PIONEERS OF THIRTEEN {SEGMENT JOAN GANZ COONEY & SESAME STREET} (TV)

Summary

A segment of this miniseries chronicling the history of channel WNET in New York, also known as Thirteen, and its impact on television broadcasting. WNET, initially known by the call sign "WNDT," first goes on air on September 16th, 1962 at 7:59 AM, introduced by Edward R. Murrow. Murrow introduces it as the first foray into educational public television outside of a market structure, and in his words calls it "something rather different." The call sign reflects the station's sentiment, as "NDT" stands for "New Dimensions in Television." The staff at WNDT, largely inexperienced in the field of television, seeks to push the boundaries of what the medium can do. Initially there is little in the way of funding or personnel, and the station embodies a "loose" working environment. However, there is a great deal of enthusiasm and love for the work, and the limited budget necessitates the use of "improvisation" in the station's approach to broadcasting. Soon the station begins airing dramas featuring talented actors and other notable programs, and begins to garner notice from the viewing public. The station keeps itself on the pulse of the Civil Rights Movement, getting perspectives from African-Americans across the country. Programs such as "Black Journal" work to give African-American viewers a "sense of community." In 1969 producers Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett work on creating the revolutionary children's program "Sesame Street," partially out of a desire to use television as a instrument to teach children, as they grow frustrated that television does not seem to provide positive influences for children. The program is a huge undertaking in terms of its budget, and Cooney faces skepticism due to her gender and her relative inexperience. However, she believes quite firmly in "Sesame Street" and ignores advisor warnings not to "mix fantasy with reality," incorporating the Muppets, which become the mainstay of the program. Soon it becomes a hit and the New York Times calls it "a bold and constructive venture." Other programs on WNET try for more experimental approaches in how television is presented. An episode of the program "Free Time" features John Lennon and Yoko Ono performing an abstract work of performance art, including an audience participation segment involving a ladder in which one member becomes accidentally injured. The producers at WNET do not quite understand the reasoning behind Lennon and Ono's presentation, but realize that they must film it due to how unique it is. Alvin Perlmutter experiments with comedy when he creates "The Great American Dream Machine," a show made up entirely of short vignettes, often of an abstract or surrealist nature. Perlmutter uses his prior experiences as a disc jockey to inform his philosophy on the show's presentation. The show's eclectic style helps make it the first primetime hit on WNET. Meanwhile, the "TV Lab" program features experimentation in video editing, electronic media, and the use of video, where independent producers and filmmakers convene to try new and abstract ideas in television. The sponsors urge WNET to provide them with a "blockbuster" show, and filmmaker Craig Gilbert conceives of an idea to showcase how an ordinary family handles its relationships and cohesion. This spawns the 12-part 1973 documentary series "An American Family," showing the lives of the Loud family of Santa Barbara, California for seven months. The show is heralded as a "real-life soap opera;" despite what some viewed as an "invasive" filming technique, the Loud family conceals nothing from the cameras and grows to accept their presence. Tensions between the parents, Bill and Patricia Loud, come to a head over the course of filming and she files for divorce. This prompts national discussion and controversy, partially since the Loud family provide a stark contrast to the usual portrayal of family relationships on television sitcoms. The press praises the show for its unprecedented perspective, although the filmmakers express regret that the public chose to treat the Loud family as a sort of alien entity instead of as an ordinary family with ordinary problems. Clips from WNET programs are interspersed throughout, including: the very first minute of WNDT's broadcast from September 16th, 1962; a clip from "The French Chef" (1963-1973) with Julia Child; a selection from "At Issue" (1963); a "Casals Master Class" featuring a televised broadcast of a lesson from famous cellist Pablo Casals; a clip from the artist profile show "USA Artists"; several selections from "NET Playhouse" (1966-1972) featuring performances by Dustin Hoffman, Johnny Cash, Jack Palance, Jon Voigt, and Martin Sheen; a clip from "Nina Simone – The Sound of Soul" (1968); Ossie Davis featured in clips from "History of the Negro People: The Negro and the South"; clips from the 1963 WNET documentary "Take This Hammer" featuring James Baldwin; Bill Cosby in discussion on "Kaleidoscope"; a clip from the news discussion series "Black Journal" (1969-1977) featuring Lou House, William Greaves, Kathleen Cleaver, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Huey P. Newton, and others; a clip from an "Utica Club" beer commercial (1965); various excerpts from "Sesame Street" (1969-); clips from the program "Free Time" (1970-1972) including that of Yoko Ono and John Lennon; clips from the series "The Great American Dream Machine" (1971-1972) including an abstract comedy performance by Chevy Chase and Ken Shapiro, an opinion piece from Andy Rooney, and a discussion segment from Studs Terkel; excerpts from "TV Lab" (1972-1984), including dance footage choreographed by Twila Tharp, "electronic impressions" of New York City by artist Nam June Paik, and a segment by Douglas Davis; and selections from the documentary program "An American Family" (1973).

Details

  • NETWORK: WNET
  • DATE: 2012
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:29:33
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: 108585
  • GENRE: Public affairs/documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Public affairs/Documentaries
  • SERIES RUN:
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • Stephen Battaglio … Guest
    • Bill Moyers … Guest
    • Richard D. Heffner … Guest
    • Herb Homes … Guest
    • Jac Venza … Guest
    • Ward Chamberlin … Guest
    • Joan Ganz Cooney … Guest
    • Alvin Perlmutter … Guest
    • Sam Pollard … Guest
    • Robert Kotlowitz … Guest
    • James Earl Jones … Guest
    • Perry Miller Adato … Guest
    • Gary Knell … Guest
    • Bill Kobin … Guest
    • Craig Gilbert … Guest
    • Susan Raymond … Guest
    • Alan Raymond … Guest
    • James Baldwin
    • Pablo Casals
    • Johnny Cash
    • Chevy Chase
    • Julia Child
    • Kathleen Cleaver
    • Bill Cosby
    • Douglas Davis
    • Ossie Davis
    • William Greaves
    • Dustin Hoffman
    • Lou House
    • John Hubley
    • Jesse Jackson
    • John Lennon
    • Bill Loud
    • Lance Loud
    • Patricia Loud
    • Don Mischer
    • Lloyd Morrisett
    • Edward R. Murrow
    • Huey P. Newton
    • Ono Yoko
    • Paik Nam June
    • Jack Palance
    • Andy Rooney
    • Ken Shapiro
    • Martin Sheen
    • Nina Simone
    • Studs Terkel
    • Twila Tharp
    • Jon Voigt