Reaching Our New Destination
The Television Academy sets the stage for the future with the opening of the Saban Media Center and Wolf Theatre.
Bill Mumy posed for photos alongside a robot, reminiscent of his years playing young Will Robinson on the sci-fi adventure series Lost in Space.
Lassie extended a gracious paw to smiling fans. Cast members from Knots Landing and The Love Boat had mini-reunions.
And nearby, Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of streaming service Netflix, spoke to reporters about how today’s television viewers don’t care about their television delivery method, as long as there are compelling stories and characters with which to connect.
The scene June 2 on and near the red carpet at the Television Academy’s North Hollywood headquarters perfectly captured the essence of the events to come.
For this night marked the Opening Celebration of the Academy’s brand-new Saban Media Center and Wolf Theatre, with their state-of-the-art facilities, and also paid tribute to the past, with a gathering of more than 70 stars in observance of the Academy’s 70th Anniversary and the presentation of the Academy Hall of Fame’s Cornerstone Award to the four broadcast networks.
“It’s a walk down memory lane and also a wonderful projection into the future,” observed Jill Whelan, who had played the captain’s daughter Vicki on The Love Boat and tonight was with her 21-year-old son Harrison, a junior studying screenwriting at Cal State University Northridge. “It’s an evening of possibilities, and that’s always great.”
Said Ernie Hudson, who’s been playing Lily Tomlin’s love interest Jacob on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, “It’s wonderful that we have a facility that represents television in a very positive way. I was born at the time television was born – 70 years; that’s my life. Television is so much a part of our stories, how we see ourselves, and how we develop in society and in the world. I’ve been doing this for 50 years. We’re still a viable, vibrant entertainment, still going strong.”
Joan Van Ark, who played Valene Ewing on Knots Landing, had kudos for the Academy. “The Academy is amazing on about a zillion levels,” she enthused, “because of the features they offer. They supply information, have seminars and events, and there are, of course, the Emmys. For us actors, it’s soul food. It offers options and gives us information.”
The evening was more than two years in the making. It was in March 2014 that Academy chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum had announced the launch of the organization’s “New Look, New Vision, New Destination” fundraising campaign, comprised of two initiatives: to build a new media center with a theater, digital production facilities and offices for Academy Foundation staff; and to expand the endowment of the Foundation, for the benefit of its existing and future educational and archival programs.
By opening night, $30 million of the $40 million goal had been secured.
As they entered the Wolf Theatre, guests – among them, donors, industry executives and celebrities – admired the design, with 600 plush red seats installed stadium-fashion, for optimum viewing from any location. After a welcome by Chelsea Handler and Florence Henderson, a beaming Rosenblum took to the stage.
“Just standing here, seeing a roomful of colleagues – and realizing that the projection and sound systems actually work! – is surreal,” he said. The chairman paid tribute to Academy founder Syd Cassyd, who realized that the nascent television medium needed a trade organization “to exchange ideas,” and called the first meeting on November 14, 1946, when five people attended.
Nowadays, there are more than 22,000 members, more than half working in below-the-line positions. “Our industry has evolved, adapted and thrived,” Rosenblum said. “[It] has never been more vibrant, more impactful and more relevant at any point in the past 70 years.”
Rosenblum thanked two couples, Haim and Cheryl Saban and Dick and Noelle Wolf, for their generous donations toward the media center and theater, respectively, and Dolby Laboratories for their donation of all theater equipment and the promise to update the equipment for the next 10 years.
The Wolfs are also funding a collaboration between the Academy and the charitable organization Alliance for Children’s Rights, to provide industry training, internships and mentoring for foster youth.
A video montage of the best in television programming through the years, introduced by Jon Cryer and Garry Marshall, preceded the presentation of the Academy’s special Hall of Fame Cornerstone Award to the four broadcast networks: NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox.
Said Hall of Fame committee chair/WME television department head Rick Rosen: “This year, we’re doing something different by inducting, not people, but the entities who are the driving force of the television industry – the networks that have helped us make the dominant medium we are today.
“Each network can claim its individual triumphs and achievements over the years, but it is for what they’ve done collectively that they are receiving our highest honor tonight. For they have built an industry and have a greater impact on modern media than any force in history, and in so doing, have helped change our society [in this country] and around the world.”
Presented in reverse chronological order, the awards were accepted by Peter Rice, chairman and CEO of Fox News Group; Ben Sherwood, co-chairman of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney-ABC Television Group; Nina Tassler, former chairman of CBS Entertainment and Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment.
All acknowledged the visionaries who had founded their companies; Greenblatt also noted the roles of the networks’ combined 400 or so affiliate stations.
A gathering of more than 70 television stars, summoned to the Wolf Theatre stage by Phylicia Rashad and Fred Savage for a group photo, provided a grand finale to the program. Afterward, participants enjoyed dinner on the Academy plaza, provided by Cheryl Cecchetto’s Sequoia Productions.
One guest who took his time leaving the theater was Harrison Whelan. “This was wonderful,” said the aspiring filmmaker, who earlier had been interested to learn more about the Foundation’s student internship program. “I want to come back.”
For his part after the program, Rosenblum was beaming even more brightly in the media center lobby, having just had his photo taken with Maureen McCormick, who played Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch. (“I had the biggest crush on her when I was a young child!”)
“This has been a great night,” he said. “It was wildly successful. I think this is a great way to kick off what is an incredibly bright future for the Academy.”
He’s most proud of the reception of his “shameless passion for all the good work the Foundation does,” Rosenblum added. “We were able to share the good work and vision for the Foundation with a new group of people. I’m optimistic that great dividends will be received from tonight.”
The Academy’s CFO and executive vice president of business operations, Heather Cochran, had also enjoyed a “star” moment seeing childhood favorites/ship crewmates Bernie Kopell (Doc) and Ted Lange (Isaac) of The Love Boat.
As for the night, “We felt a huge relief,” she said. “We had a great faith in our design and construction team, but still, to watch the donors and members experience the theater for the first time, and hear their reactions, was very gratifying for me. And afterwards, the way the building lit up at night and the way it functioned, to feel it doing what we wanted it to do two-and-a-half years ago when we first start talking about it, was exciting to see.”
Foundation executive director Norma Provencio Pichardo was equally enthusiastic. “The building, the whole campus, looked fantastic!” she said.
“The Foundation staff is excited to be moving in there. And we’re so excited about the fundraising endowment – we know we want to double our internship program and expand our scholarships, but this also gives us the chance to create new storytelling initiatives. We’re so appreciative that the industry has been able to contribute, because they recognize the importance of investing in the future.”
The following night, June 3, the Academy hosted a members’ mixer. Seeing the Wolf Theatre for the first time, one man said, “I’m as macho as they come, but I have a tear in my eye right now.”
Betty Pettit, a member of the directors peer group, thought the theater was “fabulous,” and also enjoyed the thin glass television screens by LG Electronics in the lobby and the quotes from television show characters inscribed on the donor wall. And in the upstairs glass-walled Governors’ Room, “It looks like you’re going to walk off into space,” she said. “They should call it the Governors’ Infinity Room, for infinite possibilities.”
It was upstairs on opening night that Pichardo had her own star encounter, she noted with a laugh. “Lassie was in my office, waiting to be called!”
Indeed. Classic television meets the Foundation of the future.