To have produced a finished book is the dream of every ink stained scrivener. But the act of writing one—the solitary, agonizing hours of trying to force shapeless ideas into the rigid framework of language—well, that's another kettle of flounder. The hardest part, I am told, is getting started. I wouldn't know. My own start was eased, if not propelled, by visions of a return to Villa Serbolloni, the Rockefeller Foundation's study center on Italy's Lake Como. I had briefly known the Villa's delights of sight, taste, and talk as a participant in a week-long planning conference. Extended stays at the Villa, it was explained, were reserved for those writing books. Thus did I resolve to reach the ineffable by tackling the impossible. With the encouragement and critical support of Howard Klein, whose skills as a catalyst to creative activity were unmatched during his years with the Rockefeller Foundation, I returned to the Villa a year later to begin writing.
Once begun, the task fed upon the kindness of friends. I have many to thank. Erik Barnouw, whose three-volume history of broadcasting has placed all chroniclers of the media in his debt, offered the helpful counsel of one who had gone this way before. Anne Mandelbaum, by volunteering her editor's eye to an early draft, provided the confidence that fueled the writing effort for many months, if not years. Fred Friendly gave palpable support by reminding the writer that it is all up there in the head, it just needs decoding, even as his own books tumbled from the press at three times my decoding speed. Paul Kaufman and George Gerbner read early drafts and offered valuable suggestions. I am particularly indebted to Willard D. Rowland, Jr., whose extensive writings, both alone and with Michael Tracey, have given me a critical perspective on the public medium. His detailed critique of this work helped to sharpen its focus and to link its story with earlier attempts to promote the public media in an America obsessed with the libertarian notion that only an enlightened and unfettered private enterprise can best serve the public
interest. Rowland's chronicle of our failures in this regard should be required reading for those who make our laws.
A host of friends and former colleagues volunteered to check the details of this chronicle against their own recollections of events in which they were participants. Particular chapters were read by James Armsey, David D. Connell, Joan Ganz Cooney, Norman Cousins, Robert Davidson, Curtis W. Davis, Robert Hatch, William Kobin, Gerald Lesser, Lloyd Morrisett, Edward Palmer, Alvin Perlmutter, Peter G. Peterson, Stuart Sucherman, John F. White, Jack Willis, and Frederick Wiseman. Their suggestions added essential elements to the story.
Few of us welcome the word that we've tripped on our own tongue, misspoken, misspelled, or simply wandered off into the gaseous space of ambiguity, but, with good fortune, I have had the help of a cadre of text detectives whose meticulousness is matched by a genial and gentle manner. Beverley Day and Irma Commanday Bauman helped with early versions, and Meredith Johnson vetted a later draft. But it was in the final edit, administered with an awesome attention to detail by Julie Carlson and Suzanne Samuel of the University of California Press, that my metaphors were finally unmixed, my gender-specific nouns neutered, and my words burnished to a sharper clarity than is natural with me.
Other willing hands helped with the mundane work of producing a readable manuscript. Before PCs entered my life, Antonia Hyde spent many days on a Selectric, reducing chaotic pages to neat typescript, all of which would later be converted to a computer file by Sherry Delamarter. Once in the computer, only the intervention of Marian McDonald, who understands these things, saved the work from the mysterious void of accidental deletions.
Although public television has yet to produce a substantial body of critical and historical literature, two books, one by John Walker Powell and the other by Robert Blakely, were invaluable in searching out the details of public television's beginnings. No less valuable in chronicling the later years were NET's periodic reports to the Ford Foundation, an incidental contribution to the history of the period. I am much in the debt of David Stone for his kindness and generosity in making available to me his then unpublished manuscript on public television's troubled relations with the Nixon Administration; the 1985 publication of Nixon and the Politics of Public Television added a vital chapter to the public television story. To the WNET reference library and its small staff—Victoria Dawson, Harriet Obus, and Colin McQuillan—much is owed for help in searching out other files and articles. I am also grateful to Sharon Zechowski, a former graduate student, for her patience in organizing the archival photos.
An enterprise of this length feeds on the moral strength of a legion of helpful friends and colleagues, among them Win Murphy, John Boyer, Jeanne Alexander, Iñaki Zabaleta, Liz Dawson Lopez, and many others remembered if not recorded. The patience of my own family—my wife, Beverley, and four children—was tempered with a humor that helped to preserve sanity. Milton Stern aided me in finding a home for the manuscript on the campus where my undergraduate years were spent. And there, to my good fortune, it was put in the capable editorial hands of Naomi Schneider, whose caring patience and skill in transforming it into a book has the writer's everlasting gratitude. Notwithstanding the valuable help given by the editors and a host of friends, the writer bears the full responsibility for what appears in these pages.