There are a handful of television archives and museums in the United States that together contain hundreds of thousands of hours of television programs. These include the Library of Congress, the Paley Center for Media and the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Some are open to the general public, others are restricted primarily to scholars and researchers. Most have made it possible to search their collections online, although it should be noted that online catalogs are likely incomplete to some extent.
Many academic institutions hold smaller, specific collections, often pertaining to an individual or a specific television program. For example, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin has an extensive collection relating to The Mike Wallace Interview, consisting of kinescopes, audio tapes and research material. Ithaca College houses the Rod Serling Archives, which includes 16mm films, television scripts (both produced and unproduced), awards and photographs. Emerson College is home to the The American Comedy Archives, with oral histories from more than 60 comedians, scriptwriters, producers and directors, as well as manuscript collections for comedian Bill Dana, director Howard Storm, scriptwriter Phil Leslie and others.
What follows are descriptions for some of the larger television archives and museums.
According to the collections overview provided for television, the Library of Congress began collecting television programs in 1949 and today holds about 80,000 programs but that number may be substantially higher. The bulk of these programs were donated for “copyright deposit” and much of the collection exists in 16mm kinescope format with videotape acquisitions beginning in 1974. Some of the more noteworthy collections held by the Library include: the NBC Television Collection (18,000 NBC programs from 1948 to 1977, first acquired in 1986), the NET Collection (10,000 programs from National Educational Television, the precursor to PBS, from 1955 to 1969) and the Hubert Chain Collection (early television programs dating back to 1947). Additional information on the Library’s television holdings can be found here.
The Paley Center for Media was founded by broadcaster William S. Paley in 1975 as the Musuem of Broadcasting. In 1991 the name was changed to the Museum of Television and Radio. It took on its current name in 2007. The Paley Center consists of two separate museums, one in New York City and the other in Los Angeles. Its collection, which contains some 140,000 programs, is available for viewing at both locations. The Paley Center website has a section on “lost” programs that includes articles on how early television was preserved, the introduction of videotape and a list of television programs it is searching for.
The George Foster Peabody Awards honor excellence in radio and television broadcasting, with the awards bestowed for programs produced during the previous year. The first radio awards were distributed in 1941 and the first television awards in 1949. Thus, the earliest radio programs in the collection date from 1940 and the earliest television programs from 1948. Housed at the University of Georgia Libraries, the Peabody Awards Collection contains approximately 90,000 radio and television programs. According to this overview of the collection, many of the programs in the collection “are the only surviving copies of the work.”
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Founded in 1987, The Museum of Broadcast Communications is currently building a new facility in Chicago and has been closed to the public since 2003. Its collection holds 85,000 hours of television and radio broadcasts dating back to the mid-1940s. Some 8,500 hours of television and radio programs have been digitized and are available online (free registration is required). The first edition of the MBC’s Encyclopedia of Television, with over 1,000 topics, can be read online for free here.
The Film & Television Archive at the University of California, Los Angeles houses over 220,000 films and television programs. The collection includes the vast majority of ABC’s prime time broadcasts between 1950 and 1979 (specifically “the early 1950s through the end of the 1970s”), plus the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences/UCLA Collection of Historic Television, and early television programs from the late 1940s and early 1950s.
The Vanderbilt Television News Archive has been recording the nightly network news programs for ABC, CBS and NBC since August 4th, 1968, adding select cable news programs in later decades. Although its collection is comprehensive it is not 100% complete; certain broadcasts, due either to pre-emptions and perhaps technical difficulties, are missing. For example, the Thursday, March 12th edition of NBC’s The Huntley-Brinkley Report (which preceded The NBC Nightly News) is not part of the collection while the ABC and CBS newscasts for that day are. Copies of entire broadcasts or compilations of segments from various broadcasts are available for loan for a fee. A monthly index to the ABC, CBS and NBC nightly news program as well as special network programming can be found here.
Last Updated November 6th, 2010