Six more names were formally inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences‘ distinguished Hall Of Fame on Monday night in front of a packed audience at the Beverly Hilton. Joining the 140-plus TV legends who are already members were Les Moonves, Ron Howard, Al Michaels, Bob Schieffer, Dick Wolf and, at long last, a posthumous recognition of TV inventor Philo T. Farnsworth. Among those on the selection committee this year were Marcy Carsey, Bonnie Hammer, Rick Rosen, Fred Silverman and Nina Tassler.
Easily the highest honor the Academy can bestow (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Board Of Governors repping the Writers Branch), these new inductees can count on seeing their busts enshrined in front of the Academy’s North Hollywood headquarters, immortalized forever. But last night’s (ironically) non-televised event was a loose and lively affair that had a warm feeling and might be called the TV Acad’s version of the Motion Picture Academy’s Governors Awards. It was a heartfelt shout-out to some of TV’s most accomplished names, and the move to the larger Beverly Hilton International Ballroom this year confirmed its growning importance to the community. Tickets were higher priced and more industryites showed than in recent years. For instance, even though they weren’t there as part of the show, Mark Harmon, James Burrows, Chuck Lorre, Michael Eisner and George Lucas in addition to many others were among the audience members cheering on the new inductees.
Academy Chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum started things off for the 22nd Hall Of Fame ceremony, saying it is an acknowledgement of a lifetime of work. “It is a recognition of significant contributions to our industry, for having made a difference, for being a game changer”, he said. “And as we have seen in the three decades since the Hall Of Fame was founded (in 1984), we have seen the game has changed dramatically. We have had some groundbreaking events throughout the history of television. To name a few, Philo Farnsworth first transmits images with his electronic system, the advent of color television and Philco introduces the first transistorized portable set. And each of us in this room is directly impacted by the current groundbreaking evolution in our industy as we experience just how portable television can become. Now it’s not the end to home television screens by any stretch of the imagination but it clearly is an exciting new chapter for both viewers who want TV wherever they go and for all of us who create, distribute and above all, enjoy watching television.”
Show host and The Big Bang Theory co-star Kaley Cuoco made light of some recent controversial tweets she sent endorsing CBS nemesis Dish Network’s Hopper ad-skipping device, by directly addressing her network boss and honoree Les Moonves. “Leslie, fuck the Dish Network,” she said. It was that kind of night.
First up for honors was Wolf. Presenter Ice-T said he had never been in a room with so many people who could give him a job. He said he had been in five series produced by Wolf including Law And Order. In accepting Wolf said the secret of his success was hiring “obsessive people”. He has been on the air continuously on NBC for 28 years and his parents both met at NBC. ” I wondered if I was actually conceived at 30 Rock,” he said and gave special thanks to the late Brandon Tartikoff for taking a chance on him and his show after CBS had passed.
CBS News Chairman and Executive Producer of 60 Minutes Jeff Fager and CBS News President David Rhodes were next up to tribute Bob Schieffer whom they both lauded for his long service to CBS News, particularly Face The Nation which Rhodes said was the number one Sunday morning news show. They made much of his previously little-known roots in country music too. Schieffer told about how he always knew he wanted to be in news since the 8th grade. “In the news we are going to get in the future, will those young journalists adhere to the same standards that the mainstream media adheres to now? The main thing is , is it accurate, is it true? ” he said. “I want to accept this award tonight on behalf of all the young journalists who are going out there and trying to get stories. If you do it right you are doing a very good and wonderful thing.”
Aaron Sorkin came on to posthumously induct Farnsworth who stumbled on to inventing the first electronically TV images beginning when he was only 14 years old. He even predicted that one day we would watch on television the first man walk on the moon. After a film package detailing his considerable accomplishments Sorkin brought on his son and grandson to accept.
John Madden introduced sportscaster Al Michaels by asking , “could the history of sports on TV be written without at least a chapter on Al Michaels?” For his part Michaels began by actually thanking Farnsworth for his invention. “If it were not for Philo I would be tonight at my retirement dinner at a State Farm Insurance office in San Bernardino,” he joked. He spoke about the highlights of his career from calling the World Series to doing the Lake Placid Olympics and the infamous “Miracle On Ice” Hockey game in 1980. “I have seen it all and had some marvelous people to work with and I have never had a better time than in the last dozen years, ” he said
Will Arnett (Arrested Development) introduced Ron Howard by comparing him to a Panda . “He is sort of the first person we have been able to monitor in captivity on camera through every phase of his life. He is one of those people who is able to transition from one phase into the next and of course I am referring to transitioning from Ron Howard hair to Ron Howard hat,” he said before offering a tour of Howard’s extensive career in front and behind the camera. Despite a varied and Oscar winning run in films , Howard says it is his TV work for which he is most recognized when people come up to him. In what was quite a family night he introduced his father Rance Howard in the audience and talked about his earliest TV experience on a Playhouse 90 show before getting The Andy Griffith Show which changed his life. He talked about working with Henry Fonda in The Smith Family and said it was Fonda who first encouraged him to direct. He said his work in the original pilot for Happy Days (which didn’t sell) actually helped get him the role in American Graffiti but even after that hit he still had to audition again for Happy Days which of course finally sold and went on to a long run. He also talked about his work Brian Grazer (who was in the audience) and the many shows they have produced together through Imagine. “There’s magic in the medium. There’s creative dynanism in the medium. The relationships gained behind the scenes in the pressure cooker of TV are truly priceless and if you can earn your way in and prove you belong you have to count yourselves as I do, among the supremely lucky,” he said.
Finally at nearly the two hour point Cucuo came to the final honoree of the night. “Mr. Moonves, I am afraid we have run out of time,” she said. Actually not. Ted Danson and wife Mary Steenburgen came out to honor their friend , Moonves. In fact Steenburgen spoke about studying acting with Sandy Meisner in New York and singled out one second year acting student who was nice to all the other aspiring actors. She emphasized that in truth Moonves was quite a talented actor, destroying a myth she said Moonves (and David Letterman) keeps perpetuating about himself that he wasn’t any good. Danson highlighted Moonves’ TV career, most recently shepherding CBS to number one in ten of the last eleven years. After the film package, Moonves gave a gracious acceptance. “This is not only a great thrill but such a humbling experience to be here tonight with such a terrific group of fellow honorees. I am very proud to be part of this class…I have been so fortunate to have been in the television business all these many years… I am always in awe of the reach and influence of our medium. We can never forget that. It’s the power to inform , to educate, to help define the way people feel and think about things. It’s another reason why this business is so important to me , to our nation and to the world and why I love it so much. It’s a privilege to be part of it,” he said before introducing his parents in the audience who just celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. “I think my father is now finally accepting that it’s alright that I didn’t go to medical school.”
On his way out of the ballroom I asked Moonves how this evening ranked in his career. “I don’t like to rank them but I will tell you this is right up there. Being honored here with all my friends was very special,” he told me.
And it’s a night none of these inductees are going to forget any time soon.