Frances Buss Buch dies at 92; network TV pioneer

The Paley Center for Media credits Frances Buss Buch for helping to establish programming templates and much of "television's unique visual language."
(Steve Dixon / Associated Press)
Associated Press

Frances Buss Buch, a pioneer of network TV and believed to be the first female TV director, has died. She was 92.

Buch died Jan. 19 at a rest home near Hendersonville in western North Carolina, her great-nephew, Mark Spencer, said. No cause of death was given.

“Frannie Buss was a pioneer in broadcast television and a fine person,” CBS’ Mike Wallace said.

She directed the first television talk show, “Mike and Buff,” starring Wallace and his then-wife, Buff Cobb, from 1951 to 1953.

“It was macho, but she was very capable, knew what she was about and was highly regarded by the people who worked with her,” Wallace said.

Buch also directed the first color TV program, “Premiere,” in 1951 after CBS won government approval for its color system.

Born June 3, 1917, Buch grew up in St. Louis and attended Washington University. While taking acting classes, performing off-Broadway and modeling in New York City, Buch joined CBS for a temporary job as a receptionist in July 1941 and was soon asked to be in front of the camera for various programs, her family said.

She was hired by CBS Television just two weeks after the Federal Communications Commission allowed commercial TV broadcasts.

“I guess I had seen TV at the World’s Fair. But I had no idea this existed in New York. CBS was a radio network,” Buch told the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times in 2008. “It was fascinating. Nobody knew what was going to happen with this new medium.”

She appeared on TV’s first game show, “The CBS Television Quiz,” as a scorekeeper.

Her credits also include TV coverage of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When networks had to suspend live broadcasting in 1942, Buch got a job directing and producing U.S. Navy training films in Florida, where she met her husband, Bill Buch. They married in 1949.

She rejoined CBS in 1944, and by 1945 was promoted to the position of director.

“Everything we did was live,” she said in 2008. “If you did something stupid, it was out there for everyone to see. I suppose I was nervous until I discovered I could do it.”

Buch was soon directing and producing a variety of telecasts, including Brooklyn Dodgers games, musicals and crime dramas, according to the Paley Center for Media, which inducted her into the “She Made It” class of 2007.

“I think she opened doors and showed the possibilities,” Ron Simon, curator at the Paley Center, said in 2008.

The group credits her for helping establish programming templates and much of “television’s unique visual language.”

She resigned in 1954 to be a full-time homemaker.

Buch and husband moved to Hendersonville from New Jersey in 1985. He died in 1998.

Survivors include a sister.