Society waited a destructively long time before it realized that movies, no less than cave paintings or 11th-Century icons, were worth preserving as part of our cultural heritage.
Luckily, television was still young when the urge to preserve took effect. Even so, some of television's earliest hours are only memory. But much of it has been saved, unlike the thousands of films, both silent and sound, of which no scrap now remains.
The question is, when you have preserved, what then? Do the treasures stay in sealed vaults for future scholars or are they kept in play and, more to the point, examined rather than merely fondled for their nostalgia value?
The aggressive and imaginative Museum of Broadcasting, headquartered in New York and generously supported by the industry, is presenting its fifth annual television festival at our County Museum of Art, March 9 through March 31.
It will screen enough recent and classic work to appease the hungriest television nostalgist. But there will also be talk about the shows by those who made them and appeared on them.
Leading from strength, the festival will open with "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall" from 1962 (how time does get away from you) in the presence of its stars Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, along with producer Bob Banner and Ken Welch, who co-authored the show with Mike Nichols.
Closing strong on March 31, the festival will offer a "MASH" reunion with Alan Alda, Mike Farrell, Larry Linville, Wayne Rogers, McLean Stevenson, Loretta Swit, Gene Reynolds, the show's original developer, Larry Gelbart, who wrote the pilot and gave the show its shape and tone, and Burt Metcalfe, who began as casting director and later became executive producer.
Because television is present as well as past, the festival will honor "The Tracey Ullman Show" (March 10) with the star and writer-producers Jerry Belson, James L. Brooks and Heide Perlman on hand.
A "Gunsmoke" tribute on March 11 will show the very first episode of the long-running series (1955-75), "Matt Gets It," and one from the last season, "Matt Dillon Must Die." James Arness and Amanda Blake will appear, along with John Mantley, who was story consultant and finally executive producer of the show.
A rarity--one of those treasures of the preservation process--a kinescope of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Cinderella," written for television and shown live in 1957, will be seen March 12, at 5:30 p.m. It has never been aired since and the kinescope was only recently found in the CBS archives. Julie Andrews starred, with a supporting cast that included Howard Lindsay, Dorothy Stickney, Kaye Ballard and Edie Adams.
Later that same evening there'll be a reunion of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" with Van Dyke himself hosting and Rose Marie and Carl Reiner participating, along with writers Bill Persky and Sam Denoff, producer Sheldon Leonard and director John Rich.
Director Delbert Mann and Eva Marie Saint will honor the late Paddy Chayefsky with a showing of "Middle of the Night" (1954), in which she starred, on March 16. It later became a play and a movie starring Fredric March.
The festival will examine offbeat television comedy with an evening March 17 with Jay Tarses, the creator and producer of ABC's current "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story." Jim Henson will narrate an illustrated history of his antic creations from "Sam and Henry" to the Muppets and "The Storyteller" on March 18.
Barbara Walters will host excerpts from her interviews on March 19. There'll be a "Get Smart" reunion on March 23 with Don Adams, co-creator Buck Henry and writer-producer Leonard Stern.
Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless and producer Barney Rosenzweig will discuss CBS' "Cagney & Lacey," which was killed by the low ratings of its first season but was brought back by popular acclaim. That's on March 25.
Alfred Hitchcock will be honored by a showing of three of the shows from his television series that were directed by the master himself, including the classic, Roald Dahl's "Lamb to the Slaughter." Norman Lloyd and Vincent Price, who starred in another of the shows, will chair the presentation (March 26 at 5:30 p.m.).
Peter Falk and the co-creator of "Columbo," William Link, will take part in an evening (March 16) that is also a tribute to Link's longtime writing and producing partner, the late Richard Levinson. The pilot of the series (which ran from 1971 to 1977) will be shown.
Gene Roddenberry, its creator, will talk about the evolution of "Star Trek" on March 30 and will present excerpts from other work in his career, which began as a writer on "The Kaiser Aluminum Hour," in the days when television was both live and lively.
Looking at the schedule, you realize all over again what a mountainous piece of memory television occupies in all of us. The Museum of Broadcasting, about to start construction on an ample new high-rise HQ in mid-Manhattan, makes its holdings available for individual viewing by fans and scholars.
By debriefing the creators and stars at programs here and in New York, the museum, under its director Robert M. Batscha, is compiling additional material that may one day make it easier to know not just how the shows looked and felt, but what they meant in the life of the society.
Festival information: (213) 857-6110.