NEW YORK — The day before Alexander H. Cohen’s death on April 22, 2001, an arbitrator ruled for the legendary legit producer in his long-standing dispute with the League of American Theaters and Producers.
That decision gave Cohen control of the Tony Awards programs he produced through his Bentwood Television Corp. between 1967 and 1986.
Two years after Cohen’s death, the result of his victory is “Broadway’s Lost Treasures,” to be presented on PBS on Sunday. The TV show features musical highlights from the 21 Tony kudocasts that Cohen exec produced, including live performances from such greats as Yul Brynner (“The King and I”), Zero Mostel (“Fiddler on the Roof”) and Gwen Verdon (“Chicago”). A total of 17 numbers will be presented.
In 2001, arbitrator Michael S. Oberman ruled that Cohen’s company held the right, subject to the consent of the league and the American Theater Wing, to exploit excerpts from the awards programs and that league and wing consent could not be unreasonably withheld or delayed.
The league had argued that it owned the Tony Awards programs much as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences owns the Emmy programs and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences owns the Oscar programs.
Oberman admitted that the league and wing did own the most recent Tony broadcasts but that Cohen’s shows were not work for hire. Oberman wrote, “Mr. Cohen’s testimony convinces me that the programs in dispute were produced in circumstances different from those associated with the contemporaneous Emmy programs.”
Oberman’s decision did not give Cohen the right to use the Tony image and name, neither of which will be seen or heard on “Broadway’s Lost Treasures.”
At the time of the 2001 ruling, Cohen’s son Jerry told Daily Variety that his father felt the Tony footage was “very valuable property that had future marketability.”
The producer’s lawyer Eugene Girden expanded on that sentiment. “Cohen firmly believed that these Tony broadcasts represented one of the only records of the musical theater in the United States for a 40-year period,” said Girden.
The 1971 Tony telecast provided especially memorable material for the archives: Since it was a weak year for new musicals, Cohen disguised that fact by assembling one star from each of the awards’ preceding 25 years.
“Broadway’s Lost Treasures” is being used as a fund-raiser by PBS. Profits from the sales of the VHS and DVD will go to a variety of individuals and orgs including the Actors’ Fund; legit unions and guilds; the league and wing; authors of the songs; and Hildy Parks, Cohen’s wife and writer of the Tony shows produced by Bentwood.
Cohen’s son Christopher is already looking at the sequel.
“If this is successful, we hope the league will join us to produce ‘Broadway Lost Treasures, Part Two,’ using material from 1987 to today. Hopefully this first show will be used as a boilerplate between creatives and producers to do archival work.”