A Revolution in Favor of Television: WCVB-TV and Robert Gardner's Screening Room
Looking With Robert Gardner (2016)
16 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2018
Date Written: 2016
In 1963, a group of academics and community leaders decided to test the proposition that people wanted better television. They formed Boston Broadcasters, Inc. (BBI) and applied for the license to operate VHF Channel 5 Boston, intending to operate a commercial television station in the public interest. In 1972, after almost a decade of litigation, they won the license and started broadcasting as WCVB-TV.
During the ten years that BBI owned WCVB, it produced many innovative and unusual programs. Among them was Robert Gardner’s Screening Room, one of the most delightfully unlikely programs ever aired on a network television station. Essentially, Screening Room was a talk show about independent filmmaking. Once a week, Gardner invited an independent filmmaker to show and discuss a selection of films or film clips. But Screening Room wasn’t just a showcase for independent film. It also introduced a network television audience to intellectual film critics like Rudolf Arnheim and Stanley Cavell, in a uniquely accessible and entertaining way. In any case, it was quite unlike anything one expects to see on network television, then or now.
How was a program like Screening Room possible, and what can it tell us about the history of television? Obviously, Screening Room couldn’t have existed without Gardner, who created and produced the program. But it also couldn’t have existed on any station but WCVB. So the story of Screening Room begins with the long fight for the Channel 5 license and the creation of WCVB.
Keywords: television, WCVB, Robert Gardner, Screening Room
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