Karen Herman wants Bill Cosby to have his rightful place in history.
TV history, that is.
Herman, a former journalist who is the director of the Archive of American Television in North Hollywood, has wanted to add Cosby's tale to the archive's collection of videotaped oral histories for years, but so far no luck. Scheduling problems, it seems.
"He's so critical to TV history," she says. "Mel Brooks is another one." And another one on Herman's wish list.
"Capturing television history one voice at a time" is the motto of the archive, which contains interviews with nearly 600 key industry figures. What sets the archive apart, though, is that hundreds of hours of those interviews can also be seen on YouTube, to the delight of TV buffs everywhere.
Want to get Jack Larson's take on what it was like to play Jimmy Olsen in the "Superman" TV series of the 1950s? It's there. As are Ron Howard's recollections of working on "The Andy Griffith Show," William Shatner's remembrances of "Star Trek" and James Arness' reflections on "Gunsmoke."
A glance at the archive's YouTube channel ( www.youtube.com/user/tv legends) shows that more than 1,900 videos are available online -- that's about 950 hours of viewing. (A full list of interviewees can be found at emmytvlegends .org.)
"Before, people had to visit our offices to watch the stuff, and now people all over the world" can, Herman notes. Archive videos first went online at Google Video in 2005 but began moving to YouTube in 2007 after Google's 2006 purchase of the popular video-sharing site -- a transition that is ongoing.
A project of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation -- the charitable arm of the organization behind the Emmy Awards -- the archive was inspired by the videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors conducted by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation founded by Steven Spielberg.
Former Disney Television and UPN President "Dean Valentine brought the idea to the television academy in '96, and they sponsored a test project of six interviews," Herman says. "Then the academy adopted it in '97 as a full project." The first interviewees included Elma Farnsworth, widow of TV inventor Philo Farnsworth; Milton Berle; ABC founder Leonard Goldenson; and producer Sheldon Leonard.
Even without Cosby, there are plenty of stars on hand: Betty White, Dick Van Dyke, Jerry Lewis, Barbara Eden, Angela Lansbury, Andy Griffith. Add directors such as Arthur Penn, writer-producers such as Carl Reiner, Steven Bochco and James L. Brooks, producers such as Norman Lear and Grant Tinker, and many others, including composers, executives and makeup artists, and you have a video Who's Who of American television past and present that's growing by about 50 interview subjects a year.
"That's the goal," says archive manager Gary Rutkowski, who researches the interview subjects and also conducts interviews (as do Herman and a pool of volunteers). "We have a selection committee, and they choose the people we're going to do that year."
Interviews are taped (and posted) in half-hour segments and follow a chronological format. Subjects come from the TV academy's 27 "peer groups," covering all disciplines. Though Rutkowski says the aim is to keep interviews to three hours, some are considerably longer. Bochco's, for instance, runs six hours. Dan Rather's (not yet available online) clocks in at nearly eight.
Working with Lear
Fortunately, you don't have to sit through hours of video to access some of the archive's nuggets, as short interview excerpts are beginning to turn up with some frequency.
A recent short clip has Bea Arthur talking about how she got the starring role in "Maude" and what it was like to work with Lear. Other clips have featured George Carlin talking about his stand-up persona and writer-producer Leonard Stern telling how Don Adams came to star in "Get Smart," even though the show originally was meant for Tom Poston.
ans of classic TV likely will find much of interest in the full interviews, which somehow seem to reveal more than the usual celebrity Q&A, possibly because the informal video format allows more of a celebrity's personality to shine through. Van Dyke, for instance, is charmingly Rob Petrie-esque in his 2005 interview, whereas Dick Clark, interviewed years before his debilitating 2004 stroke, reveals his driven, media-entrepreneur side. David Brinkley, interviewed in 1999, shows that he was still smarting from criticism of the Archer Daniels Midland spots he made after retiring from ABC News in 1997. Composer Mike Post tells how his first encounter with producer Stephen J. Cannell nearly resulted in a fistfight -- and also how the men later became close friends and business associates, with Post writing the theme songs for all of Cannell's shows. Fred Silverman's lengthy interview provides a rare glimpse of the mind-set of a top network programmer.