STORIES FROM AMERICAN POLITICAL CONVENTIONS

The Interviews: An Oral History of Television

As told by interviewees of the Television Academy Foundation's Archive of American Television

CAPTURING TELEVISION HISTORY ONE VOICE AT A TIME

Since 1997, the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television has been conducting in-depth, videotaped oral history interviews with television professionals, including actors, writers, editors, and journalists. These interviews explore the lives of the interviewees, and often touch on important historical moments, including United States presidential elections.

Gathered here are stories from the Archive about political conventions, supplemented with images from LIFE's photo collection.

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DAN RATHER ON PRESS COVERAGE OF POLITICAL CONVENTIONS

Dan Rather explains why it is still important for the press to cover political conventions, despite the fact that platform and candidate decisions are no longer made at the conventions.

“We’re in a period where I think the responsibilities of citizenship are not in the forefront of people’s minds as much as they were. And particularly in a presidential election year, anything and everything that can be done to bring that to the forefront of people’s minds and keep it there, I think it should be done.”

Watch Dan Rather's full Archive of American Television interview where he details his storied career at CBS News.

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ROBERT TROUT ON THE 1936 POLITICAL CONVENTIONS

Robert Trout, nicknamed "the iron man of radio," discusses covering the 1936 political conventions for radio, making special mention of the innovations and novelties that CBS employed in order to one-up NBC’s election coverage:

“[T]here was a still camera…a big camera on a tripod and he fixed the microphone just under the camera so our technician could carry the tripod down through the aisle and put a delegate on the air and take his photograph at the same time and then mail it to him later…if you want to know about the beginning of the television and conventions, it wasn’t exactly television, they were still pictures, but that’s really how it began in a way.”

Watch Robert Trout’s full Archive of American Television interview, which spans his full career from introducing FDR’s fireside chats to covering the turbulent events of the 1960’s

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JULIAN GOODMAN ON THE 1948 POLITICAL CONVENTIONS

NBC Executive Julian Goodman discusses television news coverage of the 1948 political conventions, which was significant not only politically, but also for the growth of the television industry:

“1948 was a pivotal time for the growth of television and I think…that what the conventions showed to the public, what possibilities they saw in television coverage, made television’s growth accelerate over the years to come.”

Watch Julian Goodman's full Archive of American Television interview, which chronicles his rise to President of NBC and his role producing news coverage of the pivotal events of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

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WALTER CRONKITE ON THE 1952 AND 1980 POLITICAL CONVENTIONS

Walter Cronkite gives details on how the coverage of the political conventions of 1952 unfolded, and compares those early days with his later work covering the 1980 conventions.

“It turned out that the anchor person…is the only person who really knows what’s going on at a convention.”

Watch Walter Cronkite's full Archive of American Television interview to hear him tell the stories behind his legendary career.

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DAVID BRINKLEY ON THE 1956 POLITICAL CONVENTIONS

On the challenges of covering the 1956 presidential conventions in the relatively early days of television news coverage, anchor/correspondent David Brinkley says this:

"There was only one video cable to the West Coast...and so we had to share it, all the networks had to use one cable. We had our own audio line, but the video line was the one cable. So the only picture we could send to the West Coast was the pool picture."

Watch David Brinkley's full Archive of American Television interview, which spans the entirety of his career from his early days in radio to The Huntley-Brinkley Report and beyond.

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REUVEN FRANK ON THE 1968 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

NBC News Executive/Producer Reuven Frank discusses television news coverage of the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention – and the chaos that ensued.

“When you go back over the records, only a little bit of the violence got on tape. It was much worse, the stuff that was out of the range of the camera. And when that investigator…coined the term ‘police riot,’ he used an exact term. That's really what it was. They went nuts.”

Watch Reuven Frank's full Archive of American Television interview, where he talks about shows and documentaries he produced, as well as his years as President of NBC News.

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DAN RATHER ON THE 1968 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

Dan Rather describes covering the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and how he found himself the target of violence in the midst of the chaotic event.

“At one point much later, the Secret Service did look into it…they pointed a man out to me and said, ‘We basically think this is the guy who hit you…do you want to bring charges on him?’… I said, ‘Look, it was last night, it’s beyond us, there’s enough chaos.’ I mean, the whole city, not the whole city, but large sections of the city were exploding with difficulty. The convention itself was careening near out of control. And yes, the whole world was watching.”

Watch Dan Rather's full Archive of American Television interview where he details his storied career at CBS News.

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SANFORD SOCOLOW ON THE 1968 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

News Producer Sanford Socolow discusses the difficult circumstances surrounding an interview Walter Cronkite conducted with Chicago’s Mayor Daley during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

“Cronkite himself describes [it] as the most embarrassing professional moment of his life, interviewing Mayor Daley in a very abject, apologetic way.”

Watch Sanford Socolow’s full Archive of American Television interview, where he discusses his many years at CBS News.

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LINDA ELLERBEE ON THE 1976 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

Linda Ellerbee tells a story of covering the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City and the lengths she went to get the scoop on who the Vice-Presidential nominee would be.

“I was bored out of my mind. There was nothing to cover on the perimeter, which is what I was assigned. That meant I was there to cover demonstrations. Well, there weren’t any.”

Watch Linda Ellerbee's full Archive of American Television interview where she discusses the entirety of her career, from her early days as a writer to her children’s news show Nick News.

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SHEILA KUEHL ON THE 1996 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

Actress turned politician Sheila Kuehl tells the story of speaking at both the 1996 and 2000 Democratic National Conventions.

“When you speak at a convention it’s not like you’re on when the television cameras are on. You’re on at like 2:13 to 2:14 in the afternoon where they’re just filling things for people at the convention. But boy you can get some great pictures.”

Watch Sheila Kuehl’s full Archive of American Television interview where she discusses her career on television and her move into the law and politics.

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DON MISCHER ON THE 2004 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

Producer/director Don Mischer tells the story of the behind-the-scenes planning (or lack-thereof) that went on as he produced the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

“I never could figure out who was actually making the decisions, ‘cause everything kept changing. And that’s part of what you have to be prepared to do when you’re producing something like the Democratic Convention like this. That is a political environment. And there are a lot of people who are expressing opinions. And things are going to change. So you just have to be ready to kind of roll with the punches.”

Watch Don Mischer’s full Archive of American Television interview where he tells stories from his career producing events from the Emmys Awards to Superbowl Halftime shows.

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The oral history interviews in the Archive of American Television cover politics, entertainment, and much more. To watch interviews with television greats, visit emmytvlegends.org

Credits: Story

The Television Academy Foundation's Archive of American Television

Jenni Matz, Senior Producer
Adrienne Faillace, Producer
Jenna Hymes, Manager & Exhibit curator
Nora Bates, Production Coordinator
John Dalton, Cataloguer

Video editing by the Pop Culture Passionistas, sisters Amy and Nancy Harrington, who have made a career based on their love of pop culture.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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