He, and every other serious collector of cool but somewhat oddball stuff, face two major obstacles, say museum curators: finding a museum or university with the space to take their treasures, and persuading deep-pocketed individuals who might bankroll the endeavor that there’s really any compelling reason to preserve something like Maxwell Smart’s shoephone.
“People hold television and popular culture so close to their hearts and embrace it so passionately,” said Dwight Bowers, curator of entertainment collections for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, who calls Mr. Comisar’s collection very impressive. “But they don’t put it on the same platform as military history or political history.”
When the Smithsonian acquired Archie Bunker’s chair from the seminal TV comedy “All in the Family,” Mr. Bowers said, museum officials took plenty of flak from those offended that some sitcom prop was being placed down the hallway from the nation’s presidential artifacts.
The University of California at Santa Cruz took similar heat when it accepted the Grateful Dead archives, 30 years of recordings, videos, papers, posters and other memorabilia given by the band, said university archivist Nicholas Meriwether.
“What I always graciously say is that if you leave the art and the music aside for one moment, whatever you think of it, what you can say is they are still a huge part of understanding the story of the 1960s and of understanding the nation’s counterculture,” Mr. Meriwether said.
Mr. Comisar sees his television collection serving the same purpose, tracing societal changes TV shows documented from the post-World War II years to the present.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation looked into establishing such a museum some years back, and Mr. Comisar’s collection came up at the time, said Karen Herman, curator of the foundation’s Archive of American Television.
Instead, the foundation settled on an online archive containing more than 3,000 hours of filmed oral history interviews with more than 700 people.
Mr. Comisar, meanwhile, believes he’s finally found the right site for a museum, in Phoenix, where he’s been lining up supporters. He estimates it will cost $35 million and several years to open the doors, but he hopes to have a preview center in place by next year.
Mo Stein, a prominent architect who heads the Phoenix Community Alliance and is working with him, says one of the next steps will be finding a proper space for the collection.
But, really, why all the fuss over a place to save one of the suits Regis Philbin wore on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”?
“In Shakespeare’s time, his work was considered pretty low art,” Mr. Comisar said.
Oh, he’ll admit that “Mike and Molly,” the modern TV love story of a couple who fall for each other at Overeaters Anonymous, may never rank in the same category as “Romeo and Juliet.”
“But what about a show like ‘Star Trek’?” he asked.