A Visit To Thirteen

“Would I bring my camera,” my normally camera shy west coaster asked? “Yes.” Seriously, this is like a disease with me

Do you know T.J. Lubinsky? He produces the ‘original artists’ pop music shows that help public TV stations make some money to stay on-the-air. He’s the King of PBS pledge break specials. He was in New York City Saturday night which means my secret friend from the San Fernando Valley (who works for T.J.) was in too!

They were at Thirteen–the mothership of public television. Thirteen (actually WNET-TV) maintains two studios in a small space next to Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. It’s so small the control room is in another building farther downtown!

The exterior walls are glass which allows the city to be incorporated into camera shots if desired. It also lets some city noise in, though I consider that a fair price.

TJ and Cousin Brucie were hosting the breaks in the music special where Thirteen asks for money. There were guests including Barbara Feldon, Mickey Dolenz and Denise Richardson.

“Would I bring my camera,” my normally camera shy west coaster asked?

Seriously, this is like a disease with me. When someone encourages me to take more pictures I froth at the mouth.

Everyone who had their picture taken wanted their picture taken. The lighting was mostly very good. The people working there were exceptionally cooperative.

In case you’re wondering Mickey Dolenz and Barbara Feldon were as nice as could be. She still has that amazing voice. It hasn’t changed.

I first met Brucie in 1967. I vividly remember the day. I got to tell him he was very nice to me back then. He seemed glad to hear that.

He has to be older than he looks or acts.

I have a list of people who’d like photos from my visit. Coming.

Rod Serling Documentary

I have two DVRs. One is from Comcast. Its strength is being able to record digital cable channels. As DVRs go, it’s not very good.

The second DVR is self built. It runs MythTV software – a totally free Linux based application. I claim to have installed it on old throwaway hardware, but there were enhancements as I went along. It’s not totally reclaimed from scrap.

MythTV’s strength is its software. It is elegantly programmed and takes full advantage of a MySQL database. That means I can search for TV shows by title, genre, actors. You get the idea. It even knows how to record a show once, no matter how many times it airs or how many channels carry it.

I can also program what Tivo calls a ‘season pass.’ Every episode of a single show gets scarfed up on my hard drive.

That’s what I did with PBS’ American Masters series. OK, I’ve only watched a few, but they’re on my drive, just in case.

Tonight, after Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, I decided to delve into the episode on Rod Serling. Good move.

As a kid I watched Serling’s Twilight Zone. I remember having the crap scared out of me by some episodes. They were genuinely scary without being violent and with no special effects – none!

I knew they were good, because I heard they were good. I was too young to make that kind of value judgment on my own.

Now I understand more of what Serling was about. His work seen today, some of it fifty years old or more, is very impressive.

Rod Serling worked in the Golden Age of Television. You could make the case he was an integral reason it was the Golden Age.

Black and white clips of The Twilight Zone, Studio One, Kraft Television Theater and other dramatic anthologies present TV as a different animal. Writing and acting were critical. Production values were an afterthought.

Nearly every clip has featured actors I recognized from appearances long after the 50s. Many, like Robert Redford, Mickey Rooney, Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith and Jack Klugman had distinguished careers beyond television. There were also quirky scenes with actors out of place, like Ed Wynn, normally a slapstick comedian, playing a fight trainer in Requiem for a Heavyweight, or 14 year old Mickey Dolenz in The Velvet Alley, part of the Playhouse 90 series. Mike Wallace is even there, lit cigarette in hand, interviewing Rod Serling one-on-one.

Today’s episodic television looks for quick payoffs. TV shows have multiple plots going simultaneously. We no longer have the attention span to absorb ethereal writing. Serling would be quite unhappy. Serling’s type of television isn’t done today.

There’s no way to go back in time. That’s a shame. I’m just glad there are moments like this when I can take another look at why television became such an influential medium and why, even today, so many clearly remember these shows.