by David Peck, President, Reelin' in the Years Productions
For almost two years, my company Reelin’ In The Years Productions, has been representing The Sir David Frost Archive, and in that time many unique items have been discovered in the vaults. Because David Frost had produced many different programs for various companies around the globe, it has made it very difficult to locate master tapes and films. From the moment we signed the agreement to be the exclusive rep for The Sir David Frost Archive, one of the monumental shows he produced that we very much wanted to represent was The David Frost Show, produced by Group W and David Frost.
The David Frost Show was a 90 minute syndicated program which aired daily from 1969 – 1972. As co-producer, David Frost owned 50% of the rights, but Group W and its successor (now CBS/CTV) had been handling all distribution rights, including clip sales. Through a series of negotiations between David Frost’s estate and CBS, all of the distribution rights to the show have been given back to the estate. This includes nearly 400 2 inch quad tapes and many film elements as well. On behalf of the Sir David Frost Estate, Reelin’ In The Years Productions is now the sole company that handles the rights to licensing this footage. Most of these tapes have been untouched since their initial broadcast. To date, roughly half of the 400 shows that survived have been transferred. (There were 750 episodes aired.)
The David Frost Show is an amazing time capsule of one of the most contentious and creative periods of the 20th century. During the course of the show’s run from 1969 to 1972, David interviewed high profile guests such as Gloria Steinem, Cesar Chavez, Huey Newton, Vice President Sprio Agnew, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Mier, former Nazi Party Official Albert Speer, and a 20-year-old Prince Charles. There were many entertaining guests, comedians, singers, actors and sports figures such as Johnny Carson (in a rare 90 minute interview), Groucho Marx, 1936 gold medal Olympian Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Lucille Ball together with Carol Burnett, Norman Rockwell and playwright Tennessee Williams. Major music artists such as the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Barbra Streisand, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder and Carly Simon all made appearances as well. Many controversial and polarizing subjects were discussed and debated such as the Vietnam War, the Kent State shootings, Black Power, the women’s liberation movement, gun rights, drug legalization and the Apollo moon landing. Looking at all of the guests and issues discussed on this show makes this a very well-rounded program, accurately capturing the time period.
For decades, the 2 Inch Quad tapes had been sitting untouched in an underground storage facility, but we now have the tapes in our care. Thankfully, we have David Crosthwait of DC Video (Located In Burbank, CA) doing all the transfers. It’s an incredible expense to transfer these if you want them done right, and many times David has to work miracles to get these tapes to play at all. These David Frost Show 2 Inch Quad tapes are in terrible shape. They were originally preserved on used stock and Group W would store two 90-minute shows per tape at 7 ½ ips instead of the industry standard of 15ips. Oftentimes they would splice together varying lengths of used stock to fill out the reel and on some tapes you could have as many as three different brands of stock during the course of the two shows. Even with all of these obstacles the tapes look and sound great but that’s because of the laborious amount of work David has had to do to get them that way. In some cases, it has taken David 10 hours of work to properly transfer one 90 minute show. While this may not have been the most ideal way to preserve this important part of cultural and entertainment history just think of all the shows (such as the first 10 years of the Tonight Show) that were erased, and be thankful that someone at Group W had the foresight to try and save these treasures so that almost 50 years later they can be seen again.
I look at what David Crosthwait and others like him are doing in the same way I see a professional who restores deteriorating paintings or artifacts found in a ship wreck. Simply, this is preserving history. It's a shame that there are so many film snobs out there who don't agree, thinking that only something shot on film warrants this type of expense and attention. Sadly, that attitude is why so much of this type of video tape archive rots in storage facilities. The entertainment industry often looks at video tape as some type of sub form not worthy of the expense and attention it deserves. So many times I read comments about film preservation being the only thing that matters, and while that is important, so is video tape.
At the end of the day, it’s not what media it’s on but what’s on the media. I’m hoping as an industry we can get past elitist attitudes and try to preserve this material, regardless of the format it was shot on. This is our collective history, whether it’s a silent film from 1919 or an interview from The David Frost Show we just found and preserved with NASA director Clifford Charlesworth talking about the Apollo 11 mission to the moon just days before it happened. These are both equally important moments in our history and should be treated as such.
Finally, to show you how incredible this archive is, we've cut a 13 minute trailer.