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Tv 'Classics': The Best At Bing

March 04, 1986|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

If you've been astutely watching television for the last 35 years, here are some of the things you've seen:

--Fred Astaire dancing with his frequent partner . . . Barrie Chase.

--James Dean, building his legendary persona in 25 guest-starring roles.

--An anniversary celebration by the Ford Motor Co. appearing simultaneously on two networks.

--Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Carmen McRae, all on the same show.

When those events took place, the people involved probably didn't think they had any historical value; neither, probably, did the people who viewed them.

But with the benefit of hindsight, executives at the New York-based Museum of Broadcasting see them as pop cultural history in the making. "Television is at the same point as film was 25 years ago; we now have a body of work that we can look at," explains Robert Batscha, president of the museum.

When Batscha says we , he hopes he is not referring just to visitors at the 10-year-old museum's East 53rd Street location.

For the third time in as many years, the Museum of Broadcasting will travel West: Beginning Thursday and for the next 2 1/2 weeks it will co-sponsor, along with the County Museum of Art and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, a "Television Festival" of seminars and screenings.

This year's festival is in some ways less ambitious but more hopeful than those of previous years. Twenty-two programs are scheduled at the county art museum's Leo S. Bing Theater, down from 70 or so last year, when the event was held at Universal City Studios; in 1984, 125 programs were screened at the ABC Entertainment Center in Century City.

But officials at both the county museum and the Museum of Broadcasting see this year's location as more compatible with the intent of the festival. It will include condensed versions of exhibits already presented at the Museum of Broadcasting. These exhibits have been culled from more than 25,000 programs cross-referenced and available for public viewing at the N.Y. museum.

"People tend to think of TV nostalgically instead of artistically, and I think that's a big mistake," said Ron Haver, head of the county museum's film department. "It's television now that has influenced the mood and the manners and the social levels of people's relationships to each other. It used to be the movies, and now it's television."

"What we are trying to do for radio and television programming is what museums have traditionally done for paintings and sculpture, and that is, first, to preserve those programs," Batscha added. "Second, it is to make them accessible to the public."

Accessibility is a key word here. Last year, Universal was for some an out-of-the-way and perhaps intimidating locale for a sampling of Museum of Broadcasting highlights. The year before, the high price of parking at Century City was thought to be a deterrent.

"It's very difficult for people to conceptualize paying $8 or $9 to come and watch TV," Batscha said, a reference to the Century City parking prices. (The screenings are free, as stipulated in the museum's contracts with the networks and producers who provide the programs; donations are requested.)

Even with the county art museum's central location and the free and metered parking in the area, getting people to leave their homes to watch TV is still a "challenge," Batscha said. But for those who toss off TV in the aggregate as just so much garbage, Batscha again draws an analogy to the more familiar art museum.

"A museum interested in paintings doesn't try to collect all the bad painters out there," he said. "We're talking about individual television programs of a quality that warrant the kind of attention you would give to a film or a painting or a piece of sculpture, and the locale (in which it's viewed) isn't important."

Here's a rundown of what those in attendance will see on the special Sony large-screen projectors being installed in the Bing Theater for the festival:

"Fred Astaire: The Television Years": Following his successful movie career, Astaire in the late '50s found on television "an opportunity to introduce a different Fred Astaire," Batscha explained. "He's more casual and there's more of a jazz approach in his music." In all of his four NBC specials--two of which will be screened Thursday night--Astaire also had a new partner, Chase, who will be on hand, along with music director David Rose and producer-director Bud Yorkin, to introduce the program.

"Judy Garland: The Television Work": Garland parlayed a number of CBS specials into a weekly series in 1963-64. Her producer and then-husband Sid Luft, producer-director William Colleran and writer Larry Gelbart will introduce examples of these screenings Friday night.

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