Notes on Methodology
In October 2002, I began conducting oral histories with writers who worked in American television during the first two decades of modern programming (the 1950s and 1960s). I chose to focus on writers rather than actors, directors, or other industry professionals because I felt that their contributions had been, by comparison, insufficently appreciated and less well documented. I also reasoned that, as writers are storytellers by trade, their first-person narratives might possess an added level of wit and introspection.
All of the oral histories were tape recorded and then personally transcribed by me. The lengths of the sessions varied, but a typical interview consisted of an initial two- to three-hour session followed by one or more shorter followups. My strong preference was to conduct at least the initial interview in person, although a few interviews with writers living outside Los Angeles or New York were done entirely by telephone.
In general, the subjects were selected based on either my personal admiration for the quality of their work, or the breadth and significance of their credits, or some combination of the two factors. As a general rule I chose people whose television careers began prior to 1960. I also tried to select writers who had not published memoirs or been interviewed at length elsewhere. The less information I could find about someone in print, the more eager I was to add him or her as a subject.
So far, I have archived oral histories with about forty writers as part of this project. Most of them will appear on this website over time.
Editing and Organization
In preparing the oral histories for this website I have attempted to strike a balance between offering an archival transcript and a readable, magazine-style interview. I’ve omitted questions that yielded negative or indifferent responses, or that led into topics that I deemed too tangential. However, I’ve retained almost all material related to the subject’s television career, often going beyond the length of a typical published interview. In that way, I hope that these texts will reach beyond a general readership and become a primary source of use to other scholars.
I have tried to edit the subjects’ words in a way that achieves clarity without ever altering meaning. It’s been fascinating to learn that, even among a control group of professional writers, people speak very differently: some in soundbites that require hardly any amendment for clarity, others in free-associative, achronological bursts that require considerable anotation. I have elided the usual hesitations, false starts, and repetitions that one would see in a raw transcript. I have rewritten my questions freely to include more context for the reader, taking care to preserve any phrase of mine that the subject went on to repeat. I have also distinguished my own words from those of the subjects by placing any phrase that I have inserted for clarification in brackets (a form of notation that is too often eschewed for cosmetic reasons).
I have taken full liberty with the chronology of the conversations, reorganizing them to group material about one script or TV show together, to cover the subject’s career chronologically (though not every interview is ordered that way), or to integrate the content of multiple interviews on different days into a coherent whole. Often a subject told me the same anecdote on two occasions, and I have freely combined the most vivid phrases into a single account. I have, however, attempted to retain the natural flow of the dialogue as much as possible.
At the beginning of each interview, a list of the subject’s television credits is given (along with a list of his or her credited screenplays and novels, if any). The credits are organized in chronological order of broadcast date, in the belief that this will translate into a close approximation of the sequence in which they were written. This means that all episodes of a given TV series are not necessarily grouped together as, indeed, most successful writers worked on more than one series at the same time.
By no means should these videographies be understood to be complete. Production credits for lesser-known programs, particularly from the live era, remain difficult to locate. My best estimate is that the television credits I’ve compiled for any given writer are about 75% complete after 1960 and less than 50% complete prior to 1960.
In compiling the videographies, I have consulted many sources, including reference books on individual series, back issues of Variety (both the main text of the TV section as well as the reviews) and TV Guide, and my own notes from thousands of screenings.
I’ve also added to the credits based on the subjects’ memories, although in most cases my records have been more complete than theirs; only once has a subject (a director) presented me with a complete list of every television episode he worked on. In preparing for interviews I have looked at internet sites such as the Internet Movie Database, the Classic TV Archive, and TV.com, but their record of accuracy is so dubious that I have not included any data found there without verifying it from a second source. I have erred on the side of omitting rather than including unconfirmed credits.
If anyone can supply documentation of additional credits for any of the oral history subjects, please get in touch.
Finally, this is an ongoing project. If you worked in television during its early years, and have stories to tell, please contact me. It’s possible I’m already looking for you . . . .
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