Q & A: Encyclopedia; Camera Three

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to dig through my inbox and pull out a few choice e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to read. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

Do you know anything about an old show called Encyclopedia? At least, I think that’s the title. I have only vague memories of this from childhood (this would have been around 15 years ago), but I do recall that the theme song had a woman singing the word Encyclopedia in a way that leads me to believe that was the title. The intro also had shots of going through some kind of labyrinth until reaching a large dungeon-type room with a mad scientist and a large brain. There were doors all around the walls of the dungeon, and when the mad scientist would introduce a topic, the camera would go toward one of these doors, which would open to a segment on the topic. Weird, I know, but it was really neat. I would love to try to find this on DVD or something, but I’m the only one that seems to have heard of it. Any thoughts?

Encyclopedia was a half-hour educational show — aimed at children ages 6 and 12 — produced for HBO by Children’s Television Workshop, the company also responsible for Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact. A total of 23 episodes, each covering one letter of the alphabet (U and V were combined in one installment; X, Y and Z in another), were aired on the pay cable channel beginning September 19th, 1988. The first three installments were previewed at 5:25AM during the second week of August. Each episode was shown at 7:30PM on Monday, 7AM on Wednesday and 7AM and 4PM on Friday.

According to The New York Times, the show cost HBO $4.6 million and counted several current or former Saturday Night Live writers, including Patricia Marx and Brian McConnachie, among its writing staff [1]. Among the show’s on-screen talent were Jim Fyfe, Carol Schindler, Ethyl Eichelberger, Faith Prince and David Sterry. TV Guide called it “ambitious” while Janis Froelich of the St. Petersburg Times wrote that it was the new show she hated the most: “It features a bunch of no-talent adults (they can’t sing, can’t dance) dressed in cheap costumes doing trite skits based on subjects ranging from A to Z” [2, 3].

Encyclopedia was seen on HBO at least through the start of 1990. Some, if not all, of the episodes were released on VHS in the late 1980s.

I recall watching a TV show during the late 1950’s (or early 60’s). I’m quite sure it was on CBS. It was aired Sunday mornings at 9:00am or 10:00am eastern time. It was entitled, “Camera 3″ or Camera Three” I would like to obtain recordings of this show if possible. Can you help? Thanks.

Initially a local New York City program, Camera Three premiered on Saturday, May 16th, 1953 as a co-production between WCBS-TV and the State Education Department of the University of the State of New York, with James Macandrew as moderator/host [4]. At first, the series ran from 2-2:45PM. Its panel of experts covered all manner of topics, from Shakespeare to economics and everything in between. In April 1954 it won a Peabody Award in the Television Education category, shared with with station KNXT in Los Angeles for its Cavalcade of Books series [5].

The series also dramatized classic works of literature, including Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and over the course of eight weeks in November and December of 1955, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. On December 18th, 1955, The New York Times reported that CBS had decided to broadcast Camera Three nationally beginning Sunday, January 22nd, 1956 at 11AM [6].

In September 1978, the network announced that it was cancelling Camera Three, alongside Lamp Unto My Feet and Look Up and Live, to make room for a ninety-minute news show called Sunday Morning [7]. It was last shown on Sunday, January 21st, 1979. In July 1979, however, it was announced that PBS, through Boston’s WGBH station, would revive Camera Three, with the blessing of CBS [8]. It premiered at 9:30PM on Thursday, October 4th, although individual PBS affiliates likely aired it at other times as well.

From October 1979 to July 1980, PBS aired 40 episodes of Camera Three — 24 repeats and 16 new episodes [9]. Most sources give July 10th, 1980 as the last broadcast but it was still being shown in early 1983. The last new episode may have been shown on July 10th, however. Both the Paley Center for Media and the Library of Congress have several hundred episodes of Camera Three in their collections (~340 at the Paley Center and ~225 at the Library of Congress). UCLA’s Film & Television Collection has six, including one it says airs in 1983 which might be a documentary produced by Camera 3 Productions and not a proper episode of the series.

Works Cited:

1 Cowan, Alison Leigh. “CTW Romps Onto Cable With ‘Encyclopedia’.” New York Times. 18 Sep. 1988: H31.
2 “Cable.” TV Guide. 1 Oct. 1988: 14.
3 Froelich, Janis D. “Fall TV: From A to Zzzzz.” St. Petersburg Times. 20 Aug. 1988: 1D.
4 “Radio-TV Notes.” New York Times. 11 May 1953: 34.
5 “Peabody Awards to Murrow, Coca.” New York Times. 15 Apr. 1954: 43.
6 Adams, Val. “News of TV and Radio.” New York Times. 18 Dec. 1955: X13.
7 Margulies, Lee. “Inside TV: CBS Plans ‘Sunday Morning’ News.” New York Times. 18 Sep. 1978: E14.
8 O’Connor, John H. “CBS’s Old ‘Camera Three’ Returning on Public TV.” New York Times. 10 Jul. 1979: C15.
9 Shales, Tom. “PBS’ Season.” Washington Post. 9 Sep. 1979: G6.

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4 Replies to “Q & A: Encyclopedia; Camera Three”

  1. Do you know where to purchase or download the Encyclopedia series on dvd? My online search hasn’t turned up anything.

  2. Hello. I am not certain about this, but I believe my father was on the show Camera Three sometime during the late 60’s or early 70’s. He was a cellist named Michael Rudiakov. Is there any database that can search for this?

    Many thanks,

    Ari Rudiakov

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