In a Friendly Fashion
Public television and radio are not just visible alternatives, they are options of sanity to the billion dollar arcade called commercial television, which makes so much money doing its worst that it cannot afford to do its best. The American public will not allow public broadcasting to perish if they know what the stakes really are.
Fred W. Friendly
In the history of public television, 1967 stands out as a very special year—although it was not, as some say mistakenly, the year of public television's birth. Nevertheless, in the months of 1967 the medium was renamed and restructured, gained a new and sometimes nettlesome partner, went into long pants with its first regularly scheduled live television series, and laid the foundations for its most successful children's show.
Of the year's developments, the change in the system's name from "educational" to "public" television was certainly the most visible. It was not, however, the most significant. In the process of gaining a new name, public television had been placed "under new management." When Congress legislated the Corporation for Public Broadcasting into existence, leadership of the system shifted into its inexperienced hands. The process brought public broadcasting into a partnership with the Congress out of which would come new money, palpable political risks, and consequences the movement's founders could not have anticipated fifteen years earlier.
While politicians in Washington were tinkering with the system's structure, developments were taking place in New York that would have a profound effect on the system's programming. In one corner of Manhattan, a small cadre of highly creative people were noodling with an idea that would soon develop into public television's most popular children's television series. Their story
will be told in a later chapter. Our immediate concern is with another group, the Public Broadcast Laboratory, which was working in another corner of Manhattan, creating public television's first weekly live show. PBL gave ample evidence that the Ford Foundation, little involved with 1967's other major changes, still exercised considerable influence over the medium it had virtually fathered.
PBL (the name of the show as well as the initials of the producing organization) was born of a plot hatched by Fred W. Friendly in his new role as television adviser to Ford president McGeorge Bundy. Friendly saw PBL as the answer to public broadcasting's need to grow up, to become real television. Shortly after joining the Foundation, Friendly visited NET's tape-duplication plant in Ann Arbor. He came away impressed with its efficiency and appalled at its necessity. Spending up to $1 million a year to make copies of programs to be mailed out to stations was, in his view, an absurdity in an age of electronic delivery. The system, he said, was riding to the moon on the pony express. The three commercial networks were covering the nation with long lines leased from AT&T and no more than a single copy of each program. And they were doing it instantaneously, not waiting until the postman trundled the tapes to more than a hundred separate stations. "A network without interconnection is not a network at all, but only a film syndicate," Friendly declared.
Friendly knew that NET had little choice: the cost of leased lines would eat up its entire budget and more, leaving nothing for the programs. He recognized the dilemma, but that didn't mean he accepted it. Not surprisingly, he had an idea. Satellite technology, now an accepted part of our everyday experience, was then barely on the technical horizon, still the stuff of science fiction. (Indeed, it was the science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke that had first suggested the possibility of satellite transmission.) Friendly, a visionary then as now, foresaw in the emerging satellite technology an opportunity to bring to public television the most advanced technology and build a base of financial stability. His imagination had been stirred by something that ABC had done the previous year. The youngest of the three networks, ABC was fighting its way out
of third place in the prime-time sweepstakes and had sought FCC approval to launch its own satellite. The new technology would enable it to drop the use of AT&T'S expensive long lines and substantially reduce its program distribution costs. To sweeten the deal and help persuade the FCC to reverse its policy against privately operated satellites, ABC promised public television a free ride on the "bird."
ABC's petition opened a thorny public-policy issue: should satellite technology, developed by the government with billions of taxpayer dollars, be handed over to private interests for their own use and exploitation? The FCC responded to ABC with a Notice of Inquiry inviting comment from all interested parties. The Ford Foundation, first in line with comments, proposed an idea that had sprouted in Friendly's fecund imagination: instead of allowing ABC to operate the satellite for its own benefit, why not put it in nonprofit hands to serve not one but all three networks and provide free interconnection service for the public system? Each network would save a bundle on its distribution costs and since the technology was developed at public expense it would seem appropriate to channel those savings into public television's strained coffers. It was a brilliant leap of imagination, a concept worthy of one of television's most creative minds. Not only would the satellite, operated as a public not-for-profit service, propel the public-television system into the space age, it would also provide the system with a steady and secure source of income—thus taking the Foundation off the hook. What's more, it would repay in service some part of the public's multibillion-dollar investment in the space program. Friendly even had a name for it: "The People's Dividend."
Bundy warmed to the idea immediately and ordered a task force from the Foundation to work day and night to draft a proposal before the FCC's deadline. It was important, said Bundy, "lest complete control of the satellite be given away to other interested parties without regard for noncommercial television." The proposal, much of it written by Bundy himself, called for the establishment of a "Broadcaster's Non-Profit Satellite Service." In addition to providing for six commercial channels, the plan called
for five channels for noncommercial use, one for national public television and four for regional instructional services. Of course all the giant communications companies—Comsat, AT&T, Western Union, and IT&T—had good reason to make certain that the Ford satellite never lifted off the launch pad. Bundy countered with a plea for time, not only time for Ford to answer the opposition, but time for the FCC to formulate sound public policy on satellite regulation before taking precipitate action. And time is what they got—more than they needed or wanted. In a demonstration of bureaucratic torpor (induced, one suspects, by the kind of hardball common carriers sometimes play) the proposal was becalmed and ultimately forgotten, killed with kind words and bureaucratic inaction. The words of praise in the press ("a historic new watershed," "will undoubtedly stand as a historic occasion in the evolution of broadcasting") framed an ironic obituary for an idea that had widened the scope of public policy and stirred hopes among public broadcasters.
The "Bundy Bird" and its aftermath were not without positive consequences, including the unusual and effective partnership forged between Bundy and Friendly, two men of widely disparate backgrounds and temperament. McGeorge Bundy, the Boston Brahmin and a descendant of the legendary Lowells, had been educated at Groton, Yale, and Harvard and had been the intimate friend and counselor of two presidents. He was a man both admired and feared for his coldly dispassionate and rational approach to matters. Fred W. Friendly, by contrast, came from the lower-middle classes of New York and Providence and graduated from Providence Business College. He had fought his way to the top of his profession, first as producer and downfield blocker for the legendary Ed Murrow (See It Now ), then as president of CBS News. In the process, he had gained a reputation as a man of aggressive ambition whose interests of the moment were nothing less than obsessive. Few among us understood the symbiosis that drew them together, unless perhaps it fulfilled their mutual needs. Bundy drew heavily for counsel on Friendly's street smarts, not only about television but about other Ford initiatives as well, partly out of respect for Friendly's skills at selling an idea and infecting
everyone within earshot with his own contagious enthusiasm. Friendly, for his part, probably found in Bundy a substitute for the departed Murrow and a link with the Establishment—someone who gave his presence respectability and status in those quarters where the self-made Friendly felt most uncomfortable.
The aftermath of the "Bundy Bird" had another payoff. In addition to capturing the attention of the nation's front pages on public television's behalf and adding fuel to the fires of concern about its economic plight, Friendly had also succeeded in making a case for the system's need for interconnection. His hope of achieving it, by pulling the public system into the realm of "real" television with a free ride on the satellite, went down with the Bundy Bird. Friendly, impetuous and impatient, was not, however, one to sit back and wait for others to shape the future—not when his restless soul hankered to do the shaping. If the satellite was not to be the answer, he had another plan.
In December 1966, the Ford Foundation announced a $10 million fund to launch "a two-year demonstration of the power of national interconnection." Friendly had two objectives. One was to jettison NET's outmoded system of program distribution with a demonstration of lively and live interconnected television that would, in the modest words of its author, "mobilize the hearts and minds of the nation." The other objective was rooted in the fanciful notion that college campuses contain rich lodes of unmined television talent willing and able to parade their erudition before the cameras, a notion not shared by those of us who had worked over those tailings years before. Friendly's visits to a score of leading university campuses and meetings with their presidents produced enough commitments to form a consortium of two dozen universities. They were joined together as the Columbia University Experimental Broadcast Laboratory and headquartered on the Morningside Heights campus where Friendly, simultaneously with his Foundation responsibilities, was Edward R. Murrow Professor of Broadcast Journalism. But when Columbia's trustees realized that the university had enough problems without taking on a highly visible and experimental television program, they opted
out, the consortium came unglued, and the college plan was abandoned.
Friendly, undaunted, pushed ahead with his plan "to mobilize the hearts and minds of the nation" by recasting the project as the Public Broadcast Laboratory. PBL was still to be a live, interconnected weekly television show, but without its links to college campuses. Instead, PBL was joined "administratively" to the corporate body of a stunned NET–stunned because it found that PBL was to be a "semi-autonomous" project. That seemed to mean it was to be a part of but did not belong to the network. No one, certainly not the troubled souls at NET, missed the irony of the situation: NET and PBL , both created by the Ford Foundation, and both involved in producing television programs for the same public system, had been cast as rivals, not just for broadcast time and facilities, talent, and ideas, but for Father Ford's handouts. The rivalry was ready made for breeding dissension, lowering morale, and promoting treachery. In time, it did all three.
Friendly's decision to create a new and rival production organization when the Foundation was already supporting another reveals something of the complexity, if not the perversity, of the former CBS News chief. Friendly, a former colleague of his once observed, "always came equipped with his own precipice from which to jump." By creating the precipice he called PBL , Friendly clearly aimed to shake up a slumbering, self-satisfied system. His faith in NET was low because, he said, it lacked the vitality to work the miracle of reinventing public broadcasting. He aimed to do nothing less. But first he had to find the people. Public television, he complained, "has not attracted enough first-class broadcasters." If PBL was to breathe life into the stodgy body of educational television, he would need men and women "with fire in their bellies." Fortunately, he knew where to find them: back at the West 57th Street headquarters of CBS News.
The first to be recruited was Avram (Av) Westin, an award-winning producer and long-time veteran of CBS News. Westin was to be the project's executive director. He and Friendly had worked together and had, by all accounts, hit it off well. Among the others who jumped ship at CBS News to join the experimental weekly
magazine show were Stuart Sucherman, Tom Kennedy, and Gerald Slater, all of whom would figure later as key players in other public-television contexts. For the rest of his team, Westin chose content specialists: for national affairs, John Wicklein, formerly a New York Times and ABC News reporter; for foreign affairs, Robert McCabe, and for science, Joseph Russin, both from Newsweek ; and for the physical and natural sciences, John Osmundsen, who had been with both Look and Life magazines. Lewis Freedman, a veteran of both public and commercial television and the producer of such highly regarded shows as Play of the Week and CBS'S innovative Camera Three , joined the team as cultural director. Freedman was to play an even more important role in public television's future. To supervise this high-powered team, Westin recruited Robert Hoyt from Canada, where Hoyt had been producing CBC'S lively and provocative news magazine This Hour Has Seven Days .
One of the keys to a television magazine's success is the person who gives the show unity by tying the disparate segments together, its on-air host. PBL 's host was Edward P. Morgan, an ABC anchor in the Murrow tradition, well regarded and with years of broadcasting experience, but almost all of it in radio. He was assisted, however, by two highly experienced television correspondents, Tom Pettit and Robert MacNeil, both from NBC News.
The details of how this first-class team was integrated into the PBL organizational structure might be irrelevant, of course, unless the structure affected the quality of the show. In PBL 's case, it did. In attaching PBL to the NET corporate structure for administrative purposes, Friendly steadfastly refused to see PBL fully integrated with the older organization, decreeing that it was to be "a separate and distinct division" of NET. Oddly, while a committee of the NET board was given the power to appoint the PBL executive director (Westin), it was only to be "with the advice and consent of the President of the Ford Foundation " (emphasis added). Even more oddly, Westin was responsible to a committee of the NET board but not to the NET president, Jack White, and then only for those phases of the operation "other than content of the broadcasts."
For program content, Westin reported to an Editorial Policy Board of content specialists that included both journalists and
academicians and was chaired by the dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, Edward W. Barrett. Responsible to not one but two committees—and with an actively kibitzing Ford Foundation bankroller on the sidelines—Westin found himself atop a hydra-headed structure that produced confusion, frustration, and anger and promoted an organizational malaise from which PBL never fully recovered.
PBL 's Editorial Policy Board proved the most debilitating. The twelve men (there were no women) met every week while the show was on the air to review plans with Westin and his staff, preview segments, offer suggestions, and make policy. (The minutes of the meetings note that Friendly was also present as a "guest.") According to its chair, the editorial board "would not attempt to edit scripts or shows but to set broad policy . . . [to] discuss future programming plans and review projects of [a] singularly novel or controversial nature." No matter how well constituted the editorial board, and it was one of the best, nor how well intentioned its actions, the whole was a calamitous example of programming by committee and proved, in the long run, to be an inevitable and unnecessary damper on creativity.
Eleven months before the show debuted, Westin shared his concept of PBL in a memo to his staff. The show, he wrote, would demonstrate "what responsible intellectual persons can accomplish, given free rein to their editorial and critical judgments." As if to give meaning to its label as a laboratory, he added that "no technique for conveying information will be overlooked and new techniques will be developed . . . the phrase 'it can't be done that way' will not be heard among us." The memo wound up with the earnest proclamation: "We cannot fail because we must not."PBL would be burdened with a plethora of such heady rhetoric.
Friendly decided to schedule the show in a Sunday evening slot and to insist that stations carry it live. It was a deliberate effort to lift the system by its own bootstraps. At the time, most local stations, lacking the funds to program over the weekends, did not broadcast on Sundays. PBL 's three-hour magazine would not only fill those Sunday evening hours, but more important, by forcing
stations to light up on the weekends, it would increase public television's presence in each local community. The objective was a noble and needed prod to progress, and, for the most part, it worked. (New York's Channel 13 tried unsuccessfully to delay the show to a weekday to save Sunday transmission costs.) Unfortunately, broadcasting the program on Sunday evenings proved good for policy but disastrous for winning new audiences. The otherwise astute scheduling slotted PBL against the week's toughest commercial competition: the high-rated Smothers Brothers Show and Ed Sullivan's venerable variety hour Toast of the Town . It was a tough placement for an established show, much less a new and untried one. The prospect of airing three hours of "real" television—live, provocative, and with the promise of familiar faces and names—should have been greeted by the stations with gratitude. Instead, many were nervous and apprehensive at the thought of releasing a weekly program, sight unseen, fearing that it might contain material "unsuited" to their local audience. A few were even troubled over the show's aegis—the "liberally oriented Ford Foundation" and its resident mischief-maker Fred Friendly—and the fact that it was produced by a platoon of commercial types from the wrong side of the nonprofit fence. Station reactions ranged from a cautiously guarded wait-and-see attitude to outright skepticism.
PBL debuted on Sunday evening, November 5, 1967. Almost a month earlier, Friendly had written Westin what was "intended to be my last memorandum to you before the premiere." It wasn't the last, but it was a classic example of Friendly prose. The subject, he told Westin, was "Failure."
Don't be afraid to fail sometimes or you will fall into that ancient patter of Safe ideas, the pursuit of the obvious, which leads to turgid prose and pictures for their own sake. Don't be afraid to be controversial, but don't make the mistake of believing that conflict in itself can be a base on balls to success. We expect you to be dynamic, but we also expect you to be dull, sometimes. The right to be deadly serious on certain crucial issues is part of your birthright. Remember that exposé by itself is not necessarily enlightening—street fires make an ugly glare that do not give long-term illumination. We expect you to be fair but not so balanced to every
side on every subject that you become predictable. As a viewer I expect to be made to feel uncomfortable. The Ford Foundation anticipates some discomfiture, but I can assure you they can stand the heat. As a former producer, I expect to feel on numerous occasions that "I could have done it better," but I promise never to say it to you. . . . Good luck . . . you and your other associates are the ones who must put their professional reputation where our mouths are. The way for me to thank you is to leave you alone.
After cautioning that "you won't be as good as your good notices say you are, and you won't be as bad as your worst critics say," Friendly warned Westin not to expect easy marks from the television press. He was prescient about that.
Tuesday morning's New York Times contented itself with a catalogue of critical comments from other sources, most of them negative; Friendly was quoted as saying it was a beginning but disappointing. On the other hand, Harriet Van Horne (New York Post ) dismissed the opening effort as "bombast, pretense and warmed-over sludge." If PBL 's crew hoped for happier words from New York's most influential media critic, they were let down by Jack Gould's review in the Sunday Times . Gould wrote that PBL 's premiere show failed to blaze new paths: with every advantage of money and talent, PBL "surrendered to the blight of awkward confusion and dullness." Sagging spirits at NET's headquarters were lifted by Gould's parting jab at PBL 's hubris: "Supporters of public broadcasting will hope that PBL will acquire the virtue of modesty and now stop suggesting that all others in noncommercial broadcasting were sad sacks until the laboratory crashed into the breach. Without the great resources at the disposal of PBL for one evening of TV, individual stations and NET often have performed far better for a week."
The reception of the premiere show was not much more welcoming among the affiliates. The show was not carried by 29 of the 119 affiliates, including the stations of the South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia state networks. Most cited "financial reasons." But the pattern of noncarriage suggests otherwise. The premiere included a performance of Douglas Turner Ward's Day of Absence , the controversial off-Broadway play about people in a
small Southern town who awaken one morning to find their black citizens gone and their town paralyzed. The satire, performed broadly by the Negro Ensemble Theater with the town's white citizens portrayed by black players in white face, was too much for Some stations.
It was an inauspicious beginning. In a delicately phrased memo, PBL 's Editorial Policy Board reacted by asserting that PBL "should be more than commercial television without restraints." Its proposed remedy was more frequent and early consultation with the Board on programming plans and a firmer Board hand in policy. "The Board feels obliged to be in on the take-offs as well as the landings (or crashes) in the case of controversial or explosive program segments . . . [and] must decline to be a buffer for that which it has not helped design."
The unwieldy machinery was immediately set in motion to rescue the remainder of the season. To a degree it worked. By the time PBL capped its cameras the following spring, after grinding out twenty-six weekly Sunday-night shows, the experimental series could look back proudly on several modest successes, including a tough investigative report on the meat-packing industry, the television premiere of Pinter's The Dwarfs , and a remarkable film recording Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last three months of life.
Notwithstanding the occasional successes, the prevailing mood at season's end was disappointment, particularly among the members of the Editorial Policy Board. In a six-page memo to NET chairman Everett Case, they complained that PBL had not even approached its objective of being innovative and experimental. "Unhappily, our influence has been almost entirely negative . . . the staff has, in general, aimed low and has by conventional execution, often competent, shot a lot of ducks on the water." They recommended that Westin be replaced by someone "with a sounder and more sophisticated editorial judgment." Then, with a gentle swipe at the hand that fed them, the Board offered Ford a carefully worded suggestion. The term "banker," they said, "does not accurately describe the rather strong entrepreneurial hand which the Foundation exercised—and probably had to exercise—in the genesis of PBL . Looking to the future, however, we
believe that a more normally remote relationship between foundation and grantee would be good for PBL —and, indeed, for the Foundation."
The seriousness, even the irreparability, of the problems between the Editorial Policy Board and the PBL staff were clearly conveyed near the close of the first season in what the Board called its basic recommendation: "Unless the present situation is soon changed, PBL 's 1968–69 season should be cancelled." As summer drifted into fall, and the deadline approached for a decision, the distances between PBL , NET, and Ford were alive with flying memos as each partner staked out a position. The Editorial Policy Board wanted Westin out and even threatened to resign if he didn't go. NET wanted Westin out, too, but wanted the Editorial Policy Board removed from operations as well. Friendly, however, wanted Westin to remain, and both he and Westin wanted to be rid of the Editorial Policy Board.
In the end the "bankers" prevailed. Westin stayed and the Editorial Board resigned, replaced by a small "program advisory committee" that was to meet infrequently and deal only with policy. But there were compromises. To soften complaints against Westin's editorial judgment, Frederick M. Bohen, a former staff assistant in the Johnson White House, was made PBL 's executive editor. Bohen shared Westin's authority but had specific responsibility for "program content as it affects taste, judgment and responsibility." The show itself was trimmed, cut from two hours to ninety minutes, and swapped its multi-topic magazine format for shows with a single theme. NET's position was strengthened by a change that required both Westin and Bohen to report to NET's chief executive Jack White and not directly to the NET board as Westin had done the previous year.
On the whole, PBL 's second season fared better than its first. Critics had warm words for the season's opener, Arthur and Evelyn Barron's independently produced documentary Birth and Death . And the first of Frederick Wiseman's impressive and extensive body of cinema-verité documentaries, Law and Order , was praised for not portraying the Kansas City Police "as either all saints or sadists." On other Sunday nights, PBL investigated the Pentagon's
decision-making process, provided television's first critical examination of the burgeoning cable industry, and probed the nature of television news. But some critics found the second season, like the first, "disappointing." Several efforts to be more experimental fell disastrously flat. A performance by Jerzy Grotowski's Polish Laboratory Theater of Wyspianski's Akropolis —in Polish and without subtitles—elicited load groans from the stations and a comment from the Village Voice that it was "grindingly tedious." In another experimental approach, six independent filmmakers of disparate viewpoints made personal statements about America during the 1968 election campaign. It was summarily dismissed by one critic as a psychedelic field day with no redeeming features.
By April 1969—two years and $12.5 million later—the Ford Foundation's noble if quixotic experiment came to an end. If, as some felt, PBL failed to deliver on its promise to "use television as it has never been used before," it is worth remembering that no group of television professionals could have lived up to the press puffery that preceded its launch: the show was the victim of its own hype. In one respect, PBL was nothing less than a brassy attempt to reinvent public television. Fred Friendly, impatient with what it had been, was obsessed with a vision of what it could become: a forceful, vital, and effective interconnected network, linking the nation through the shared experience of live programming. Ironically, his experiment with live programming may have had some effect in persuading Congress to provide for systemwide interconnection in its landmark 1967 Public Broadcasting Act. But if it did, the legislators acted out of a different, even contrary vision. Neither they nor the fragmented leadership of public television share Friendly's concept of networking, implying as it does the simultaneous airing of programs nationally. (Even public television's notable exception, the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour , encountered resistance from stations at the start.) Both Congress and the system itself cling to the vision of Friendly's predecessor, Scott Fletcher, who saw public television as many local outlets serviced by a national "library" from which programs best suited to individual local tastes could be "withdrawn." The interconnec-
tion, when it finally did happen, was seen primarily as the most cost-efficient means of making the library of programs available to its member stations.
The PBL story has a curious sidebar. In a move that is more than coincidence, both NBC and CBS mounted news magazines of their own in the fall of 1968, a year after PBL 's debut. NBC's First Tuesday was unsuccessful, disappeared, and was replaced by a series of equally unsuccessful efforts. But the CBS version, 60 Minutes , not only survived but also rose to the top of the rating charts, and it continues to this day to serve the network and its audience. PBL influenced the future shape of the public system as well: stations were opened to weekend broadcasting, the way was paved for a PBS-managed network of stations, and the medium was given a much-needed infusion of talented artists and producers, most of whom would help shape the public system's future.
Before that uncertain future took shape, however, the PBL story had one more climactic scene to play out, a tableau of intrigue and treachery brought about by the system's perverse penchant for self-dramatization. The tale began in the offices of PBL during the last days of its final season. As a means of memorializing Ford's two-year experiment, Fred Friendly had invited executive editor Fred Bohen and his PBL colleagues individually to commit to paper their thoughts on the future course of public television and the role they thought the Foundation ought to play in that future. In an atmosphere loaded with suspicion and mutual mistrust and with rumors of takeovers running rampant, Bohen's confidential memorandum, still in draft form, was stolen from his desk. It was never established by whom and for whom the memo was stolen, but whoever stole it was obviously determined to expose what they saw as the perfidy of the PBL upstarts by leaking the contents of the memo to Variety . The widely read weekly of show business snapped it up with undisguised relish and published excerpts under a front-page banner headline: "Life in Public TV Jungle."
Bohen's purloined memorandum had incorporated, in addition to his own thoughts, the observations of some of his PBL colleagues, including Lewis Freedman's cranky complaint that "NET has the smell of stodginess and tired people, and, except for Bill
Kobin, its officers are inferior to men recruited to PBL ." Stuart Sucherman's contribution was a proposal to merge PBL into NET "but with the establishment of top PBL personnel at the highest administration of NET." Bohen, for his part, recommended that Ford drop its concern for and the funding of "the vast number of small, parochial, timid or uncompromising local ETV stations including, perhaps, such moribund stations as Philadelphia and Chicago."
Ironically, if Variety had published the Bohen memo in its entirety, the aftershocks would have been less intense; the full story is usually less threatening than the headlines. Bohen, after first noting public television's absolute lack of an organizing philosophy and after rejecting quick fixes like PBL , proposed that Ford and the newly created Corporation for Public Broadcasting foster a long-range solution built around two national networks, one concerned exclusively with news and public affairs—with an emphasis upon analysis, not topicality—and the other devoted to the arts, the humanities, and features. Both, he emphasized, would be based in strong local stations and depend upon other local stations as "bureaus." His final recommendation was to strengthen those key local stations that had proved themselves. Subsequent events, notably the creation of a national public-affairs center in Washington and the absorption of NET into the New York public channel, both of which occurred in the months following the publication of the memo, suggested that Bohen's recommendations received a sympathetic reading at Ford.
The melodramatic impact of the Variety revelations can only be understood in the context of the times. Public broadcasting, poised on a precipice of change, was edgy, suffering from what the philosopher Eric Hoffer observed was the inevitable crisis of self-esteem provoked by change. The events that began in the critical year of 1967 came to flower in the spring of 1969. New organizations arose and others were retired. Behind the moving scenery, the locus of power shifted into new and untried hands. A system that had survived on the margins of the media for fifteen years was about to experience a rebirth, a new name, and a new partner.