonderful guy (and ever-timeless partner in MBM Productions and it’s fabulous Milwaukee film “The Music Box”). Will always have great memories of him and wife Bobby, who departed much too early.

From Don Hallock:

Here are two photos from A Time To Dance showing Tom McGrath.

In number 1, Tom is seated on the right. Left to right: Don Hallock – camera, Al Kelman – crane operator, and Tom – dolly man.

A Time To Dance 1

In number 2 left to right: Geoffrey Holder – dancer, Al Kelman – crane operator, Don Hallock – camera, and Tom – dolly man. Both photos by Brooks Leffler. (Note Kelman seems still to be active as a producer)

A Time To Dance 2

Sorry to hear the news. Tom was, in no uncertain terms, a hale-fellow-well-met. A fine person.

From the 2000 WGBH Reunion:


Dinner with the 1959 crew at Legal Seafood.


Ruth Barzyk and Fred with former “roomie” Tom McGrath.


Tom and Don Hallock with Ruth Barzyk

Bud Collins memorial service a celebration of his extraordinary life

From the Boston Globe

In words, music, songs, prayers and above all, glorious smiles, the family and friends of legendary tennis journalist Bud Collins gathered inside Trinity Church at Copley Square Friday afternoon for a two-hour memorial service to celebrate his life.

Tennis great Chris Evert spoke at Friday’s services for late Globe sports columnist Bud Collins.

Much like Collins, who died in March at age 86, the ceremony was witty and smart and touching, as elegant and flawless as Wimbledon’s emerald lawn. Some of the biggest names in the game — Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and others — came from far and wide to speak fondly of a man who was their loyal friend, their trusted confidant, and the singular authority of the sport he so dearly loved.

They shared stories of Collins’s clever turns of phrase, his trademark crazy wardrobe, his passion for everything about the game and everyone who played it.

“Bud will be remembered most of all for his wonderful, unique sense of humor,’’ noted Evert, one of five speakers to offer remembrances during the ceremony. “But what I admired about him, more than anything, was his extraordinary kindness, his decency and his sensitivity.

“Bud was one of the finest and tennis will never be the same. He will be the lasting imprint on our sport, and on our souls.’’

King, long ago dubbed “Mother Freedom’’ by the moniker-loving Collins, wore a shocking pink jacket to the ceremony. Because pink was “Bud’s favorite color,’’ she said, and this was a day, what would have been his 87th birthday, to give him everything he wanted.

King, whose courage boosted the women’s game to new heights in the 1970s, particularly when she thumped loudmouth huckster Bobby Riggs in a ballyhooed matchup, regaled the gathering of some 2,000 with stories dating to the first time she met Collins more than a half-century ago….

Both Evert and King noted how they trusted Collins.

“He was trustworthy and compassionate,’’ said Evert, noting how she was comforted by Collins immediately after losses in seven Wimbledon finals. “I knew at that moment Bud Collins would take care of me.’’

“I just loved him from that moment,’’ said King, thinking back to the first day she met Collins. “I felt safe.’’…

The choirs of Trinity Church accompanied a handful of soloists, including singers and instrumentalists, helping to make the celebration a dynamic presentation. The man who wrote about triumph and loss, legends and hackers, was sent off with rich readings (“To everything there is a season . . . ’’) and magnificent song (“Amazing Grace’’; “Ave Maria’’)….

Following the ceremony, many in the gathering made their way slightly west for a reception at Boston University, where many of Collins’s works have been preserved at the Howard Gottlieb Memorial Gallery. Collins earned his undergraduate degree at Baldwin Wallace College in Ohio, then moved to Boston in the late 1950s to pursue a master’s degree in communication at BU. He quickly caught the news bug.

“What keeps you going?’’ King recalled asking Collins in more recent years. “He’d say, ‘Billie, it’s the story . . . it’s the story.’ ’’

Late WCVB photographer honored by Cambridge with dedication ceremony


 A former WCVB photographer was honored Saturday by having a corner of Cambridge dedicated to him.


The city of Cambridge renamed the corner of Copley and Fayweather streets the Robert N. Wilson Square in honor of the late Robert Wilson who passed away in 2014.

wilson2Wilson worked at WCVB for 22 years. While working as a television photographer, he received many honors, including being recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for outstanding achievement as a pioneer African-American news videographer and recognition by the Boston Association of Black Journalists for his achievements.

Wilson got his start in television at WGBH, where he progressed from a stagehand to a television photographer. Wilson was also a U.S. Army veteran and served during the Vietnam War.

“It is people like Bob Wilson that made a difference in this community,” City Councilor David Maher said. “He was a celebrated newsman and contributed to the change in the culture of news in Boston over a 30-year period.”

Wilson’s family was on hand for the unveiling.

Vonnegut and Barzyk: Between Time and Tibuktu

This entry is part 19 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the fourth in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director. Watch the entire video, Between Time and Timbuktu, below.

posterFrom Fred Barzyk

“Between Time and Timbuktu or Prometheus-5: A Space Fantasy by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.” was an idea hatched by David Loxton who was working for NET Playhouse, led by Jac Venza. This is how the 1974 TV show happened.

I had just produced my third local drama for WGBH called “The Pit.” This time, WGBH gave me a budget to cover the costs of the production, unlike the earlier two: ”Five Days” and ”2 for Laughs.” It was a crazy play about a little old guy who tried to save a little girl who had fallen into a large pit. Of course, the old guy can’t get her out and is misunderstood by everyone. He is accused of all kinds of things, including a Senator declaring him to be un-American. Eventually, the police carry his limp body off the set. The girl never did get out of the Pit.

David predicted the scene Kurt would love is when the old man is seated on the pit trying to convince himself that things could be worse. He starts naming off all the diseases that one could get. It goes on and on, on and on, getting funnier and funnier. David was absolutely sure Vonnegut would get the humor and let us produce a drama with him.

Vonnegut lived in Western Mass, an hour drive to WGBH. Jac Venza and WGBH invited him to WGBH studios to view “The Pit” and talk to him about doing a drama for NET Playhouse. He thought the scene was funny and amazingly agreed to let us take all of his works, put them into a blender, and come up with something new. I was speechless.


Kurt was commissioned to be an advisor on and contributor to the script. David O’Dell did the first draft of the script. Everyone then added their contributions. Kurt looked for an idea that would create an over-arching plot line. He was amused by America’s endless fascination with space travel. He proposed that a poet had entered a jingle contest and won a space trip to the “Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulium.” He insisted that the actor playing Stoney Stevenson had to be William Hickey.

Kurt had first met Bill Hickey at the filming of his novel “Slaughter House-Five.”

Slaughterhouse-Five is a 1972 anti-war/sci fi film based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel of the same name about a writer who tells a story in random order of how he was a soldier in WW2 and was abducted by aliens. The screenplay is by Stephen Geller and the film was directed by George Roy Hill. It stars Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, and Valerie Perrine, and features Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans, Holly Near, and Perry King. The scenes set in Dresden were filmed in Prague. The other scenes were filmed in Minnesota.

Vonnegut wrote about the film soon after its release, in his preface to Between Time and Timbuktu:

“I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel Slaughterhouse-Five to the silver screen … I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book.”

man-croppedHickey had a small role in Slaughterhouse-Five. One day Bill Hickey invited Kurt to his trailer. Kurt was dumbfounded that his trailer had no chairs or tables, just an empty hull. When he asked why Hickey didn’t have chairs or tables, Bill said he didn’t want to bother anyone. He had lived this way for 2 weeks, just sitting on the floor. Vonnegut loved this guy. And we did too.

This was an NET production (they funded most of the production) co-produced with WGBH (who paid for the rest) Most of this was shot in Boston by cinematographer Boyd Estus. Here is what Wikipedia has to say.

Between Time and Timbuktu is a television film directed by Fred Barzyk and based on a number of works by Kurt Vonnegut. Produced by National Educational Television and WGBH-TV in Boston, Massachusetts, it was telecast March 13, 1972 as a NET Playhouse special. The television script was also published in 1972, illustrated with photographs by Jill Krementz and stills from the television production.

The script was primarily written by David Odell, with contributions from Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding, and the film’s director. Vonnegut himself served as an “advisor and contributor to the script.”

Where to begin? I asked Kurt what he really wanted to write about. He really wanted to write humor bits for Bob and Ray. I said I know them and I am sure they will do your TV movie.

Bob and Ray was an American comedy duo whose career spanned five decades. Composed of comedians Bob Elliott (1923–2016[1]) and Ray Goulding (1922–1990), the duo’s format was typically to satirize the medium in which they were performing, such as conducting radio or television interviews, with off-the-wall dialogue presented in a generally deadpan style as though it was a serious broadcast.

The duo did more television in the latter part of their career, beginning with key roles of Bud Williams, Jr. (Elliott) and Walter Gesunheit (Goulding) in Kurt Vonnegut‘s Hugo-nominated Between Time and Timbuktu: A Space Fantasy (1972), adapted from several Vonnegut novels and stories. (Vonnegut had once submitted comedy material to Bob and Ray.) Fred Barzyk directed this WGBH/PBS production, a science-fiction comedy about an astronaut-poet’s journey through the Chrono-Synclastic Infundibulum. This teleplay was first published in an edition that featured numerous screenshots of Bob and Ray and other cast members.

In 1973, Bob and Ray created an historic television program that was broadcast on two channels: one half of the studio was broadcast on the New York PBS affiliate WNET, and the other half of the studio was broadcast on independent station WNEW. Four sketches were performed, including a tug of war that served as an allegory about nuclear war. The two parts of the program are available for viewing at the Museum of Television & Radio.

(I will eventually write about the double channel show that was also broadcast by WGBH Channels 2 and 44. I wrote and directed the Bob and Ray segment called “The Yin and Yang of It.” I also directed the first HBO Entertainment Special which was the Bob and Ray’s Broadway Show: “The Two and Only,” 1970. It was a co- production between WGBH & HBO and shot in Studio A with an audience. More on that later.)

Now, back to Between Time and Timbuktu.

brucieThe writer, David O’Dell, laid out a first draft of the script and that was passed on to Vonnegut for revisions. Kurt added a terrific opening scene in which an announcer (“Juicy Brucie” the number one DJ on NYC radio at the time) surprised Stony and his Mother at their home declaring him the winner of the Tang Grand Prize of a trip into outer Space.

David and I searched for locations in Boston: the ancient operating room in Mass General Hospital; a large freezer in a Waltham warehouse; a park outside Boston with pond and massive trees; exterior streets and buildings in the city.

We secured the studios of Catholic TV in Watertown and built a set housing Space Central control. It had a window overlooking the set for the TV hosts, Bob and Ray.

I gathered all my local non-union actors for the massive crowds needed. The Old Man from the original “The Pit” drama, (Ashley Westcott) now appeared in the operating room, completing the loop. Studio A at WGBH served as the stage for the handicapped Ballet. It was truly a grab-bag experience. But it was a crazy lot of fun.

This was the most organized directing job I ever had done.

man-girl-croppedWe were on a tight budget with no room for mistakes. There was one scene in which Stony was to be enclosed in a padded cell. Since he was whipped back and forth from Space to Earth and talked about it, he was considered insane. It was a Saturday and Hickey was to have taken the train to Boston for the shoot. He was “under the weather.” His Mom had to accompany him. I shot the damn scene in every possible direction but it never really worked. We had to abandon the scene.

Special moments

  • Stony finds himself on a dark street in Watertown looking for a pay phone to call into Control. He finds a pay phone (a prop we set up) and he tries to explain to the people in Control he is not out in Space but in Schenectady. Control tells to get back into Space but before he can do it the windows start to freeze up. Cans of fake snow were used. Finally, he is totally covered up and disappears into the Freezer scene. The crew loads up the gear and when I look over to the phone booth… a car stops, a guy jumps out and goes into the phone booth, tries to make a call, and when it doesn’t work, he crashes out swearing like hell. He never noticed the police, the flashing squad cars or our lighting gear and trucks. I guess he believed in miracles.
  • We could not afford any film Special Effects, so we resorted to video where we could superimpose, etc. Then we transferred them to kine for inclusion into the show. The most elaborate ones were the handicapped ballet and Stony’s dance with several other dancing images of himself.
  • bob-ray-croppedBob and Ray did a one-day shoot at Control Center. They followed the O’Dell script with add-ons from Kurt. At the lunch break, I felt that some of the bits weren’t giving them a chance to free form and improvise. I sat over my sandwich trying to come up with an idea that would give them some leeway. And then it hit: “One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Mankind” The gimmick? They can’t remember the exact wording. They just went on and on, getting more outrageous and silly. I was watching Kurt who was standing just outside the set. He was laughing his guts out (his words). Bob and Ray said they received more phone calls from friends about how terrific they were in this movie. That was really nice.

And then the big day came. David had secured permission to shoot in the abandoned World Fair Grounds outside New York City. It had a major open arena and a large globe of Earth standing in the ruins of a once grand concourse. David arranged for schools to bus in hundreds of kids, a large marching band, and a fire truck to bring Stony to our vision of heaven. (Kurt always said it was out version, not necessarily his.)

In this scene Stony stands up to his worst nightmare, Hitler. The O’Dell scene was quite short and not really developed. Then, just as we arrived at the location that morning, Kurt shows up with a whole new scene: a fight scene between Hitler and Stony. It was spectacular. He had stayed up all night writing it and we scrambled to make it happen. We were in awe of Kurt’s generosity allowing us to create something so important.

His new conceit for the scene? Stony could overcome the worst nightmare of his life, Hitler and his reign of death, by using his “imagination.”

It was imagination over Death.

The fight between Hitler and Stony was an imaginary battle that Kurt felt deeply. Each tries to make the other disappear, causing pain and anguish. Our meager Special Effects never reached the intensity that Kurt had written, but we tried. And then: Stony, battered and spent, wins. Hitler disappears. And then, Kurt in a moment of filmic inspiration, he has Stony use his “imagination” to make the marching band appear and disappear.

(In my estimation, this is one of the clearest explanation of what drove Kurt’s imagination. His experience in the war had left him devastated. His novel “Slaughter House Five” was one way to expel the demons. This was another chance to clear the air.)

And so it goes, as Vonnegut has said many a time.

Between Time and Timbuktu 1972

Ed Joyce, 71, Animation Photographer

From the Family

ed-joyce-2-500X500Filmmaker Ken Burns gave this observation . . . “Do not lose your enthusiasm. In its Greek etymology, the word enthusiasm means, ‘God in us’.”

In his seventy-one years Ed Joyce never lost his enthusiasm . . . for life . . . for his family . . . for his work. As an expert animation photographer he worked with Burns on epics such as The Civil War, Baseball and Jazz, important works that not only taught us about our past but who we are as part of the American experience.

Ed’s career in filmmaking began with a company called Education Development Center in Watertown, a company that created educational films. When that closed he opened his own shop on Los Angeles Street in the Nonantum section of Newton called Frame Shop. It was there his career took on a new dimension in the very specialized field of animation photography . . . the ability to create something new and exciting and alive. Other films that he worked on were A Brief History of Time, Mark Twain, New York: A Documentary Film, Eyes on the Prize, Race to the Moon, Chicago: City of the Century, Einstein Revealed, The Congress, as well as work for television and commercials.

He was a longtime member of Local 481 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

EdwardT. Joyce died Thursday, May 12, 2016 at his Waltham home. He was 71. He was born in Brighton on October 4, 1944, the son of the late Thomas and Helen (Kelly) Joyce. He was raised in Watertown and was a graduate of Watertown High School.

The best part of his life began on September 10th, 1967 when he married his sweetheart, Watertown native Frances M. Maffucci, in Saint Patrick’s Church. The couple lived in Watertown for a time before moving to Framingham where they lived for more than thirty years. They have been Waltham residents since 2001.

In addition to his wife of forty-nine years, Fran, he leaves his children, Thomas E. Joyce of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Robyn L. Joyce-Morrison of Worcester and Matthew G. Joyce of Waltham; his grandchildren, Ryan Angelico, Christina and Anthony Joyce, Payton and Dylan Morrison; his sisters, Ellen Joyce of Louisville, Kentucky, Patricia Connors of Waltham, Mary Joyce of Aurora, Colorado and Kathleen Joyce of Yorktown Heights, New York and many nieces and nephews.

Family and friends will honor and remember Ed’s life by gathering for calling hours in The Joyce Funeral Home, 245 Main Street (Rte. 20), Waltham on Monday, May 16th from 4 to 8 p.m. and again at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning before leaving in procession to Saint Patrick’s Church, 212 Main Street, Watertown where his Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. Burial will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to Dana Farber Cancer Institute, 450 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215.

Point Taken: New WGBH show encourages input via social media

From the Boston Globe

Is college worth the money? Is the American dream dead? These are the kind of provocative questions debated on “Point Taken,” a new show on WGBH hosted by Carlos Watson. Unusually, the audience can participate via social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The genesis came from executive producer Denise Dilanni, who says broadcast outlets need to expand their digital reach.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 8.41.26 AM

Get involved early, before the broadcast. For the show, viewers can follow “Point Taken” on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat (@PointTakenPBS) and can join the debate by sharing the topics, or posting the Twitter poll and explainer video. During the taping, the show hosts a “Facebook Live” segment from the set with Carlos and panelists, giving Facebook fans a chance to directly ask questions or weigh in with their own points.

Producers monitor tweets live and insert the most salient and compelling points into the broadcast itself. This broadcast integration adds texture and depth to the debate and gives those joining the conversation on Twitter a national platform for their thoughts and comments.


William Grant, 72, Producer and Editor

From Current

grant-500x500William Grant, an influential producer at both WNET and WGBH, died Sunday in Atlanta of complications from pneumonia. He was 72.

During his long career Grant won 13 Emmys and eight Peabody Awards.At WGBH in Boston, Grant was executive editor of Nova from 1985–95 and managing editor of Frontline from 1983–85. He joined WNET in New York City in 1997 and spent 16 years there as executive director of science, natural history and features, bringing such groundbreaking shows as Frontier House and African-American Lives to air.

Fred Kaufman, executive producer of Nature, worked with Grant for years. “I have so many fond memories of sitting with Bill in some nondescript convention hotel, sipping martinis and solving all the world’s problems,” Kaufman told Current. “He was my boss for many years but he never acted like one. He was a friend first and foremost.”

In 1991, Grant helped found the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, considered the Oscars of documentary conservation and nature film. Grant was chairman emeritus of the festival board at the time of his death.

“His impact was indelible and his leadership was very much a reflection of what he was as a human — insightful, wry, intelligent and always a true Southern gentleman,” said Lisa Samford, executive director of the festival.

He was born July 5, 1943, in Winchester, Ky. Grant attended the University of Kentucky and in 1965 became the school’s first student to earn a master’s degree in mass communication. He was named to the University of Kentucky’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2005.

Grant retired in 2011 and moved from New York to Atlanta to be near family.

He is survived by his wife, Ellen; two sons, Mitchell and Rees; daughter Elizabeth Mitchell Grant; brother Walter; two sisters, Anne Grant Holloway and Mary Grant Anderson; and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be 6–8:30 p.m. Friday at H.M. Patterson & Son Funeral Home in Sandy Springs, Ga. Funeral services will be 2 p.m. Saturday, with reception to follow, at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta.

His family suggests donations to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, P.O. Box 3940, Jackson, WY 83014.

Samford also asks friends and colleagues to share their memories of Grant for a book to be presented to his family. Email her at lisa@jhfestival.org.

From the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival

William R. Grant, an award-winning producer of some of public television’s most successful programs, died May 15 in Atlanta of complications from pneumonia. He was 72.

Mr. Grant, who in 2001 was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, spent 28 years working in television after 18 years as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Kentucky, Michigan and California.

He won numerous awards over the course of his career, including 13 Emmys and eight Peabody Awards. He was executive editor of the PBS science show “NOVA” and managing editor of the public affairs program “Frontline.” He was executive director of science, natural history and features for WNET, the New York City flagship of public television. He produced many of PBS’s most popular and critically acclaimed series, including “The American President” and “Stephen Hawking’s Universe.”

His work in print journalism, specializing in reporting on educational issues, also was frequently lauded. He won five awards from the National Council for the Advancement of Education Writing, two Charles Stewart Mott education writing awards and the American Bar Association Silver Gavel. Mr. Grant also was a Nieman Fellow in the prestigious program at Harvard University from 1979 to 1980.

In addition, Mr. Grant was one of the founding board members who launched the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in 1991. He became chairman of the board in 2002, a role he maintained for a decade, when the board agreed to let him retire only if he remained on the executive committee and maintained his position as chairman emeritus. “Under Bill’s leadership, the Festival grew to become the most prestigious event of its genre,” said Lisa Samford, executive director of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, where winning an award is considered the “Oscars” of conservation and nature film. “His impact was indelible and his leadership was very much a reflection of what he was as a human – insightful, wry, intelligent and always a true Southern gentleman.”

But Mr. Grant’s proudest achievements came closer to home. In a 2007 interview with WildFilmNews, Mr. Grant said there were only a few things he couldn’t live without. “My children and grandchildren are the joy of my life,” he said, adding wryly, “That, and my big screen HD television.”

Mr. Grant was born on July 5, 1943, in Winchester, Ky. He attended the University of Kentucky, initially planning to become a lawyer before he got the journalism bug, and became editor of the student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. In 1965, he became the school’s first student to earn a master’s degree in mass communication. He was named to the University of Kentucky’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 2005.

He started his career during a golden age for print journalism. He worked for The Courier-Journal of Louisville, the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Detroit Free Press and the San Francisco Chronicle. The reporting and storytelling skills he honed there held him in good stead when he switched to television, working at WGBH, the Boston affiliate of public television, for two years as managing editor of “Frontline” and 10 years as executive editor of “NOVA.” He joined WNET in 1997, where he was executive producer for important and well-received public television series and specials, including “Savage Skies,” “America on Wheels” and “Knife to the Heart.”

“He knew all the J-school stuff, and how to drill down,” said Tamara E. Robinson, vice president of programs at WNET and Mr. Grant’s boss during his years there. “He was very good writer. Coupled with that, he knew his craft as a television producer.”

Robinson described Mr. Grant as a perfectionist and a voracious reader of history. On the rare occasions when he did not already know a lot about a subject she assigned him to produce a program on, he quickly mastered it and figured out not only the best experts to talk to but the best person to help frame a proposal for a grant.

“He was, bottom line, an absolute joy to work with,” she said. “His staff adored him, and would kill for him. He gave them enough space to be innovative and creative. He also had the most generous heart in the world. If someone was in trouble or needed money, he would quietly try to find out how to help that person, and never seek credit. There is much to admire with Bill Grant.”

When Mr. Grant retired in 2011 and moved from New York to Atlanta, where many of his relatives live, he received an accolade more dear to his heart than any of his professional awards. His older son, Mitchell, noted his dad’s retirement on his Facebook page, and concluded, “If I can have a career half as successful as him, I will retire an extremely happy man.”

Mr. Grant is survived by his wife, Ellen G. Grant of Alpharetta, Ga.; two sons, Mitchell Grant of Boston, Mass., and Rees Grant of Columbus, Miss.; a daughter, Elizabeth Mitchell Grant of Athens, Ga., and two grandchildren, Owen Grant Shalin and Theodore Henry Shalin, both of Marietta, Ga.; a brother, Walter M. Grant of Atlanta, Ga.; two sisters, Anne Grant Holloway and Mary Grant Anderson, both of Lilburn, Ga. Bill was preceded in death by his parents, R. Russell Grant and Mary Mitchell Rees Grant of Winchester, Ky.; a daughter, Katie Grant Shalin of Marietta, Ga.; and a brother, R. Michael Grant of Winchester, Ky.

His family requests in lieu of flowers that donations be made to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, P.O. Box 3940, Jackson, WY 83014.

Fred Barzyk’s Snapshots: Scene 3

This entry is part 16 of 22 in the series The Fred Barzyk Collection

This is the third in a series of reminiscences by Fred Barzyk, longtime WGBH producer and director.


People! for NBC

In 1976, I received a call from a big time talent agent.

I hung up on him because I thought it was a joke. He called again and said that Lily Tomlin and Time magazine had proposed a TV show to NBC called People! Not only was it scheduled; Lily would like me to be the director. I still didn’t believe him and said no thanks.

Several days later I got a call from Jane Wagner. She explained that she and Lily worked together and that she, as the executive producer, wanted me to be the director. I asked why? I was just a TV producer/director working for WGBH in Boston. I had never done a commercial show. Jane told me she saw my “Medium is the Medium” segment on the Public Broadcasting Laboratory show and was impressed. That segment was the first time artists were given control of the TV equipment to create art. It was an important art event and was recognized by a lot of press.

But what did a lot of crazy video images have to do with a commercial TV show? Jane said the “way I thought” was just what she needed for the show. I finally understood that this was a real offer.

We agreed to meet in NYC. At the time, I was a member of the arts panel for the New York State Council on the Arts and it had a meeting a week later. We agreed to meet in a Chinese restaurant that was in the same building. I was still very skeptical. We met in this strange, dark Chinese restaurant and sipped tea. Jane was charming and very complimentary. Finally it sank in that I was going to do an NBC show with Lily Tomlin, a recognized talent. This was never in my plans, but what the hell. I said I would do it.

I did not belong to the directors union, DGA, but since it was being produced out of house by Time, it didn’t matter.

I called my dear friend and fellow producer, David Loxton, to join me in this adventure. He couldn’t believe it either but he joined as co-producer. And so we worked for several months with Jane and Lily.

Jane would arrive with this large bag and pull tons of articles clipped from newspapers and magazines. She and Lily would pick out the ideas that made them excited. David and I divided up the segments to produce. My first one was Loretta Lynn.

In 2015, I sent an e-mail to Lily and Jane describing a book idea. It would tell the history of WGBH, which many consider the best TV station in the country. In the e-mail, I also described the shoot with Loretta Lynn.

Dear Lily and Jane:

One of my pet projects is to somehow develop a WGBH History Book, collecting all the great stories of what many consider the finest TV/Radio station in the country. You were part of a big experiment trying to combine drama and video art. An Experiment that did not work.

But it taught me so many things that it was well worth the gamble. I am hoping you might take a few moments to write a short story about that time. My hope is to gather all these great stories that could one day become a testimony to the adventure that was WGBH. Thanks for considering helping.

But in turn, I owe you a story. I am not sure if I told you all that happened to me on the Loretta Lynn shoot for People. I first went out to meet her agent in Nashville. He took me to a very fancy French Restaurant. He wanted to know what the angle was to our story. I told him we wanted to celebrate her work and career. He agreed and we set a shoot date.

I never talked to Loretta, never met her until the night we were to begin shooting. I arrived at the Grand Old Opry (huge crowd), met my local film crew (husband and wife) and was informed that I could only film Loretta performance from backstage (unions). I still had not met her but was introduced to her dear friend, the Butcher Holler doctor who told her she was pregnant at age 13. A happy man who welcomed us all to the very special world of Loretta.

At the end of the performance, I met Loretta for the first time and she announced we were getting on her bus and heading to Butcher Holler for the shoot. She was “going home!” I turned to my crew and they agreed to the plan. On the bus, before we began the trip, Loretta had to read my palm. After looking at my hand for several minutes, she agreed. Whew!

The bus headed off into the night with Loretta, her agent, a female reporter from Rolling Stone, and her Butcher Holler doctor. Along the way Loretta came to the back of the bus and announced that she has just created a professional name for her sister: she was going to be called Crystal Gayle. Loretta said that was because her sister loved the hamburgers from the fast food restaurants named Crystal Hamburgers.

We traveled all night, making just one stop so the driver could get some biscuits and gravy. Conway Twitty’s bus pulled into the same parking lot. Loretta did not want to see him and sent her agent to say hello.

When we arrived in Butcher Holler it was early morning and none of us had any real sleep. The Doctor invited us to his place and gave us each a pillow. We all ended up on the floor, Loretta, my crew, the reporter from Rolling Stone, and me. As I squinted my eyes at our situation, everything just seemed surreal as we tried to get some shuteye.

Next morning, we headed out to visit the “shack” were Loretta was born and raised. Along the way we visited some of her relatives. Now, I want you to imagine the situation. Loretta had not been back there for many years and now she shows up with the group of strangers holding cameras. The welcome to Loretta by her family was rather cool. We finally made it to the “shack.” She went up alone first, and then allowed us to film inside.

The trip ended up at her mansion back in Tennessee in a small town that survives because of her presence. Her husband was off doing some kind of covered wagon adventure across country. As we drove up toward the mansion there was a burned-out auto sitting on the side of the road. We later found out that it was her son’s car. We filmed her diving into the Olympic size pool. And so ended my trip with Loretta.

The next segment was a live comedy performance by Lily at a university in Boston. Then I was off to California to videotape a conversation with Louise Lasser. Louise was starring in a comedy TV series called “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” The segment was going to take place on a beach with these two comedians. The conversation was all over the place in content and ended up with them talking about their shoes.

David and I both worked on the best segment in the show, a documentary segment that juxtaposed a glamorous model and a young blue-collar boxer. They both end up at disco clubs … the model in a chic club in Manhattan and the boxer at a seedy Brooklyn joint.

The night we were shooting at the chic club, Paul Simon wanders over to say hello to Lily. She asks him to be in the show. He agrees. We decide to have him, with Lily on his arm, try to get into this exclusive club. They won’t let him because he is too “short.” Paul is measured against a mark on the wall … but he is too short. Lily creates another plan to get into the club. A young man in a tux enters and he is OK’d to join the crowd. Lily saddles up to him and asks if he would escort her. He agrees and we watch poor Paul is left alone bemoan his fate.

David, Lily, Jane, and I put the show together with editor Dick Bartlett and submitted it to NBC. Lily announced that there were not enough “hugs” in the show. So I got a cameraperson and we ran thru the streets of New York hugging total strangers. What would NBC say?

The network’s man in charge, Dick Ebersol, made the final decision of which segments appeared in the hour show. People! aired in the same time slot as Saturday Night Live right after their first season ended. We only did one show and People! ceased to exist.

And now for the WGBH connection: Since I had befriended Lily and Jane, I offered them a chance to do an experimental drama for the WGBH New Television Workshop. The drama would involve video artists and a dance company. They agreed. Wow! And for minimums!

This wild experimental “thing” was called Collisions.


My idea was based on an assumption that video artists, working on their own, would create personal visions around the “idea” of Collision. Then (somehow) we would put them into the drama to “enrich” the story. Jane would write the drama and Lily would be the main character.

I needed help with this project and so David Loxton joined our merry group. We combined our limited grant monies — David ran the TV Lab at WNET/13 in New York while I was the head of the WGBH New TV Workshop — to fund the project.

The artists were Stan Van Der Beek, Ron Hays, William Wegman, and the Louie Falco Dance Company. These artists were free to create whatever they wanted about collisions. It was up to David and me to figure out how to put them into the drama. This was a huge gamble. David was very dubious. And he was right.

Jane’s script arrived and it was a satiric Sci-Fi romp about an alien spirit (a pulsating light that bounced) arriving on Earth to figure out what life was like. The alien spirit takes over the body of a TV newscaster (Lily) and then sends back her findings to a group of big shot aliens on a planet somewhere in the galaxy. And whom did we cast for them?

Because it was Lily and Jane doing the show, we were able to gather some of the biggest names from NBC’s Saturday Night Live(As of 2016, that show is still on the air.) Dan Ackroyd and Gilda Radner agreed to appear in the show. I added another wild comic, a non-stop talker who spoke gibberish and eventually goes berserk, running all over the auditorium. His name: Professor Irwin Corey.

A great deal of the production took place in Studio A at WGBH. There was a giant blue screen in which we inserted nighttime stars. The big shot aliens (Ackroyd, Radner, Prof. Corey, and actor Charles White) were seated around a table, which also was a blue screen. Inserted in the table were images of Lily telling them what she found out about Earth people.

The next day’s production involved a typical local commercial news set. Lily was the news anchor, with Russ Morash as co-anchor. After the newscast, we see her body taken over by the alien spirit. This time she reports to the distant planet all the strange things she has found out.

We then took a film crew to shoot sequences around Boston where the alien spirit causes havoc. Then came the last big shoot, one that is very special to me.

Lily was all into the project, and she invited us to her mother’s hometown, Ashtabula, Kentucky, to film the last scenes. Inside her mother’s home, we filmed many of Lily’s relatives as she talks about her strange feelings of being not herself. The show ends with her lying down on a grave in a local graveyard. The story was done, and it was time to figure out how the artist’s works fit.

Needless to say, these artists’ visions were all special and not a natural fit.

  • The Louie Falco Dance Company did a dance in a deserted building in the Watertown armory. They used a Nina Simone song.
  • Ron Hays created the opening animation depicting the existence of a distant planet. This was the most comfortable fit to the drama.
  • William Wegman did a stand up wearing a pair of slinkys as eyeglasses. I am not even sure what it was about.
  • Van Der Beek gave us images that were abstract and used as B-roll enhancing the alien spirit taking over Lily’s body.

We edited for months, trying to make this all work. But alas, the show was a bust. Lily, Jane, David and I agreed that it would never air. Lily did allow a University Film Cooperative to play it on campuses across America.

Years later I was given an award from the French Video critics for my work with video artists. I traveled to France for the ceremony. They asked me to play one of my works for the crowd. I chose Collisions.

I warned them it was a total failure and proved a point: unless you are willing to have total failures you can never create meaningful breakthroughs. The crowd of 150 cleared out long before the show ended. Only one person was left and he told me that it was important that I had shown it. He said he understood my choice. And so ended Collisions.

From Bruce Bordett

Some pix I shot during production. As I recall a great time was had by all.

Collisions by Bruce Bordett

Collisions by Bruce Bordett

Collisions by Bruce Bordett