[The purchase of movies from RKO for television]

Monday, January 30, 1956

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Seldes realizes he hasn't seen many new movies lately. The RKO pictures have been sold for use in television. The prospect that these pictures will return interests him. Lists the most famous pictures on the list.

The Astaire-Rogers pictures. "Call Me Madam" is just as enchanting as these older ones.

W.C. Fields pictures are good and unknown.

These pictures, for which $15 million was paid, cost $750 to make.

The only television statement which was able to operate without ever going in to the red was a station in Texas, which put on nothing but motion pictures. It couldn't have anything live, except for a bit of local interviewing. Kinescopes. You can buy the right to show a movie cheaply and you can chop it up in to small bits to put in commercials. This is not the happiest thing in the whole world. Sometimes you think it's been cut by a foot rule.

A station should not enjoy the use of a frequency on the air and contribute nothing whatever that's creative, do nothing whatever but "spin platters."

In the story field, there's a difference between the dramatization in radio alone of a movie, play, or book, in which all you've done is apply to it the limitations of radio. The presumed listener - the housewife - can be presumed to miss parts. The form turned out so well that it has been adapted to television.

Stations will make a great deal of money broadcasting films and kinescopes. The chance of experiment is going to be reduced, which is a great misfortune. It's too early for television to consider itself a finished enterprise. That's why a great many people believe that the center still has to be the live studio where something is made - specifically for television. There's no reason why we should have westerns in television. There are certain things television can do which no other forms of entertainment can do.

The publication of small books, usually above the price of the cheapest paper bound, which are annual collections that correspond to semi-annual magazines. Stories published as works-in-progress, like Ulysses. Current examples.

The oddities that occur when selling women's clothes. Mary McCarthy's stories about this. He quotes some examples that are acute and brilliant. The rhetoric of fashion: a dress is always made to you. The erotic element of advertising to women.

On this issue of meeting people, which Ms. McCarthy mentioned, Mr. Ketzler (?) says there is a genuine curiosity to find out what any great person really looks like in real life. Example of meeting the President, shaking hands with history. The snob, impressed by themselves reading Kierkegaard. Those who have studied have an interest in keeping art away from the mob. Our snobbery is mixed up with a self-protective feeling.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 70554
Municipal archives id: LT7535

Hosted by:

Gilbert Seldes


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About Lively Arts, The

Legendary critic and author of The Seven Lively Arts Gilbert Seldes discusses big-thinking issues in art and life from his characteristically populist perspective.

Simultaneously a timely and visionary program, Gilbert Seldes's The Lively Arts (1953-1956) examines contemporary issues of 1950s television, radio, and theater, as well as current events and the intellectual arts. Seldes, who was the first Director for Television at CBS News and the founding Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, was also a renowned critic, author, playwright, and editor. As a major social critic and observer, Seldes viewed theater, television, and radio with a prescient eye to the future based on a well-informed understanding of the past. 

These programs feature commentary and discussion on a wide range of topics — from sex and censorship in the movies to progressive education to juvenile delinquency to political campaigning on television — many of which are still hotly debated today. Serving as a precursor to Seldes's television programs and providing an audio context for his seminal books, this show is key to understanding today's cultural commentary.


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