Nearly 20 years ago, television producer Diane English paid the $2 admission fee and was one of the first visitors to pass through the then-humble portals of the Museum of Television & Radio in New York City.
"It was very makeshift," remembers English. "They had literally just moved in and it was very primitive. It was all cardboard boxes and there was a guy sitting at practically a card table. I was there because I was going to submit a spec script and had no idea how to do it. So I thought I'd do a little research."
Once inside, she scanned the list of programs on file and closely watched the pilot of the seminal '70s ensemble sitcom "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
"I also looked at the moon landing just to see it again," says English. "It was just so cool to go in there and see what you wanted to see. I would have stayed there all day but there were other people who wanted to take my spot."
These days, English and her producer-husband, Joel Shukovsky, have bested her initial $2 investment many thousand times and contributed to a much splashier Los Angeles counterpart.
When the Museum of Television & Radio opens March 18 on a prestigious corner in Beverly Hills, there will be no cardboard boxes or card tables in sight.
Rather, one of the first sights a visitor to the impressive 23,000-square-foot structure will see is the travertine and maple "Diane English and Joel Shukovsky Information Booth."
So, how does it feel to the onetime 27-year-old wannabe writer to have a portion of the prestigious $15-million Los Angeles museum named after her?
"It feels like I wrote a big check," laughs English, who with Shukovsky created the sitcoms "Murphy Brown" and "Love and War."
Indeed. She and a host of other broadcast luminaries have signed their names to lots of big checks to get the West Coast museum counterpart off the ground.
Those who donated a minimum of $100,000 were given the privilege of attaching their names to significant portions of the facility--as in the Grant A. Tinker Board of Trustees Room, Candy and Aaron Spelling Trustee Reception Area, the Barbara and Garry Marshall Pool and the Mary and Norman J. Pattiz Museum Shop.
The museum, designed by architect Richard Meier, is a three-story structure with a collection of 75,000 television and radio programs spanning more than seven decades of television and radio history. The Los Angeles version has the identical collection as the New York museum, thanks to the magic of video and audio tape. The New York museum (originally called the Museum of Broadcasting) opened its doors in November 1976 on two floors of a converted office building. Fifteen years later, it moved into the far more architecturally impressive William S. Paley Building.
Paley, the former CBS chairman, founded the museum. His driving force and continuing legacy was so great that, today, more than five years after his death, his influence is still felt.
"Bill Paley decided somebody should take note of television; nobody was really saving it," says Grant Tinker, who founded MTM Productions and later went on to head NBC. "Television is such a large part of our culture that whatever you think of it, whether you like or hate it, it should be somewhere in somebody's archives so that people a hundred years from now can look back and see what we were doing."
The story of the Los Angeles museum is particularly noteworthy since the board raised the millions toward the building of a new facility in a particularly tight, recessionary period.
"From the opening of the new location in New York [in 1991], the board has seen the vital next step to be the starting of one in Los Angeles," says Frank Bennack Jr. president and CEO of Hearst Corp. and chairman of the museum's board of trustees. "It was just a question of a funding source that was always finite."
So, how did the museum manage to amass the financial and psychic support it did?
"It's a miracle," says Barry Diller, chairman of Silver King Communications Inc. "I think broadcasters feel because their licenses are obtained from the government and they program 'in the public interest,' that . . . they have a secondary responsibility in addition to their responsibility to their shareholders."
Some of the museum's fund-raising success is attributable to the proven track record of its New York counterpart, coupled with the seminars and retrospectives featuring many Los Angeles-based creative types and held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
"I've been involved with the New York museum for quite a while," says Gary David Goldberg, who created the long-running sitcom "Family Ties" and the critically admired "Brooklyn Bridge." "It's really thrilling. It gives you a chance to see the impact of your work. The questions asked and discussions [during retrospectives of my show] were of a very high caliber--just what you hoped people would be thinking."
It is no secret that television producers make large sums of money if their shows are successful, so nearly ever donor contacted pointed to their desire to "give something back" to the public that embraced their programming.
"There are a lot of really wealthy people in this town and they can afford to give $100,000 and $200,000 to the museum and give to other charities as well," English says.
"This isn't curing cancer . . . but when you've been fortunate enough to be successful in a business, it's not just something you should do, these days it's almost a requirement," says Norm Pattiz, chairman of Westwood One Inc.
To that end, people like Marlo Thomas and Alan Alda were dispatched to exert their influence over their colleagues and hopefully, solicit donations.
"I'd have several dinners in my home on both coasts to get people acquainted," says Thomas, whose '60s sitcom "That Girl" can be found in the museum, along with the considerable work of her father Danny Thomas and husband Phil Donahue. Her guest lists included Carol Burnett, Carl Reiner and Diane Sawyer.
Those associated with TV have long been acutely aware of the criticism and negative press that the medium has generated. Television, arguably more than any other artistic medium, has been a kind of respect-craving Rodney Dangerfield among creative outlets.
"The museum is a place that treats what we do in television as art and not just pop culture," says English. "I think it's great that the museum is opening here in the middle of a campaign year when every politician jumps on the 'let's bash television' bandwagon because it resonates with voters. Television always takes it on the chin and very undeservedly so. . . . It's great to have a celebration of all the good that we've done."
While broadcasters have been able to establish their own museum, two times over, and are thinking of branching overseas, the motion picture industry has not been able to establish any kind of similar institution in Southern California.
"There's been a history of people trying, and in each case there's a different reason why it did not happen," says Phyllis Caskey, who for more than 10 years has been involved in getting the Hollywood Entertainment Museum off the ground.
"I think it's fairly insane that there isn't a motion picture museum here," says producer Kathleen Kennedy ("E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," "Jurassic Park" and "Congo"). "Here we are, this extraordinary visual medium, and for some reason we haven't found a way to show that off."
Kennedy herself came up with an ambitious plan that remains in the idea stage. Her self-described "grand idea" includes a make-over of Westwood into a vast entertainment center.
"I realize the execution of all this is extremely difficult, but it's also extremely frustrating to me that we don't do this," says Kennedy. "We don't preserve much of anything here. Everything's very disposable. And I think people-- within the American Film Institute and the academy and [Martin] Scorsese with the American Cinematheque--are starting to
wake up to the fact that this is an art that isn't being preserved. This is the center of the world for the film industry and this is one of the biggest exports the U.S. has to offer the rest of the world. This is its headquarters, but there's no home office."
She hypothesized that perhaps the exigencies of the business have stood in the way.
"This is an intensely competitive industry where people are always looking over their shoulder worried that they're not going to be making a lot of money in whatever idea comes up," Kennedy says. "I think there's a lot of paranoia associated with things like this, rather than looking at it as a very philanthropic effort."
Using the success of Paley as a model, Kennedy said she figured it would take a person of comparable stature in the film industry--and probably also someone that was retired and had the free time to pursue such a passion.
"I would say 99% of the people in this business would support this, but it's just finding somebody high-powered who is going to at least start the ball rolling," Kennedy says.
Nearly everyone who has thought about it can posit a theory or two as to why the film industry has not been able to get a significant museum off the ground.
"Film is less of a community [than television]," says Goldberg, whose movies include "Bye Bye Love" and "Dad." "TV has always been a community and there's a lot of helping."
Rochelle Slovin, who heads the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, N.Y., believes that the lack of an L.A. film museum has to do with the proximity of the studios.
"Los Angeles is a company town and it perhaps took a place like New York, which in a way is neutral, to tell a story that transcends any single studio or any single director, or any single point of view," says Slovin.
In the early '80s there was a burst of activity to create a "Hollywood" museum. All that remains looming today is the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, which will include interactive exhibits, a special event center, educational programs, and a foley stage for sound effects.
That museum, originally spearheaded by former state senator David Roberti, is scheduled to open later this year on Hollywood Boulevard and is targeted not only to motion pictures but television, radio and the recording industry.
Prior to that, the most ambitious film museum effort was the Los Angeles County Hollywood Museum of the early '60s. The brainchild of producer Sol Lesser, ("Kon-Tiki," "Oliver Twist" and 10 early Tarzan movies), the proposed museum was a $15-million, four-acre site across from the Hollywood Bowl that would house theaters, an exhibition hall, a research center and archives containing data on thousands of films.
The project was plagued with problems. The effort culminated in the city taking over the project and eventually abandoning it. Today the site is a parking lot.
"It broke his heart," says Lesser's son, Julian (Bud) Lesser, an investor and former TV producer. "He spent years on it. It was just a problem of government getting involved in something that private industry was more adept at."
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also got into the fray in the early '80s. Gene Allen, the academy's then-president, headed up the 1984 effort to create a $25-million Academy Cinema Center with a film archive and library and a video learning center.
Allen envisioned "more than a collection of memorabilia . . . with the finest film library in the world, seminars, traveling artists programs, players director and exchange of exhibits now being developed in London and New York."
Allen abandoned his proposal--which even had such specifics as patron flow and exhibit themes worked out-- because of the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.
"There had been so long a history of failure in that area that Gene felt it didn't make sense for two competing ones going head-to-head, so he dropped his," says Bruce Davis, current academy executive director. "But I think we could have done it and someday we may."
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The House That Donors Built
The Museum of Television & Radio opens the Leonard H. Goldenson Building in Beverly Hills on March 18. The $15-million building was financed with donations, mostly form networks, studios and people who work in the radio and television industry. The 23,000-square foot, three-story building was designed by architect Richard Meier.
Grant A. Tinker Board of Trustees Room 1.
Candy and Aaron Spelling Trustee Reception Area 2.
Steven and Barbara Bochco Scholars' Room 3.
Stanley E. Hubbard Library 4.
Carl E. Hirsch Staircase 5.
David and Laraine Gerber Gallery 6.
Bud Yorkin Balcony 7.
Ralph Guild Radio Studio 8.
Ahmanson Radio Listening Room 9.
William and Carole Haber Donors' Gallery 10.
Gloria and David L. Wolper Gallery 11.
Diane English and Joel Shukovsky Information Center 12.
Danny Thomas Lobby 13.
Mary and Norman J. Pattiz Museum Shop 14.
John H. Mitchell Theatre 15.
Bell Family Gallery 16.
Barbara and Gary Marshall Pool 17.