Channel 22 is a not your ordinary TV station.
It’s run from the Wasserman Campus of the Motion Picture and Television Fund home in Woodland Hills and is beamed exclusively to the nearly 200 residents of the retirement facility who had worked in the entertainment industry. Much of the programming is generated by those residents -- which just seems natural.
Residents and volunteers create their programs at the Lucille and Melville Shavelson Media Room, including “Behind the Silver Screen,” in which Joe Sutton chats with the showbiz veterans, and “Script for Sale,” a documentary about a former production designer who pitches a movie idea to executives at Sony.
The late writer-director-producer Melville Shavelson, who was on the fund’s board, first started talking about the channel 15 years ago with Ken Scherer, CEO of the MPTF Foundation. “His first idea was to have a radio station,” Scherer said. “That didn’t make much sense to me because most of the people here are from film and television.”
So the idea was switched to TV. Scherer asked Time Warner Cable to give the campus a dedicated channel. (The MPTF has been in the news the last two years since it announced it was closing its hospital and nursing home, which now houses about 35 residents, because of money issues. But in February the MPTF made a deal with Providence Health & Services to keep the facilities open.)
“What executive producer Jennifer Clymer has been able to do is engage the residents,” said Scherer. “We have shows where some residents create animation, we have shows where they tell jokes and shows where they read poetry. It has been incredible.”
Milt Hoffman, who worked on the Ernie Kovacs ABC specials 50 years ago as well as “Entertainment Tonight,” produces a lot of the channel’s programs. He is modest about his job description at Channel 22. “I don’t know what I am,” he said, holding on to his walker. “Where Jennifer wants to put me, I go.”
“Milton comes up with really good ideas,” said Clymer, smiling at Hoffman. “He pulls people out of their shell and gets them out in front of the cameras.”
On a recent morning, the small editing room of Channel 22 was bustling. Sitting in front of a computer was 100-year-old Ruthie Tompson, who worked in animation at Disney for about 40 years. She uses the computer to edit and print the digital photographs she shoots of the residents and the campus.
“Ruthie, can I interrupt you?” asked Clymer. Tompson smiled and put in her hearing aids.
“I worked on ‘Snow White,’ ” Tompson said. “I also worked on a lot of little shorts. I started in ink and paint. I went to night school to learn how to paint at Walt’s suggestion. I couldn’t draw, but Walt said, ‘We’ll teach you to do what we want you to do.’ ”
She loves Channel 22. “They have interviews with people and they last maybe half an hour to an hour, how interesting their background is. When we see these people, we go up and say, ‘We saw your show, and it was great.’ It makes it more friendly.”
Sitting across from Tompson are writer Anthony Lawrence (“Bonanza,” “Paradise Hawaiian Style”), who is nearly 83, and Larry Kelem, nearly 90, musical arranger and composer.
“I also played piano for silent pictures for a while,” said Kelem.
“He goes back before there were silents,” joked Lawrence.
Lawrence and the late actor Harold Gould (“The Sting”) had collaborated on a series for Channel 22 called “Electric Voices.” “It was a narrative of different great works of literature,” said Lawrence.
Lawrence and Kelem have collaborated on a musical together, called “The Son of the Invisible Man.” Associate producer Marie Tang, who teaches residents about editing using Final Cut Pro and directed “Script for Sale,” is busying editing a Web episode series about their journey in writing the musical.
“I knew he played the piano and had done arrangements,” said Lawrence of Kelem. “One day I thought I will try to write a song. I had never written any before, so I wrote the lyrics and gave it to him and said can you put this to music and he did. Then we did another song, and before we knew it we were writing a musical.”
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Motion Picture and Television Fund pioneers
These industry figures showed foresight and compassion in their contributions to the now-90-year-old organization.
Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith, who founded United Artists, were also among the Hollywood heavyweights who created the Motion Picture and Television Fund -- originally the Motion Picture Relief Fund -- in 1921.
The actor, then president of the relief fund, found the property in Woodland Hills for the future country house and hospital in 1940. Two years later, ground was broken to begin building the facilities. For his work, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1956.
The late director, producer and Oscar-nominated screenwriter (“Houseboat”), a former president of the Writers Guild of America, West, donated the money to create Channel 22 so the residents would “continue to be part of the industry and also celebrate their past.”