Wed Jun 20 2007
The Paley Center's Pat Mitchell, right, with CBS prexy Les Moonves and Queen Noor of Jordan
With the term television being redefined by cable, on-demand, YouTube, TiVo and now possibly iPhone, it's not surprising the Museum of Television & Radio has finally got around to reclassifying itself as a media center. Since they were ordering new stationery anyway, the board decided it would also honor MTR founder William S. Paley, who just happened to transform CBS from a small-potatoes radio network into one of the Big Three giants of television, back in the early 1950s.
Henceforth and forthwith, the 52nd Street institution is now the Paley Center for Media.
So why the name change? Semantics played a big part. Museu..er, Paley Center president Pat Mitchell explains:
A lot of people come in and say, "Where's Lucy's wardrobe?" They're expecting to see artifacts, because we associate the word museum with displays and artifacts. And this place has never been that. We don't want to call ourselves a library or a collection either, because that's only half or even a third of what we do. And we didn't want to be an institute, because that's too much like a think tank. We're someplace where people come, convene, meet their colleagues and enjoy a shared media experience. We want to be a community, and that's closer to the word center.
How would old Bill feel about the posthumous kudos?
Mr. Paley didn't put his name on the institution when he was alive, and he had the opportunity to at least twice. We changed our name from the Museum of Broadcasting at one point, when he was still alive. But he wasn't trying to build an institution to celebrate himself—and we aren't either. His son, Bill Paley III, is on the board and he was very happy about the change. But he didn't suggest it. None of the Paley family was involved in the decision.
To coincide with its jazzy new designation, the Paley Center has already started modernizing its installations. Currently, visitors can watch news shows, reality TV and other live and recorded television broadcasts from the Middle East on monitors in the lobby, as part of the ongoing "Windows to the Middle East" series. And, Mitchell says, plans are under way to offer more in the way of interactivity. "We're creating kiosks where you can come and sit at a stool or listening bar and access our library right there, or maybe from your own computer."
So long as I can still watch old episodes of Love, American Style in the center's program archive, I'll be a happy camper.
Reporting by Rebecca Messner