R.S.V.P. : Black-Tie Gala Helps KCET Celebrate 25 Years on the Air

Times Staff Writer

The word is out. Bill Kobin watches “Sesame Street.”

“Well, I don’t watch it every day ,” said the smiling president of KCET. “But I have the TV on in my office all day long, and I’m not obviously attentively watching every program, but, yes, I do watch ‘Sesame Street.’ ”

Kobin was extolling the virtues of Big Bird and his brethren at KCET’s 25th anniversary dinner, hosted by the KCET Women’s Council, on Wednesday night at the Beverly Hilton.

The black-tie fund-raiser (net goal: $120,000) brought just over 700 people into the Hilton’s International Ballroom. It was the same place that the public television station’s dedication dinner took place in January, 1965, shortly after the station went on the air.


Back then, said KCET honorary board member Gregory Peck, all the shows on channel 28 were in black and white and were broadcast only from Monday through Friday. The station’s seed money came from the competition: local television stations KNXT, KNBC, KHJ, KCOP AND KTTV.

The new station evolved into something intellectual couch potatoes could boast about: “I watch TV, but only public television.”

Besides “Sesame Street,” Kobin said he also watches the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, Bill Moyers’ Journal and the series “Eyes on the Prize,” and added that, “Everything is a special challenge to get on public television” because of funding.

But Kobin reassured viewers that KCET wouldn’t bow to television peer pressure and start airing “trash TV” shows. “Ah, I would say that’s a safe bet,” he said.


Peck said his television is tuned to KCET “a third of the time. You have news and sports and KCET,” he said.

Guests had just finished their salads (studded with the trendiest of garnishes, the edible flower) when the speeches began. Peck gave a history of the station, Kobin singled out former KCET board of directors chairmen in the audience and current chairman Sheldon Ausman and thanked KCET board members, Women’s Council members, station contributors and anyone who had ever watched public television.

Sally Stewart, a KCET board vice chairman, said the party was like “opening up a family scrapbook” and waxed nostalgic about previous fund-raisers that included a 1975 performance of the Boston Pops, a 1982 premiere of “Annie” and a 1980 party for “Cosmos” at Griffith Park Observatory.

No doubt this was a nostalgic group, since some Women’s Council members accessorized their gowns with garlands of metallic silver stars left over from the “Cosmos” bash.

Others reminiscing at the gala included KCET Women’s Council president Mel Weston, benefit chairwoman Aimee Walker, Wallis Annenberg, Caroline Ahmanson, Marcia Caden, Edith Horton, Ruth and Howard Koch, Madame Sylvia Wu, Shirley and Isadore Familian, Harriet Smith, Lloyd Bridges, Lois and Art Linkletter, Dick Van Patten and former KCET board chairmen H. Russell Smith, Russel Kully, Dennis Stanfill and Kyhl Smeby.

Marvin Hamlisch provided the entertainment; he was preceded by singer/actress Alaina Reed Hall, a “Sesame Street” alumna. Even emcee Lou Rawls revealed he had done his time on that show. “On the second episode,” he said, “I was the letter B .”