Costumes from HBO's series "The Sopranos," "Deadwood"… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
For fans of TV history, a walk through the "Television: Out of the Box" show at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills is like a grand stroll through our collective past.
Visitors to the exhibition, which celebrates nearly 60 years of Warner Bros. television, can view such items as Clint Walker's buckskin costume from the western "Cheyenne" and Connie Stevens' sundress from "77 Sunset Strip." From more modern times, there's a section devoted to NBC's long-running medical drama "ER," which features such items as George Clooney's stethoscope and the County General Hospital badges worn by the cast.
"We brought in the situation board from the last episode [of "ER"] where in-jokes were written," noted Leith Adams, corporate archivist for Warner Bros. Entertainment. "You can see somebody is in the hospital for an insulted ego."
It's the first time a studio has collaborated with the Paley on a major exhibition. Though the center has had exhibits over the years, the displays were relegated to the first-floor gallery because the second floor consisted of the library and viewing stalls where fans could watch restored tapes of classic TV.
But Pat Mitchell, president and chief executive of the Paley Center, said that as more of the shows became digitalized, the stalls became obsolete. "We donated those viewing stalls to some of the schools in Los Angeles who can use the monitors," she said. (There is a digital collection that visitors can access on computers at the Paley, and the scholars' viewing room is still in use.)
So last year, the Paley converted the second floor into an exhibition space for the popular Debbie Reynolds exhibit of her vast collection of Hollywood clothing, sets and props that were headed to auction. Now the "Out of the Box" exhibit is scheduled to use that space for the next three years.
Paley officials say "Out of the Box" will change material frequently to keep it fresh for fans. There are also plans to screen some of the vintage series in the theater at the Paley and invite cast members to reminisce.
On a recent tour of the exhibition Adams pointed out the animation section, which highlights both cartoons from WB itself and shows from Hanna-Barbera including "The Flintstones," "Huckleberry Hound" and "Scooby-Doo." A particularly fun feature allows patrons to have their picture taken inside a Bugs Bunny cel.
There are other photo ops available. Visitors can have their photographs taken in the diner booth used by Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer on "Seinfeld" and a facsimile of the Central Perk coffee shop from "Friends." But be forewarned: The sofa is surprisingly uncomfortable.
One of Adams' favorite features in the exhibit is the Theme Song Theater. Not only can visitors sit to watch clips featuring the theme songs of such shows as "The Flintstones" and "Gilligan's Island," they can also go on stage to do karaoke versions.
Producer Chuck Lorre's CBS comedy series have their own corner featuring outfits from "Two and a Half Men" — "We have Charlie Sheen kind of facing away from everybody and an urn of his ashes," said Adams about the series' departed star.
Another part of the exhibit is a tribute to producer David Wolper. Among the highlights: Rachel Ward's pink dress from the 1983 miniseries "The Thorn Birds," socks worn by the "sweathogs" from the comedy series "Welcome Back, Kotter" to "The Waltons'' creator Earl Hamner's typewriter.
There's a big display from the original CBS series "Dallas" that includes J.R.'s hat, boots and even his checkbook . "You can see on April of 1981, he made out a check to a bad girl for 'services,"' Adams noted wryly.