Television Honors Its Pioneers, Legends and Consummate Pros

Top tube titans touted by the Television Academy Hall of Fame

Philo T. Farnsworth

Honoring television luminaries and legends is special, but does it make for captivating viewing? The answer: perhaps not, which might be why the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame Awards have been MIA from primetime schedules for at least a decade.
“The knock was that it doesn’t draw viewers, because the people being put in the Hall of Fame are not a good demo,” says Alan Perris, COO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and the ATAS Foundation. “All of the people who run shows would love 18-49, but we generally never have anybody under 49 going in. To have a body of work, you can’t be 33 years old.
“I think that’s the paradox,” he adds. “Everybody’s interested in the star power, but they’re not all that interested in the older star power.”
Still, there promises to be plenty of that “older star power” among the honorees at the 22nd Hall of Fame gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel tonight. That’s when TV’s version of Cooperstown will welcome six industry vets: actor, director and producer Ron Howard; sports broadcaster Al Michaels; CBS Corp. prexy/CEO Leslie Moonves; CBS newsman Bob Schieffer; drama series creator/producer Dick Wolf and American inventor and television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth, who will be inducted posthumously.
While the black-tie ceremony, hosted by thesp Kaley Cuoco of “The Big Bang Theory,” once again won’t be televised, highlights will be available at Emmys.com.
Since the first event in 1984, more than 120 individuals have been named to the TV Academy’s Hall of Fame, including Lucille Ball, Milton Berle, Johnny Carson, William S. Paley, Rod Serling and Lew Wasserman. Recognizing and preserving their contributions is important, says Steve Boettcher, producer-director of the PBS documentary series “Pioneers of Television.”
“We have something on the wall of our office that says, ‘If it wasn’t for the pioneers of television, we would all be eating frozen radio dinners.’ And we believe that. Television today stands on the shoulders of these people.”
Leading an effort to preserve their stories is the Academy’s foundation, which has in its Archive of American Television interviews with more than 750 people who have worked in nearly every aspect of TV production. It’s the largest collection of in-depth Q&As with TV greats, according to archive director Karen Herman, and 30 to 50 entries are added every year. (The interviews, including clips with this year’s Hall of Fame honorees, may be viewed at http://www.emmytvlegends.org.)
Besides being a resource for fans of TV trivia — such as how Robert Emil Schmidt became known as Buffalo Bob on “Howdy Doody” — the conversations are a great educational tool.
“These interviews are used by students and faculty at colleges, universities and high schools,” says foundation chairman Jerry Petry, adding that the org also offers an internship program and presents awards to TV/video students.
Proceeds from the gala will benefit the work of the archive.
So, will the Television Academy’s Hall of Fame Awards ever make it back onto the medium it celebrates? Perris hopes so.
“I would love to see it get back on TV someday, and maybe it will,” he says.