While the movie industry readies itself this weekend for the Academy Awards show Monday, much of the television industry will be convening here to honor its own at the third annual Television Academy Hall of Fame ceremonies.
Hundreds of TV performers and executives will gather Sunday evening at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to watch as entertainers Steve Allen, Jackie Gleason and Mary Tyler Moore, former CBS President Frank Stanton, producer Fred Coe, puppeteer Burr Tillstrom and family entertainment mogul Walt Disney are inducted into TV's Hall of Fame.
The proceedings will be taped for broadcast as a two-hour special on NBC on April 21.
Which is no accident. In a move befitting the medium being honored, the TV Hall of Fame was conceived by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences as much as a television show as an actual institution. The decisions to induct seven people each year, and to require that at least four of them be living, were made in consideration of how the proceedings would play on the air.
And television is still the only place where the Hall of Fame exists. There are plans to build a real hall in North Hollywood that the public could visit, like baseball's Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., but it's still at least three years away from being ready, TV Academy President Richard Frank said Friday.
It might have taken even longer had the Hall of Fame not been designed with TV in mind, says John H. Mitchell, who serves as chairman of the Hall of Fame, having established it when he was president of the TV Academy from 1980 to 1983.
The idea for a TV Hall of Fame had been kicked around before, but it was Mitchell, wanting to achieve something of lasting value while he was president of the academy, who took it up as his personal crusade "to celebrate the contributions that lots of good people had made to television and the fabric of the American way of life."
On its merits alone, the academy conceivably could have established such an institution and only later have invited television to cover it. But that wasn't the way Mitchell, who had spent his career in television and was once president of the TV division at Columbia, operated. Designing it for a television special would give the Hall of Fame immediate stature, would promote the TV Academy and would bring in some money, he said.
"I don't think the Hall of Fame would have caught fire as fast," Mitchell said in an interview this week. "Not that everyone knows about it yet, but more do than if we had not gone to television. It's still the best-selling medium in the world."
Frank, the current academy president, concurred that Mitchell's sale of the idea to NBC even as the mechanics were still being worked out was the critical factor in moving ahead. "Without knowing we had the deadline of preparing a television show, I'm not sure we would have acted so quickly," he said. "That gave us the impetus to get it going."
Mitchell said the academy decided to induct seven people each year because he and telecast producers Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion felt that, for pacing purposes, that was a good number to cover during a two-hour broadcast. They also felt at least four of the inductees should be alive so the audience wouldn't have to watch a stream of unknown relatives accepting the honor.
"The one thing I didn't want was to get stuck with a static show," Mitchell explained. "It had to be a good piece of entertainment. I didn't want to start a Hall of Fame and then have it collapse because we couldn't get an audience."
The selection process is more pristine. Each of the academy's 46 governors, representing 23 different fields in the television industry, submits up to 10 candidates for consideration. This list is then given over to a blue-ribbon committee that meets in private to pick seven for induction into the Hall of Fame. The 12-member committee consists of former network executives, writers, producers, agents and journalists.
The first group selected in 1984 were Lucille Ball, Norman Lear, Milton Berle, William S. Paley, Edward R. Murrow, Paddy Chayefsky and David Sarnoff.
Those chosen in 1985 were Carol Burnett, Walter Cronkite, Sid Caesar, Ed Sullivan, Rod Serling, Sylvester (Pat) Weaver and Joyce C. Hall.
Although the Hall of Fame is tied to a TV special, the sale of which grosses the academy about $225,000 a year, both Mitchell and Frank said that the academy believes in the Hall of Fame and now would keep it going even if, for ratings reasons, NBC and other broadcasters decided against airing the show.
"This is something that everyone at the academy is very proud of," Frank said. "It's one of the three major activities--along with the Emmy Awards and our student education program--that we are involved in."
As for building a home for the Hall of Fame, Frank said that the academy has had a long-standing invitation to set up a permanent headquarters in a major redevelopment project on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. The academy was notified recently that the developer has finally obtained financing and hopes to complete the project in three years, he said.
The TV Hall of Fame would be the centerpiece of the academy's facilities, Frank said. Exactly what form it will take has not been decided, but the plan is to feature plaques or busts of the Hall of Fame members along with information--possibly on cassettes--about their accomplishments.
"It will be a wonderful historical record as well as an entertaining record of the contributions that these people have made, and also will sort of paint the history of the medium," Mitchell said.