Museum fishin’ for its mission

Leaders search for org's tone, new president

Call the technicians: The picture’s been looking fuzzy lately at the Museum of Television and Radio.

Still reeling from a round of layoffs and the sudden resignation of its president, the nonprofit org — with locations in New York and Beverly Hills — appears to be struggling to maintain its relevance in an industry that’s rapidly shifting around it.

One studio exec familiar with the organization calls it the “What Are We Now Syndrome”: “The museum is run like they’re in denial that the world has changed,” he says.

The museum’s leaders are about to set the tone for the institution’s future, as they search for a new president to replace departing topper Stuart Brotman.

According to board members, Brotman — who left in June after less than a year in the post — failed to connect with the Hollywood crowd, who make up a huge chunk of the museum’s contributions.

Brotman didn’t spend much time on the West Coast, and ultimately the org felt he wasn’t the right fit to navigate it through rough seas.

Coinciding with his departure, the museum laid off 14 full-time employees and one part-time worker. The pink slips were spread throughout the org, leaving the museum without a radio curator, among other posts.

The museum didn’t elaborate on the reasons behind Brotman’s departure. Museum board of trustees chairman Frank Bennack declined comment, but in a statement, said the layoffs were necessary: “Like most other not-for-profit institutions, the Museum has faced difficult financial challenges and reluctantly had to make these adjustments.”

Of course, Brotman had some pretty big shoes to fill, stepping in following the death of longtime museum president Robert Batscha.

Batscha was a relentless salesman and cheerleader for the museum, a ubiquitous presence in entertainment and broadcast industry circles on both coasts.

He joined the org in 1981, eventually moving it into dazzling buildings on both coasts — and growing its collection from 5,000 to more than 120,000 programs.

Batscha’s presence was so profound it took almost a year for the org to replace him.

With Batscha gone, some of the Hollywood interest in the museum started to wane. When contacted, even producers and execs who have worked with the museum in the past admitted they had less involvement in it these days — and felt they didn’t know enough to comment on the state of the org.

Batscha’s death was an even bigger blow given the difficult position nonprofits — particularly non-charities — now find themselves in.

Big institutions that depend on contributions have had a tougher go of things in the years after the dot-com collapse and Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. With less money flowing, museums have been forced to get more aggressive in raising funds.

Beyond that, the Museum of TV & Radio has faced the same kind of erosion facing the industries it celebrates: In an age when old TV shows are readily available on DVD, and archival footage can be accessed on the Internet, its core mission may be in need of some freshening, critics say.

“What is the mission of the place, and what are they there for?” asks a network exec involved with the museum.

Says another: “I’m not sure what the museum means to this generation.”

Meanwhile, some of the museum’s problems have been ongoing. An evaluation by New York’s Better Business Bureau in 2003 argued the museum’s board did not provide “adequate oversight of the organization’s operations and its staff.”

It also lamented that the museum’s board of directors usually met with less than 50% in attendance — which is probably no surprise, given the busy schedules of its trustees (such as Rupert Murdoch, Howard Stringer and Sumner Redstone). And it criticized the museum for failing to itemize its expenses and for not producing an annual report.

The museum ended 2003 — the last year for which tax returns were available — with a net asset balance of $101.6 million — up from 2002’s $96.8 million, but down from 2001’s $106.9 million.

But despite some of the obstacles facing it, on balance, the Museum of TV & Radio still boasts a slew of popular programs — including the wildly successful William S. Paley Television Festival, and an annual gala event. And the right leader could easily galvanize the organization and attract more attention to its unique charter.

The museum’s board is scouting for a replacement. As president and trustee, Batscha earned a salary of $560,000 in 2002 — the last full year the job was occupied. Active West Coast board member (and ICM co-president) Nancy Josephson says bringing industry members to the Beverly Hills location is a constant effort.

“We keep striving to bring the active, working TV community to the building and make people aware of what a great resource it is,” she says. “We want to do more. Part of the mission is to bring both the public and the entertainment industry in. Those of us on the board are proud of the institution and want to keep it vibrant.”

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