Sitting in the sunny courtyard of the stately Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Michael Cart waited as a little pancake makeup is applied before he launched into a brief lecture about the career of 19th-Century English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
“Bulwer-Lytton wrote the ‘Last Days of Pompeii,’ which was required reading in my long-gone high school days,” he said into the camera with the clear enunciation of a radio announcer. “He wrote 27 novels and seven volumes of truly dreadful poetry.”
It was a typical day’s work for Cart, a soft-spoken, academic type who tapes a weekly half-hour TV show when he is not overseeing the 180,000-volume Beverly Hills public library.
Financed and produced by the city of Beverly Hills since 1982, Cart’s show, “In Print,” is seen not only on the city’s Group W cable station but also on cable channels in 50 cities in 20 states across the county, and recently in Canada.
Cart, 45, who has been city librarian since 1980, said the program is successful because it is the only show focusing on books and authors. “There is virtually no attention given to books and authors on television,” he said.
Describing himself as a voracious and rapid reader, Cart said he consumes three or four books a week to keep pace with the authors he interviews for the show. At home, he writes the scripts for the introductions along with “video essays” on topics such as the American book awards and illustrators of children’s books. He then types the scripts into the city’s Teleprompter to read during tapings, which are done during his normal workweek.
“The show has gradually evolved into becoming part of my job (as city librarian),” he said.
Cart said the show appeals to viewers in such far-flung cities as Eugene, Ore., and Albany, N.Y., because writers on book tours may not stop in those cities. He said he may devote up to 20 minutes of a given show to interviewing such best-selling authors as Jeffrey Archer and Tom Clancy.
Fred Cunningham, the city public affairs director who oversees the city’s $125,000 cable budget and its 100 hours of monthly broadcasting, said “In Print” costs $50 to $100 per show. The city uses a part-time video director and three or four college interns as its video crew at each taping.
“The programs are very economical to do,” Cunningham said. “The crew will set up at Greystone, set three author interviews 30 to 40 minutes apart and do them right in a row.”
Cable channels in other states typically send blank videotapes to Beverly Hills. City technicians transfer the segments and send them back at no charge, Cunningham said. Many of the channels requesting “In Print” are in college towns such as Ann Arbor, Mich., and Boulder, Colo., he said, and others are in cities that also produce programs at their public libraries.
Cunningham said he thought about giving Cart his own show several years ago after he watched the librarian serve as moderator for a city cable program. When the two talked about a possible format, Cart said a book-oriented show not only filled a need, but also fit his background; he has a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and master’s degree in library science.
The first program, aired in November, 1982, was somewhat disappointing, said Cart, who described it as “my head talking about books for 30 static, interminable minutes.” After the second show, it appeared to be headed for oblivion, he said.
But then articles about the show appeared in two local papers, and publicists and publishers started calling his office to have him interview authors on the show. Cart said the program eventually evolved into its present magazine format with author interviews between the video essays.
Since then, Cart and crew have produced about 100 shows, and requests for tapes have come in recently from Alaska and Newfoundland.