WNET Seminar; The Great American Dream Machine, Part II
The Times caught by their own timidity. And in one case for example in Chicago they chose not to run a particular segment of the machine they just cut it out. And what we have done is we depend a great deal on the press to get the word out. So I think we we have been in touch. We had already sent a review copy this in the course of the season to the to the critic of the year one to Chicago papers and he wrote the following day. If your station WTW doesn't think that you are a mature enough audience to take this kind of material then maybe you ought to stop giving them money. So they the next week monitor their complete show. Show the segment had a discussion which was the cure all for all public television hit Times columnist Carson and it was on the air and had a lot more attention than it would have on the good news in one of the things about about other television was that the individual stations around. Country and national Pittsburgh San Francisco whatever those Burridge were composed of the society people the rich people the bank people the corporate people
money people country club people. So there there they were and there are the supporters of Richard Nixon who was in power in the White House. Their politics are very close to the kind of politics that was the mainstream regular conservative status quo America and they did not want to rock the boat. So they're getting this kind of. Left wing liberal stuff coming up and they're not liking it. So you had a question in one of the youngest interviews and proffer from the station was better ever. Since some Desert Storm or more. You're from a government agency. Or will that be just think of all. Of that's not unthinkable. I've been working on the owner and I believe you know why I don't know. I do recall one day more of click who was then working with the front office said that there were two gentlemen from the FBI who wanted to see me and this was just before the FBI piece was here
and I told her I really didn't want to see them. And she told them that and they went over to see Bill Cohen. And Bill saw them and he said they tried to persuade him that it would be a mistake to put the piece on the air and that's the closest that I can well and then they came over to channel 13 where we were going to run it separately in this program and I never saw it as far as I know Jay Islam who is the general manager of the station never saw them. But people often that we had a little laboratory were developing film that people ups upstairs told us that they were up there nosing around looking for the film and that was you know. But that's all I know that was. That was really pretty I remember you know any other pressure that we had in those days came from the IRS was because the next administration press this incidentally but the IRS came into our shop and wanted to look at our programs at random hoping to find one that would. Destroyer eligibility for tax exemption and I took this to our board of
directors our board of directors in those days was a very distinguished group of people incidentally and said to do it. The board of directors at the IRS had asked permission to look at our shows at random and one of the women on the board she was former dean of the Howard Law School made the motion and I remember the motion accurately it was get their ass out of there. I'm I think I'm quoting her accurately on the on the board voted in favor of that. We totally are upset they wanted to see a specific show requested by name would show it to them but they would not allow them to go on a fishing expedition. Now obviously they were under pressure to to try to undermine us from that point. But other than that I don't recall anything any specific pressure. You know there was a car sounding on television I mean is the company's important that it is watch TV just to our viewers it was. Yes ma'am. Most of us know it's for sure. Or are some of the lyrics of. Your old reminisce saying oh yeah it's great it's great. And you go on to
other things for commercial successes. What do you see. The. Future. Phyllis actually mentioned herself that she's guilty of some. Things that. She did not. Have. On her when she was doing the show. Could there ever be an opportunity for I think better television. Most of us know what we don't want to trust. The president. Very much on the line. I don't know what the future holds but I'm frightened for public television very seriously frightened and concerned about it. It's not going in the right direction someone before mentioned should like the enhanced underwriting. I think none of us likes to have that. I think until the time comes. When if it ever will come. When it is seen fit by our policymakers to create a. Untouchable means of funding for public television then it's going to go on. Diminish in its ability to do the kind of programming that we're talking about here.
And I fear for his future. And that is that is a very strong and serious concern. I do think there are means to to look at seriously for funding public television. When Jack and I were in Washington before the story Committee of the Ford Foundation had at around that time come up with the thought that since the satellites were them going up the networks were about to save huge amounts of money by putting their programs up on satellite instead of landlines that the money they would save should be given to public television. That of course was defeated. I think the most public television we got out of it was a free transponder or two. There have been. Suggestions two were to tax television sets I'm not sure that's a good idea. Only in the last few weeks or a couple months has a proposal to have gone down. And in Washington a proposal to tax the sale of a commercial stations and give the money to go to public television.
I personally subscribe to a method whereby commercial stations in each market should tie their hair or have a percentage of their profits allocated to the public television stations in their market. God knows they have been known Juan and off as money makers as money machines and they can certainly afford it. And having worked for NBC in Channel 4 I know the kind of profits that those those organizations turn and you know of course most of them are published. So I think until such time if it ever comes that there is a way found to give public television the kind of insulated funding that was the case during the Ford Foundation days than any TV I'm afraid I'm going to be very pessimistic about its future. Here we are talking only about public health. I thought I'm going to start a ball right here by thinking about other things. I want to say that I mean this sounds rather self-serving but I believe this. I could not find a home in commercial television. I wasn't
invited to do anything but in my search for home and for a place after the dream machine I mean I wandered around a lot. I have never been as comfortable nor have I felt as close to that environment as I do at HBO there are limits and it is not the same. It's a more expensive business. Now you know we serve the audience in a very specific way they pay us. They pay a subscription rate and they are our bosses in many ways but they're the only boss. I think that although the general attitude of the intellectual towards something like HBO and their reality or documentary program may not always be favorable. In fact some of the programming that we do there is extremely courageous and extremely excellent How did a Consumer Reports show for. Two three years. On Home Box Office in which we attacked everybody I mean we had someone come to the president of time it
because we said that. Hair dye was in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women. I think it was I don't remember which company it was but in fact. We repeated the show and we kept saying it. We have the TIME magazine owns HBO which we have time. I'm not being clear about that but time yes does on HBO. We're going to do a major show on smoking. Well smoking advertising is a major. Supplier certainly the tiny empire. I think in its own quiet way although one may look past it because it is so strong and certainly not an underdog in the same way we have done some things at home box office clubs. I don't mean to sully the name or the inspiration because it will never be the same and I've meant that and I've also meant it. You know who I am and what I represent now not to be three always clear but I think thank you. What kind of environment. On the not knowing there is something seasonal and if there's something else too about the media that that is not being reported that's very important Ben Bagian who's the Eternals
preschool University of California just wrote a book called media monopoly. He wrote the book an 83 in which he reported that 15 major corporations own all of the media in the United States. I mean I'm talking all I'm talking books I'm talking all the magazines all the television all the newspapers. He just did an update of the book this year. And the number is down to 26 corporations now. How many American owned. Solar question and also that of that 26 just you know a small handful only heard their most influential and most of it you know and I think that's a very important question for a democracy there. Yeah and you know that book isn't being reviewed by the. Conglomerates that own them on the media so nobody knows about the book but now that's the sort of thing the public television should be picking up and doing a show on. I would say rather than the sort of puff series they've just done for television it's the kinds of issues you might have seen taken up in in the old days that if you don't see now for for whatever reason. But I think it's a very serious question.
I would I must add something here with all the the doomsaying and whatnot. Occasionally a mountain peak burst through the clouds and the name of somebody like Bill Moyers who is able to attract money from CPB and PBS and NPR and a commercial funder recently. And you know we were overjoyed to be able to work with building the secret government which really was a strong documentary and the likes of which you don't see very much of. But I think that's a rarity and must come through someone who who has a voice and a draw like Clark Morris hats do you think Bill could get are you going to get money to do a whole series on those kinds of issues that I think would be very tough very tough. I think one of the sad aspects of this of course is that Bill Moyers. Has the kind of clout that makes it possible I suspect for him to get money somewhat easier than most other people I'm sure it's not easy for Bill.
I don't mean to imply that it is. So when you look at creative people in our business who are spending not months but years years looking for money to do a single project and their creative energy is going into that. Rather than the end of the television show itself and the compromises that some of them probably have to make to get this money it is indeed sad. I sometimes joke about this that or these created these these producers have spent so many months or years looking for money that when they get the money the game is finished. They almost hate to have to do a television show because they say they have to be so clever so skillful to get the money. And everything else is at a climactic. Yes. You hear only consistently exciting and provocative broadcasting on the air and now it is on National Public Radio. ALL THINGS CONSIDERED MORNING EDITION we're going to. Hear they are. Putting out interesting material. They managed to do it.
Right doesn't I mean all you know they are not television because a lot of money. Big thing about excitement between radio and television you can always there's been a lot of really good radio stations that Pacifica hed be AI KPFA KPFA the one in Texas has turned out a lot of good stuff a lot of very good stuff. NPR is basically from that there's a station up in Boston that has real good stuff. But radio is not television and they're in the city. It's a tiny fraction of the amount of money that you're quire to to make a radio program as opposed to a television show and we got to the point where. The. Concern or production values. Become the tail wagging the dog. I mean is it possible to scale our presence I think that it is only. Our. Local cable TV. There are some interesting people who show up and do some interesting things.
And I watch a lot of local cable TV that I was. Michael Jordan who is talking about the fact that President Reagan is not aimed at the Soviets or the Eastern Bloc but the Star Wars apparatus is really to knock down spaceships from another galaxy. I like this character who says All right have fun more of the cable are NOT see a robin bird you know interlude after midnight. Sanjay escort service is the shopping center either end of the spectrum on the third tier of mine and then be able to be where I can buy sash and luggage or a diamond gold sapphire bracelet rate you hundred dollars and the card is sticking. Become aware is a medical lifeline That's OK I can learn how to do obstetrics every Sunday you know over there like RAII watch Italian movies without subtitles. That's great. Or wrestling or WTS I mean up and down they have beer and I'm over it and as genial as not monosodium glutamate you know I'm right there and I want to know where it is it's on the cable let me see it because it's not there it's not it's not in the least maybe arts and entertainment that's victory
at sea my team's history too so if you want to. He will do more than this but I feel like my deep dish paper tiger that occasionally gets on and it's in here and I started hearing tell us don't make me love you because you are a rational actor here is no excuse no need for you to moderate your head let me address on the aspect of your of your question I think of other in Portsmouth I think the marshals promoted by the radio and television and radio being much less expensive. But look at the way they were recognized when any TV had this body of money from the Ford Foundation. Most of the stations around the country did not want any key to continue to exist. It was New York eastern liberal and if you don't you know there's the rest of the country hates New York and fearful of programs originating in New York they really were not considered Hershey Pennsylvania. I tried her multimillion dollar productions in a think cleanup work. To make better programs. So with the Green Machine grew out of. As my colleagues here have described it a situation where we were given a hunk of money and told to go ahead.
That was changed so that the money that came out of Congress was divvied up among a hundred fifty stations for a complex formula and then they gave the money as they took as a kind of a vote to PBS to produce certain things radio. They didn't pay too much attention to that in the next administration the result was they gave NPR a body of money to do exactly what any team had with production studios in Washington. And they are attracted to people saying why he did it and they put out MORNING EDITION from the structural Absalom's assuming you're going to hook you to what I always say I mean I actually agree about the funny but it will go along with that. There has to be a dedication to one two or three production centers who will get the money and do the programming for public television. I go I don't know if anybody else agrees I always made the argument that I think the stations should do local programming they ought to be production centers the national programming because the local program is being overlooked badly in almost every city.
There's another facet of your question I'd like to address and that is. The expectations for production so-called production values. Yes I think public television station managers those who control their own airwaves do expect more and more production values to the extent that they are really militantly against so-called Talking Heads. They no longer recognize the talking heads the right talking heads can be some of the most interesting television that anybody could possibly watch. I think you know just a measure more is again coming the conversation which will serve a series of programs a conversation with Joseph Campbell. I think people are going to find it the most. A fascinating way of watching television. Sure there's some graphics but there are talking heads that can make marvelous television but the station stations in the system are for the most part as I understand it no longer interested in that kind of thing and they want to compete with the others in the marketplace the commercials the cables etc. and therefore talking heads or are a dying breed in the middle of a talking head show that where
one had to have a group of women up on Broadway. We've learned that. Doing Now you know talking about adultery. Have meeting and you know and we had he had asked what one of the other was a great piece a matter that. One of the other problems when you talk about table away from public television is that we're really talking about distribution. Everybody reproducing is not the problem. Even the money for producing sometimes is not the problem of using a cable for a. Couple years with CBS Cable. The problem is marketing that because you have to be able to have enough money to get the word out there to attract an audience so you can sustain yourself so you're not pouring money down a hole for a long time. And part of the problem with access cable even even if you know a couple I agree that it was often something Marshall. Oh I'm looking for money and nearly on it is that you don't know what it's going to be on paper tiger has that problem so i even if I you know want to see it I don't know where yet or when to get it and that's a major problem. So where do you get the money for that and the
expertise for marketing and all of that most of us are producers now marketers so that that has to be a large chunk when you look at it and then there's the videotape out of it so the video cassette magazine that says that something is dead never come but never all that talk about that number of years ago video cassette magazines for trying to find audiences and coming in the mail. I'm waiting for the sports car one. Year on. The market is so expensive to hit distinct audiences that people are shying away from it until the 4th and we see the Sprint television camera Americans have a go to something else. A lot of things. It was good. Quality and. There are smaller special interest. Cable has obviously started to go that route. But it hasn't done to the extent that magazines have telling the magazines of circulate. Their names down there more than the dollars. The greed factor is certainly still there among the corporations. It's put everybody has scaled back their piece of the cart so that everybody has a piece of the pie.
You know I haven't I don't know. I don't know the economics involved and I think because television is so so much more expensive can produce. But my guess is that it is rather difficult all over cable as you say has gone somewhat not direction. There is only a sociological aspect to this that does concern me however and that is that and I know the reasons magazines want to specialized audiences because they could appeal to a given demographic and attract advertising that was trying to reach that particular demographic. But if we all go in that direction don't you foresee some for some fragmentation of the kind of glue that holds this society together. If we if every one of our media are appealing to specifics interest groups then who's going to appeal to the nation as a whole. Radio as you know has gone almost completely a little called the national the national
programs today are mostly produced in Hollywood mostly entertainment except for national news and a special event. I think public television has that need to reach a national audience I would go along with Jack but I think that you see the way the public TV people now face have faced it from the very beginning the station managers feel that their audience is different from other audiences there is not a national audience. There is a collection of local audiences and therefore every station has to be a gate keeper to be to decide what its local audience will like from the National Service. It's pretty absurd because our audience is certainly looking at the same shows on primetime TV and HBO as anybody else in the country. I think it will be for the next year or so and we're going to get as you inserted. Your show was certainly a regional show that reached out to the entire nation and found its audience nationwide. I think given the opportunity. Will. Rise to the to it hell.
Well I guess I was thinking of Garrison Keillor show as a national show as a way for a new God began it began as a result but it did touch something that is common to all of us there's no question about that. I don't care how you say anything different in this country. Very strong very good idea and you kind of think not so anything different I think. One is a public policy question the way we treat public television there is the question of how do producers I prefer as reach their reach their audience the independent public co-directors are two separate questions over and I think there are going to if local stations really local regional programming it would find its level rise to national. But you still need guaranteed funding over a long period of time for national service. Getting back to ancient history in 72. Points the premier really quiet about being cancelled or was it just that nobody covered it. Because outside of a couple of Martin Pittman Carlos I don't remember anything.
Well we were quite among ourselves we didn't care to point it out he really didn't have any people to talk to. When it was coming. Yeah and when you do which is your lesson last night it was going to end in a second point them out how he would work and how there's no plot you know I was there for very long anyway so you just figure you know next. I mean as I said before we could go to corporations and say rescue us we could go the government and say rescuers come with you who have talked to it was one color best seller one who pieced the drink machine was taken off the year because of the next administration. It's not true at all. It was here because it was something because look this is pain. We had a limited amount of money and we were required to do a wide variety of things and drama and documentaries and science and so forth and we put a great heart of that of our total budget into the green machine but it got written down as a got more expensive. I was under pressure from those who weren't working on the Great Machine who were not here and believe me they weren't happy about the fact that so much of our money. The one show that you did the right thing Jim because you're not like that I
do. There was a kind of activism that we were in the late 60s that motor reared its head Force done something right exactly to bring that you're going to get is really dissipated it was part of the problem of public television being fragmented and it was it was if it suited its time. Yes I was going to tell you that I was sure the third year would have been as good because if you do it a lot on your show or I've had it's life when it's live with right. Yeah you know and it started a lot of other shows and it's starting to get a cast of producers that really when I met that did it proud. I think so there was I may have been even tired maybe that's why we didn't fight so hard and then the other thing that was dead about it though about the vote was taken probably really did really was unique. My memory of it was though that the elements that were lifted from it were the graphics the look the content was it. The format was it but the sort of things that were had
commercial value. They appear all over television and new shows and that sort of thing and I think there was also a comment about television. It was always exciting that PBS didn't for the first time that I remember it I always remembered it as being rather snobby when I was in college and stuff. It didn't talk down when I did a piece about play Star or Evil Knievel. You know we could have fun but we were sort of all in it together. Everybody was as important regardless of what they did or who they were that kind of generosity of spirit in which the intellectual giant talking about reached out into Middle America was a very strong part of the dream machine. The host was the man on the street talking about what he wanted from life. That was extremely gala Tarion but not in a rather intellectual way but in a much more you know. Man in the street are down to earth me where I need to learn things that were important was that it was repeated so we shot a couple nights in primetime only. Now most important because
of the audience that wasn't home to see it one night can see another this is before the C.R. So that so that it really had more weight more power because somebody was unarmed and didn't see the show but one of their friends or some of their friends are talked about in the night. There was an enlargement of the audience and that's not really far more important than time just on once a week and it's gone in a lot of opportunities lost in trickling videotape you know really not but this one could have a much larger audience because it was on a couple times a week you know more about this and they correct me if I'm wrong but I understood it at the time machine. Of course we never look at ratings and public television. But when we did at that time we were created and we found that there were more young people or younger people watching public television and I've been watching it up to that point. So we did appeal to the show did appeal to a different segment of the audience than the public tells you if you said it was very good almost brought a young audience and for the first
time so I was there it was the early 70s it was turned out into a window and then we got there. You're probably the one thing that I've. Carried with me since seeing it first time around and perhaps it's because there is an element that was not explored as graphically or whatever other shows. Is that all of the interviews seem to have an even handed good humor even without somebody just said this is a despicable human being and I want to throttle them. But you listen to her and you go. So human being this is X No I don't I think that I think that there was there a victim to the universe who serves or was it just a general point of I think that was the result of the fact that there were no interviewers. People. But off camera wasn't there someone who was somebody off camera but nobody ever asked a question on that show. If you did I doubt that people spoke for themselves there was a joke you know you know. Here I'm going on.
I think there was a notion that you should everybody respect the social documentaries were very good. You know the days that preceded that they were good guys and bad guys and I think that was in their face about they got story. You treat everybody with respect you live you know the great some of the films are made by independent filmmakers not made for the show they were picked up. Yeah and they said why didn't the stuff that was made by the staff of the show noticeable rejection and receive the truth. Or how do we know that perhaps there was a point to your proof or. What Commission want to chill that I just couldn't understand the kind of stuff politically. You know no groups emotional or Again I really compare it to the bill that's when there was room for everything as long as it was not condescending and people could comment I mean it was the least condescending show I have ever seen in. And if you look at the variance of subject matter in the course of the 90 minutes the fact that everybody would be
treated with the same amount of reverence was really it's home or it was you know we had one show based on desk near the desk show that was pretty hairy for television as you know. He might get in. For 90 minutes is there was one segment you're going to do brain of yours any more or is it the nature of having you know I was never going to start there was no one asking the questions. Maker with the single you can manipulate with editing people for themselves and I think over. Time I think people were themselves and we felt best when we got just about equal complaints about a segment from both sides. For example the demolition derby question Rubel an independent producer was commissioned by us to do an idea that he had come in with about this demolition derby that goes out on Long Island where people just crash into each other in the last car running when it's. Where we play that straight down the middle. We let them speak for themselves. We shot it very tasty. We've put some Blue Danube music in the the most violent parts and we had complaints
from a large section of the population that says isn't it marvelous that you showed a good all-American sport and we were all for you and we got almost the usual complaints from others saying how could we as peaceful loving Americans engage in such a terrible activity. So I think a lot of the segments had a response like that and we felt best when it was on the eve or another they were over the edge I mean sunset ever showing that. Which was a look at Sun City retirement. It was on the edge I think you know I think there were a number of the magnificent classes one example here and I can't tell you how to go without something I'm just saying that the it was in the music sleep you know you're going to walk that line and you know when you get to know anybody and they're not you know what's her good name for those kinds of places. Well. Also I was there and she else writes in Sun City the sun city people loved it. Yeah. Amy their nuclear family made them a little bit uncomfortable they sort of in the honeymoon hotel we were going beyond our time you have a quick question and it's fascinating because a lot of the
stuff like demolition derby doesn't suck up to festivals and festivals the street entertainers. Nobody will touch. Nobody will cover these things because they're not upscale love. You know unless somebody covers it to make fun of it. People are still going out there doing these things in the United States but there ain't nothing out there doing. With. It's really it's. Really. Well I think good for. Going after closer and I think we've all agreed that this was. Kind of a fracture of a time. Trying to work off. Work for the people. Like that perhaps trying to. Tell the press for television that it doesn't like anything else. Thank you all for joining. US like yesterday.
- WNET Seminar
- Producing Organization
- Thirteen WNET
- Contributing Organization
- Thirteen WNET (New York, New York)
- AAPB ID
- Program Description
- The second half of a panel discussion moderated by James Day featuring Sheila Nevins, Marshall Efron, Jack Willis, and Alvin Perlmutter on the creation of The Great American Dream Machine. Panelists answer audience questions about the politics of public television, pressure from outside forces such as the FBI and IRS, and the future of public television. Other topics discussed include the panelists' current endeavors, funding public television, television production values, the difference between radio and television production, and contributors to The Great American Dream Machine.
- Asset type
- Film and Television
- No copyright statement in content.
- Media type
- Moving Image
Panelist: Day, James
Panelist: Efron, Marshall
Panelist: Nevins, Sheila
Panelist: Perlmutter, Alvin H.
Panelist: Willis, Jack (Film producer)
Producing Organization: Thirteen WNET
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Thirteen - New York Public Media (WNET)
Identifier: wnet_aacip_993 (WNET Archive)
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “WNET Seminar; The Great American Dream Machine, Part II,” Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-75-19s1rq4z.
- MLA: “WNET Seminar; The Great American Dream Machine, Part II.” Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-75-19s1rq4z>.
- APA: WNET Seminar; The Great American Dream Machine, Part II. Boston, MA: Thirteen WNET, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-75-19s1rq4z