A Documentary Celebrating an Extraordinary Era*
at WNET/Thirteen, New York 1972-1984
Produced and directed by Howard Weinberg
* when video art was nurtured, when artists explored television,
and filmmakers with portable cameras gave new dimension to documentaries.
"The TV Lab was an environment conducive to creativity, literally one where an artist
could put their hands on the camera without the unions saying 'you're not qualified.'"
Howard Klein (ex-Rockefeller Foundation funder of the TV LAB)
"Nam June was the first pure video artist."
Carol Brandenburg (deputy director, TV LAB)
L to R: David Loxton, director, TV LAB;
Nam June Paik, video artist;
Charlotte Moorman, performer;
John Godfrey, video editor & engineer-in-charge
"We influenced the formation of MTV." Nam June Paik
For Nam June Paik, the pioneering video artist who inspired the creation of the TV Lab, its success meant he would live in New York rather than in his native Korea or in Germany where he had studied and later taught. At the TV Lab Paik created such programs as Global Groove, Guadalcanal Requiem, and Suite 212 while helping other artists experiment with this new medium. For many, Paik was the genius-in-residence at the TV LAB.
Russell Connor was working at the New York State Council of the Arts when he recommended that they fund the TV LAB. He left that job and later became host of the TV LAB's Video and Television Review. In Nam June Paik's Global Groove, Connor comments on Television of the Future: "...When TV Guide is as fat as the Manhattan Phone Book." From the start, the TV LAB's philosophy was to broadcast as much of the experimental work of artists-in-residence as possible.
"The story of the TV Lab and the development of video art was artists and engineers working together...Artists went through the stages of a love affair when they first came to the TV LAB."
-- Russell Connor (host of TV LAB programs)
Extraordinary talent worked at the TV LAB:
Michael Shamberg, now a Hollywood movie producer, worked with Sony Porta-pak cameras to create close-up documentary portraits unlike any seen before: Lord of the Universe; In Hiding: An Interview with Abbie Hoffman; Gerald Ford's America.
Don Mischer, now a Hollywood television producer-director known for multi-camera variety specials, Kennedy Center Honors, Prime Time Emmy Awards and Olympics ceremonies, worked with choreographer Twyla Tharp on the innovative, memorable Making Television Dance.
Jon Alpert, the intrepid documentary journalist who later worked for NBC's Today Show, went where few journalists had gone before for the TV LAB. He made Cuba: The People, visited Vietnam after the war in 1978, and showed America parts of itself rarely seen in Chinatown: The Immigrants and Third Avenue: Only the Strong Survive.
William Wegman, the artist and photographer now well-known for his books and videos featuring Weimaraner dogs, was among the young artists to experiment at the TV LAB. He made his first short videos with his orginal dog, Man Ray.
Diane English, now famous as the creator of the award-winning television situation comedy series, Murphy Brown, got her first job as secretary to David Loxton, the Director of the TV LAB. When Loxton realized his dream to create a speculative fiction drama, The Lathe of Heaven, based on a story by Ursula K. LeGuin, he asked Diane English to co-write the screenplay.
The TV LAB nurtured younger video artists, like Bill Viola, Gary Hill and Mary Lucier who now are widely exhibited in museums and have international reputations.
"I'm not surprised that the people I knew at the TV Lab, Bill Viola and Wegman were pioneers then
and continue to be the superstars of the medium."
The Space Between The Teeth, Bill Viola, 1978
Before the Internet, questions about how to unleash the possibilities of new technology promising high definition images and/or multi-channel delivery, and about how to use the medium to innovate and bring new voices and new audiences to public television were asked and answered spectacularly by the TV lab.
The TV LAB was an earlier "digital revolution," though few called it that; it stirred innovation in public television because television engineers and artists invented synthesizers to manipulate the video signal and used the new digital time- base correcters to put portable small format video on the air. This first digital revolution nurtured video art, created reality television made with half-inch portable video equipment, and offered fresh local and global perspectives from new voices, whose influences are still felt.
More than 200 people passed through the TV LAB to explore, to experiment, to learn, to create and to produce work. They made it an important period in the history of television.
Howard Weinberg, producer/director/writer, first met Nam June Paik in 1966; and at Paik's request, he produced and directed "Topless Cellist" Charlotte Moorman (1995) -- Selected for screening by the New York Film & Television Festival. Weinberg worked "down the hall" at Channel 13 during the TV LAB days from 1973 to 1980, producing documentary, public affairs and entertainment programs with Bill Moyers, Studs Terkel, Robert MacNeil, and Dick Cavett. For CBS Sunday Morning, Weinberg profiled Nam June Paik at the time of his Whitney Museum retrospective -- the first ever for a video artist. Weinberg knows many of those who worked at the TV LAB and remembers seeing many of the TV LAB programs when they were broadcast originally.
Funding for the initial development of the TV LAB Project came from Nam June Paik, The Rockefeller Foundation and Barbara Wise. WGBH has provided in-kind services and expenses for interviews conducted in Boston. The New York State Council on the Arts has awarded Weinberg a 2008 Individual Artists Grant toward completion of TV LAB: License to Create.
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