Robert Batscha, president of the Museum of Television & Radio, still remembers the evening he hosted the panel featuring the cast of “The Tracey Ullman Show” during the annual William S. Paley Television Festival more than a decade ago. In Ullman’s case, the British comic actress was still new to U.S. television and on the still young Fox network.
It was a perfect fit for the yearly festival, which is designed as a celebration of television--but one that doesn’t rely on ratings. Instead, the aim is to provide a bridge between audiences, and cast and creators, as it showcases the new and the old, the quirky favorites and the cult hits--any show that has a cultural or historical impact.
“They had just finished their 23rd or 24th episode, and [producer] Jim Brooks and Tracey and others were on stage. They [had been] working around the clock, seven days a week and all of a sudden, they find . . . an audience who is getting what they are doing.”
That is one of the unexpected byproducts of the museum’s annual TV festival. While it does allow fans to see their favorite stars at close range, it’s also a rare opportunity for the actors and writers, producers and creators to get a sense of exactly who their audience is.
The 17th annual Paley festival kicks off tonight with an evening with Garry Shandling. With the Directors Guild of America as its site, during the next two weeks the festival will pay tribute to “The Carol Burnett Show,” “MASH,” “The Outer Limits,” and legendary TV producer Fred Coe, as well as such current series as “The West Wing,” “South Park,” “Will & Grace,” “Dharma & Greg,” “Once and Again” and “That ‘70s Show.”
Each evening is a blend of either clips from the show or an entire episode, a discussion with cast and crew, then questions from the audience.
Batscha says the museum had long wanted to reunite the cast of “The Carol Burnett Show,” but scheduling problems always thwarted its efforts. Not this year. Burnett will be there along with most of the cast including Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence. “One year [Carol] was in New York and one year she was doing something else,” said Batscha. “We booked this one with her just about at the end of the last festival.”
The museum has also feted Shandling before but in conjunction with his two TV series: “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “The Larry Sanders Show.”
“We felt that Garry was at the point that we should just focus on his work and him as a comedic talent and not specifically to the show,” says Batscha, although Shandling’s new movie, “What Planet Are You From?,” opens Friday.
Batscha believes this festival is a nice mixture of vintage and current. “People are talking about ‘West Wing,’ and we thought it would be important to have them on the stage talking about their work,” said Batscha, adding that with the vintage shows, “we said, ‘Wait a minute. Enough time has gone by that it is time to do a reunion.’ . . . ‘MASH’ fits into that.”
The museum paid tribute to “MASH” in 1988. But as Batscha points out, the cast really hasn’t been together since then. Among the series’ stars participating in this year’s “MASH” reunion will be Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Mike Farrell, Jamie Farr and Harry Morgan.
“The reunion shows are particularly exciting and poignant.”
What’s on Tap at the 17th Paley Festival
* Today: an evening with Garry Shandling
* Wednesday: “Will & Grace”
* Thursday: “South Park”
* Friday: “The Carol Burnett Show”
* Saturday: “Once And Again”
* Monday: “MASH”
* Next Tuesday: “The West Wing”
* March 8: “Dharma & Greg”
* March 9: “Get a Life”
* March 10: “The Outer Limits”
* March 11: “Freaks and Geeks”
* March 13: “That ‘70s Show”
* March 14: “A Tribute to Fred Coe”
Location: The Directors Guild of America, DGA Theatre Complex, 7929 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
Tickets: $13 for museum members, senior citizens and students with ID; $15 for the general public. To order, call (888) ETM-TIXS. More information: (310) 786-1016.