- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Steve Allen describes the birth of “The Tonight Show.” Isabel Sanford talks about her path from theater to “The Jeffersons.” Writer-producer James L. Brooks pulls back the curtain on the creation of “The Simpsons” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” while leading lady Miss Moore offers her own perspective.

And Walter Cronkite is on the record about his sole on-air product endorsement - for cigarettes.

Their interviews are part of an online gold mine of TV history, EmmyTVLegends.org, created by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation.

About 600 interviews have been taped for more than a decade by volunteers, including scholars and industry members. So far, about 200 have been posted at the site that launched this week, just before Sunday’s Emmy Awards, airing at 8 p.m. on CBS.

“We really want television fans, and people who have great memories of television they watched growing up, to have fun, to dive in and discover things about the people they grew up with,” said Terri Clark, the foundation’s executive director.

Every profession and craft is included in the project, including performers, directors, writers, cinematographers and executives. The lengthy, detailed interviews follow an oral-history template and cover both the personal and professional.

The Web site is intended to serve those seeking a career in entertainment as well as the public, said archive director Karen L. Herman.

“There’s so much information about how you shoot something or you direct or you write. These things don’t change. The technology may change, but not the process,” Miss Herman said.

The site is graphically appealing and easy to navigate. TV buffs will relish the opportunity to hear more than a sound bite from their favorites, including those who are now gone, such as Mr. Allen and Mr. Cronkite. More than 2,000 hours have been recorded with prominent industry figures, although not all Emmy winners, selected by a committee.

The ad-supported site is funded through the foundation, the educational and charitable arm of the TV academy that organizes the Emmys, and by donations. The foundation declined to provide the cost of the project to date.

New interviews are being added daily, and Miss Herman and her staff are gradually indexing each two- to six-hour video to allow visitors to quickly find specific topics and cross-references.

On Tuesday alone, indexed interviews with Miss Sanford, “Law & Order” creator-producer Dick Wolf and George Takei of “Star Trek” were added to the about 50 already available, Miss Herman said.

Nearly everyone agrees to talk, but she has yet to persuade a short list topped by Bill Cosby, Mel Brooks and Jerry Seinfeld.

Jeff Abraham, a publicist and comedy aficionado, has conducted more than a half-dozen interviews for the project. He considers it a privilege to “sit at the feet” of TV’s best and brightest.

What results is a revealing interview but not a self-absorbed one. The talk with comedian-writer Bill Dana, for example, yields his assessment of the brilliance of “The Tonight Show” host Steve Allen, Mr. Abraham said.

“Both the interviewer and the interviewee know the importance of this: It’s for the ages,” he said.

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