WETA Washington and the Academy of Televison Arts & Sciences Foundation are teaming up on a "History of Television" television series, with an assist from The Documentary Group, producers from the late Peter Jennings PJ Productions.
PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have put up $2 million for the project, but the foundation will launch a fund-raising drive to put more money toward the series and associated efforts.
The series is scheduled to launch in spring 2009—just after the medium makes its historic transition to digital broadcasting—with four, hour-long looks at scripted primetime programming over six decades. More shows dealing with other genres will follow "in future years."
"Television is a medium in transition, and there is no better time to step back and appreciate where it has been and where it is going,” said Foundation Chairman and Sony Pictures Television President Steve Mosko.
Foundation Executive Director Terri Clark says ATAS has been talking about a TV history project for some time, in part as a way to spotlight the foundation's archive of 500 or so interviews/oral histories with everyone from Walter Cronkite and Milton Berle to Ted Turner and, most recently, CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves.
But the catalyst for action, she says, was the thematic vision of Tom Yellin at The Documentary Group. Rather than a chronological history, she adds, he saw the shows as character-driven—or character-type driven, to put a finer point on it.
The first installment will be Independent Women, Clark says, chronicling the growth of the medium through its changing views of women and featuring such TV icons as Lucy, Mary to Murphy Brown.
Next will be Men of the House, from Father Knows Best to All in the Family to The Simpsons. Third in the series will be a look at Crusaders, adventurous types from the Mission Impossible crew to 24’sJack Bauer. And fourth will be the Misfits—the Seinfelds, Heroes and Hillbillies, and what each says about its time.
The academy is hoping this is only the beginning. Clark says PBS is excited about the character approach and perhaps making this into an ongoing project. She hopes the networks will cooperate, supplying clips and archival footage to the noncommercial project for "the good of the industry."
Sony has already agreed to make its library available, which means Archie, Edith, Maude, Mary, Lou and the rest of the Norman Lear characters will be on hand.
Clark says the foundation will also look to raise funds for the project and create a curriculum that could be used in college and high school classrooms.