Search This Blog

Monday, December 13, 2010

Producing and recording "Favorite Themes for Masterpiece Theatre"

In 1980, shortly after departing WGBH to seek fame (and possibly fortune) as an independent producer, I approached Joan Wilson with a proposal to issue a record album of "Favorite Themes from Masterpiece Theatre." Joan went for the idea immediately and asked Henry Becton and Sam Tyler for their endorsements. We got a budget and were ready to rock.

Alice Kossoff was our legal beagle at WGBH, and she was great! At the outset, the hardest part of the whole project was negotiating and collecting the executed contracts back from Britain. These were the days of the FAX and/or teletype, but no e-mail, and unless I phoned or until I actually presented myself in person at their door, the Brits seemed content to just 'muddle along' until the eleventh hour. One had to wait for weeks for confirmation from mysterious and slow-moving institutions like Clarabella Music, Limited and The Mechanical Copyright Protection Society.

Most, of the music rights were held by the BBC, London Weekend, EMI, Thames TV, British Decca and Pushbike Music in London. The copyright to the main theme, “Rondeau” by J.J. Mouret, was held by an obscure and hard-to-locate company, Vogue Music, somewhere in France. Since two of the slections were not quite long enough for a record album, I commissioned Kenyon Emrys-Roberts and Wilfred Josephs. the composers of “Poldark” and “I, Claudius,” respectively, to extend their music specifically for the LP. Both were happy to do so and luckily, I got permission to record these extensions with an orchestra of top-flight players at a BBC music studio in Maida Vale, just outside London.

Having previously produced an album for RCA London was, I suppose, useful in opening some otherwise sticky doors but looking back, I must acknowledge that Joan’s unflagging support, a decent budget, and Lady Luck were with me all the way.

Setting up at Maida Vale on a gray Saturday morning, while waiting for all the musicians to arrive, I was stunned to learn from my studio producer that a musical legend would be joining the band that morning: Alan Civil had been contracted to play French horn. Holy Cow! Alan was Dennis Brain’s successor at the Philharmonia, and had played in the Beatles’ albums “Revolver” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Holy Cow!

Our band was superb; most everything was completed in just two takes. Some of my fondest memories include meeting and chatting with the composers of “Poldark” and “I, Claudius” and afterwards, enjoying Shepherd’s Pie and a pint for lunch with the crew a local pub following the sessions. I corresponded with Emrys-Roberts and his wife for years, and was once a guest for dinner in their beautiful home in Sussex. It was a different world, recording in England, and I have often yeared for one more trip, one more tune…just one more take.
Mixing down at Maida Vale 6 (Kenyon Emrys-Roberts rear doorway)

(click to enlarge)

(Click 2X to enlarge)

Friday, December 10, 2010


The WGBH New Television Workshop existed mainly because artists didn't have access to TV cameras. These were the days before Sony Portapaks. I was doing a local show "What's Happening. Mr. Silver?" which had been brought to the attention a NET show, "Public Broadcasting Laboratory". Dean Opennheimer, executive producer of culture, asked David Atwood, Olivia Tappan and I to come to NY and show off our little experimental shows. After watching our stuff, the artists and the exec producer decided that we might be the best TV types to help give artists control of television. This little story is about the day I worked with Nam June for the First Time and how he came to create his video synthesizer.


Fred Barzyk, TV Producer/Director

Boston, Massachusetts 1969

I always remember Nam June Paik standing in a television studio, in big old rubber boots, his hands somewhere inside an old TV set, telling me to stand back since TV sets sometime explode when he does this. I backed off. The TV did not explode but gave forth a dazzling array of colors, buzzed and slowly died, never to live again.

"Don't worry. I got more TV sets." said Paik.

And more he did. That day, in the television studios of WGBH-TV, the flagship station of America's Public Television network, Paik burned out more than 12 TV sets. Fortunately, this time their dazzling images were captured on 2 inch videotape. These " visual moments" became part of a six minute video piece which was included in a half hour program called "Medium is the Medium." This was the first time that artists where allowed to control the professional TV cameras, producing their own unique vision for a network show. And quite a show it was.

Paik was one of five artists who created video pieces for this segment of 'PUBLIC BROADCASTING LABORATORY", a weekly two hour show supported by the Ford Foundation. The artist's had been selected from a 1969 gallery show, "TV AS A CREATIVE MEDIUM" Howard Wise Gallery, New York. For his video piece, I had to deliver Paik a videotape of Richard Nixon speech and a woman dancer in a bikini bottom and pasties for her nipples. He did all the rest, to the great delight of the TV crew. This was not the normal PTV show!

This program began my long association with Nam June, along with my partner Olivia Tappan and colleague, Dave Atwood. The three of us became the supporters, defenders and co conspirators in the creation of the Paik/Abe Video Synthesizer.

Why did it happen at WGBH? with me? I had been interested in using television in a more "artistic" way for a long time. My background was theater and art and I was longing to find away of expressing it. I got into an aesthetic argument with our senior producer/director about WGBH's coverage of the Boston Symphony concerts. Why couldn't the cameras paint pictures instead of showing old men blowing horns and bowing violin strings? Not possible, not at WGBH. I finally convinced a group of engineers and camera people to stay late a couple of nights and we created what is suppose to be the first video experiments, "JAZZ IMAGES" (1963). You must remember, we were like a closed society. No one had TV cameras except TV stations. They were just too big and too expensive. We were like a fortress surrounded by a moat, and no artist was allowed to cross over. So we, those on the inside, had to put a break in the structure.

This kind of experimentation gave the three of us (Barzyk, Tappan, Atwood) a reputation for being "far out". We were bringing this kind of "experimental" look to a local jazz show and a local series called 'WHAT'S HAPPENING MR. SILVER?" This kind of continued experimentation within the system was what brought Paik and us together. The producers had heard of our work and we lugged heavy 2 inch tape to New York to show to the artists. Fortunately, they liked our work. We agreed to collaborate.

Howard Klein of the Rockefeller Foundation became the next major player in the creation of the video synthesizer. Klein offered an artist in residence grant to WGBH. I was asked to head up the project. Paik was one of my first choices.

He was brought to Boston for an extended stay as a Rockerfeller Artist in Residence. We tried small little video experiments, but Paik was frustrated because using WGBH's TV studios, crews, etc. was very expensive. He saw his small grant disappearing without any major creations. He looked for ways to make his work " as inexpensive as Xeroxing."

One day he presented me with a most complicated looking diagram. I am not an engineer and sometimes have trouble understanding what Paik is saying, and was totally unsure that day of what he was describing to me. What I was able to fathom, was that he wanted to go to Japan and work with a Japanese engineer(Abe) to create a low cost video machine. This machine would cost $10,000 and give Nam June the ability to create constantly without worrying about costs. He further explained that the $10,000 would include his travel, the engineers time, all the electronic equipment, and bring the machine and engineer from Japan to Boston to set up its operation. Was this possible? He insisted he could do it. And he did.

Paik and I had a lunch with the head of WGBH, Michael Rice, to try and sell him on the expenditure of the grant money to create this video machine. Michael sat there and listened as Paik went on and on about the beauty of the synthesizer and the images it would create. We laid out the diagram on the lunch table, and Paik gave his best presentation yet. To his credit, Michael Rice agreed there, on the spot.

Nam June would soon be on his way to Japan.

"That's the easiest $10,000 grant I ever got!" said Paik.

For the next three months, I heard from Nam June every once in awhile. Back here in Boston, I had convinced the station to give over a very small studio to house the synthesizer. Finally, passing through customs, Paik and Abe arrived with boxes and boxes of equipment. Paik had also purchased an old record turntable on which he would construct objects and spin them at either 33rpm or 78rpm. This was the focus of the synthesizers black and white cameras as the two men set up their video machine. I knew the day it was working, when Nam June showed me a mound of shaving cream whirling around on the turntable, which was being transformed into a mélange of color and images on his color TV sets. The Video Synthesizer lived.

The first broadcast of the synthesizer was a video marathon, broadcast live from 10:00 pm to 1:00 AM. Paik called it "Beatles, from beginning to end". That night he played every Beatle tune that had been recorded (some several times) and created abstract image after another. People, friends showed up to help.

The costs of this three hour television broadcast, including shaving cream, tin foil, and assorted objects plus supper for Paik and Abe was $100. He had done it.

He broke the back of expensive broadcast TV. The only problem with that evening's broadcast was that he blew out the TV transmitter. The chroma level coming out of the synthesizer was much too high and destroyed a component. It had to be replaced and it was very expensive.

"What's television coming to?" said WGBH's head engineer.

"I can't believe what's happening on my TV.", said a TV viewer

"Beautiful. Like video wall paper." said Nam June Paik.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jean Shepherd, as remembered by Fred Barzyk, September 2010

I first heard Jean on the radio in Boston. It was 1961. I was babysitting my young son and while idly scanning radio stations, I heard this person, this intense personal voice, talking to ME. Whoa! Is it possible? Something clicked in me. Had I found a kindred soul?

Jean had grown up in the Midwest-Hammond, Indiana. The industrial Midwest. Me, too. I grew up just an hour away in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My father worked in a factory, International Harvester. My mother worked in a factory during the war, Perfex. My neighborhood was surrounded by all kinds of Factories. You could smell them in the air.
Jean was weaving a tale about the Steel Mill. Running, delivering the mail. He recalled a horrible accident. A vat had turned over, killing one of the steel men. But he also talked about the beauty of the giant plant. He talked about tapping the heat. He never played any music. He just talked! Come on! This was a Saturday afternoon, for God sake. Who the Hell is this guy? Right then and there I knew I had to work with him.

I was a young television director (22) working at WGBH-TV, a little Educational Television station housed in a former roller skating rink, above a drugstore at 84 Massachusetts Avenue and right across the street from MIT. There were 45 employees running the TV and FM radio station. I was on contract to direct a series of French Language shows aimed at grade school students. But what I really wanted to do was dramas for TV. Maybe this Jean Shepherd person might be the storyteller I was looking for. Maybe.

How the hell am I going to meet him, or get to work with him? Youth is great. I figured I would just write him a letter and offer him a half hour of airtime on our little station. I huddled with Mike Ambrosino (a fan; Mike was responsible for the development of the Eastern Educational Television Network and created NOVA) and John Henning (a fan; John had grown up in New York City listening to Jean on the radio. John became one of Boston’s most distinguished newsmen.)

Here was the problem. WGBH had no money. We were lucky to meet the weekly payroll. I was making $80 a week and trying to support a wife and baby. I had no money. So we offered an artist the one thing they can’t resist. Free airtime to do anything he wanted to do.

We couldn’t afford his airfare. He would have to sign a release devised by our financial officer, Jack Hurley. Jack insisted that some hard cash pass between WGBH and the talent. Each person was to receive $1. The chances of Jean Shepherd even responding to this offer were very low. Probably, non-existent.

Boy, was I wrong. He wrote back and agreed! We talked on the phone and decided on a date. Now I had to tell management that I had made this offer and it had been accepted. No, I never did get permission before I sent the letter. What the hell? I never thought he would respond.

Bob Larson, programming manager, looked dubious. A comedian? No, I said, a great storyteller. How much will this cost? A one-dollar release. Somehow (don’t remember what I said) Bob agreed to let me go ahead with the show. Bob had graduated from Harvard and was very erudite. He once told me I would never be a producer because of the school I had gone to. Marquette University in Milwaukee. I shrugged and said OK. Time will tell. Bob took a chance on this one. And for me, it started a 30-year working relationship with Jean Shepherd.
There is an important event that I forgot to mention. That little TV station above the drug store- it had burned down to the ground several months before. With an amazing amount of public support from institutions and viewers, a campaign to build a new state of art studio was created. We were offered free space from many institutions while the new studio was being built. WGBH was spread out across the city in 7 different locations.

The TV studio was a small room in the basement of the Museum of Science. There was a window from which the paying visitors could watch us make TV shows. We were an exhibit. The producers, directors, execs were housed in a small red wooden building behind the Museum, right on the waters of the Charles River.

Bob Larson laid out the rules of the game. I would have a single camera and the show would be a half hour live and recorded on tape. (That original tape exists in the WGBH archives, “JEAN SHEPHERD, AMERICAN HUMORIST”) I decided we would shoot from the dock behind the building.

I would need a big light to cover the area since the show would air at 9:00 PM. The opening and closing credits would be created on a large piece of cardboard perched carefully on an easel. Camera starts on cardboard, pan to Jean, he talks for a half hour, pan back to the cardboard. Done.

The day arrived and so did Jean with a young woman, Leigh Brown. She was introduced as his secretary. She never said much but watched with great interest. Jean was affable and eager to do his bit. I introduced him to the crew and we headed out to the dock. He had a crew cut, wore a summer jacket and tie. He was fit and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to do this for WGBH. I later found out that it was our connection to Harvard, MIT, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Brandeis, Tufts, Boston University, which made this gig really appealing. Jean was looking to forge his credentials in the world of academia.

Jean had brought his theme music on audiotape. The time arrived and we were on the air, in living black and white with the Charles River behind him. He proceeded to tell us two of his classic stories. First came the Ovaltine story and the magic decoder ring. He ended with the blind date story. The stage manager gave him the one-minute cue and he concluded his bit and we panned to the cardboard credits. The crew applauded. Egad, this wasn’t like our normal shows. I mean we were doing lectures, piano shows, educational courses for distant learners. And here was this guy entertaining us. Wow! This called for a celebration.

Jean, Leigh, myself and most of the crew made off to one of our favorite watering holes. This night was going to be on me. Might blow the family budget, but it was worth it. I would pick up Jean and Leigh’s drinks. I had assumed that Jean was a beer drinker, like my Dad. But no. He ordered a martini! And just one. The rest of us bought the cheapest beer in the house. We laughed and talked. And then something amazing happened. Jean asked how WGBH was doing. We said what do you mean? How are the ratings? We all laughed. We never knew if anyone was watching us. Jean asked what kind of shows did we do. At that moment, WGBH was doing a lot of Harvard extension courses for the Navy. Physics, calculus, trig, etc. It was a series of show for the crews of atomic subs that stayed submerged for months at a time. The crew could get academic credit for taking this course when they took an exam on returning to base. Shepherd’s eyes twinkled, and he smiled that crooked smile of his. And he created a story right in front of us in this seedy beer-smelling bar.

Jean: I can see it now. Professor Schmidlap appears at a blackboard and begins to explain calculus to the TV audience. He is amazing, his voice flying over Boston, talking MATH. Suddenly, after just two weeks of his little show, the ratings are soaring. The local commercial stations take notice.

“Who the hell is this guy? What’s going on? Maybe it’s that theme music. I mean who the hell can understand calculus?”

Four weeks later, Professor Schmidlap is number one in Boston TV. The news spreads to New York. They call up and get an air tape. These Big time execs gather in a large conference room and they watch! The theme music comes up (They lean forward), Prof. Schmidlap appears and begins, writing a long equation on the blackboard. (They lean in further) Professor smiles as he shows us the solution. (They are now standing)

“Get this guy on the phone. Now!”

Professor Schmidlap is at home when the phone rings. It’s one of the big time New York agents.

“Professor Schmidlap?”


“This is _________, who’s your agent?”

“My insurance agent?”

By months end, Professor has his own show on NBC. His show is broadcast over the entire nation. And the ratings take off. Before long he has won the coveted 9pm slot NATION WIDE. The other networks respond. Soon there are shows on Physics, Metaphysics, Epistemology.

And what about WGBH and educational TV? They’re running old Ed Sullivan shows.”

NOTE: In the year, 2002, WGBH, as part of the Public Broadcasting System, aired several episodes of the Ed Sullivan  Show. That was exactly 39 later that Jean Shepherd’s prediction came to pass.

Monday, October 18, 2010

More from ZOOM Season V - All NSJ photos

Arcadio, Chris, Jon - Zoom rehearsal Studio A. (can anyone identify their instructor)?
Nell and Jen - Zoom rehearsal - Studio A (CLICK to enlarge)
Arcadio and Chris - Zoom rehearsal - Studio A (CLICK to enlarge)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Remembering Robert Koff

In the mid-1970’s, I produced a six-part series for WGBH Radio on the Haydn Quartets with violinist Robert Koff at Brandeis University. A founding member of the Juilliard String Quartet, Robert was chairman of the Brandeis music department from 1969-76, and retired from the university's faculty in 1983. He also taught at Tel Aviv University and Harvard. Robert’s other activities included lecturing on music in a 40-part series for WGBH-TV. Robert passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.

Reviewing the Haydn Quartets series in FM Sub-master control
(click to ENLARGE)
Robert Koff (left) and NSJ editing the Haydn Quartets

(click to ENLARGE)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Remembering Jeremy Brett

Our dear friend, and a magnificent actor. Masterpiece Theatre, Classic Theatre, Mystery, and Picadilly Circus.

Click to ENLARGE

Saturday, September 25, 2010

WGBH Radio Drama in production 1970's

(L-R) NSJ, Dee Dee Doren, Ed Thoman (Click to enlarge)

L-R: Ed Thoman, Rick Hauser, ( ? ) Joan Sullivan, Norma Farber, Jean Harper

NSJ Audio, director Ed Thoman, PA Dee Dee Doren
in WGBH FM Sub-Master Control (click to enlarge)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Comment from "Anonymous" to the post on Classic Theatre

Nat: And I was extremely pleased and proud that Joan did such an extraordinary work in producing this series, the likes of which we will never see again.

I was Director of the NEH Media Program which provided principle funding for this series.
When I was testifying before our Congressional Funding Committee, I was asked by the Chair if we could increase the viewership of the series to double what it had been. I replied,with more deference than usual for me, that that should not be our concern. As it turned out, I stated, more people saw these plays through Classic Theatre than probably saw them as live productions since they were written.
Again, those were heady and stimulating times where very little if any programming on public broadcasting emulated a psychiatrists couch as now seems to be all too much the case on cable.
Joan and many others such as Rick Hauser, Phil Collier, and the ever inventive Mike Ambrosino and Fred Barzack were so very far ahead of anyones' time.

received: September 22, 2010 5:08 PM

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Classic Theatre - 1975

Click to Read
We can hardly mention classic drama on WGBH (and PBS) without thinking of the one person perhaps most responsible for the many memorable series seen across America. Joan Wilson Sullivan brought us Masterpeice Theatre, Classic Theatre and Mystery! At WGBH Radio, she co-produced and directed the WGBH Radio Development Project. We have Joan to thank for bringing us, among other treasures, "Upstairs, Downstairs, and "Pennies from Heaven." These gems alone would have earned her that special place in the Pantheon of broadcast drama. For those fortunate enough to have shared her dream, Joan was our leader, our muse, and our friend.
Frontspiece Classic Theatre Program Guide

Classic Theatre Shoots - London, 1975

Inside the courtyard of the Temple Church in London, on our way to interview Ian McKellan. Crew (left to right) John MacKnight (lighting), Karl Lorencic (video), Nat Johnson (audio), Greg Macdonald (camera), and John McKnight (tape).  Photo David Atwood

Joan Wilson's interview with Eric Porter. NSJ attaching Joan's microphone. Director David Atwood (also my part-time audio assistant) adjusting Eric Porter's lavalier.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Even more from "George's House"

Faith Pettit - NSJ Polaroid (Click to enlarge)
Sally - NSJ Polaroid (Click to enlarge)
A doorfull of dancers - NSJ Polaroid (Click to enlrage)
Sally - NSJ Polaroid (Click to enlarge)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Andrew Raeburn has passed away.

Today, I received  this comment from Anonymous:
Sadly, Andrew Raeburn passed away from cancer on August 21, 2010 at the age of 77.

My reply:
I did not know of Andrew's cancer, and am very sad to hear of it. Nice that we got that interview, however. It was a good piece, and he was so pleased to hear from me and enjoyed hearing the interview again after all these years. NSJ

Monday, August 23, 2010

Newport Opera Festival 1978 - The Crew

Director Dick Heller in the mobile unit (Photo Sue Presson)
Wil Morton, audio. Dick Heller, director

Wil Morton and producer NSJ

Mike Nathanson, camera (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Newport Opera Festival (1978) The Crew

WGBY's Keri and Howie setting up The KCR for exterior cutaways, July 2 (Photo by Sue Presson)
WGBY's Mike Nathanson, camera with producer Nat Johnson, July 2 (Photo by Sue Presson)

The Newport Opera Festival. Co-pro with WGBY (1978)

Our "Host"

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010