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Subject: TV Director & Producer Barbara Schultz


Author:
Dies at 92
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Date Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 03:42:04pm

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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/16/obituaries/barbara-schultz-dead.html

Barbara Schultz, an adventurous television producer who showcased serious topical dramas at a time when the networks were preoccupied with sitcoms and variety shows, died on April 10 at her home in Manhattan. She was 92.

Eileen Kaufman, a cousin, said the cause was complications of heart disease.

Ms. Schultz, one of a very few women in television’s executive ranks at the time, oversaw “CBS Playhouse” in the late 1960s and the PBS series “Visions” in the 1970s. Both series were high-quality anthologies that featured original dramas, compelling writing and up-and-coming actors. Unusually for her era, she promoted ethnic and gender diversity both in front of the camera and behind it.

Most prominently, she offered writers a platform free from interference by corporate sponsors in exchange for stories that explored contemporary American themes.

“We hope to win back the serious writers who have been turned off by television and to stimulate the new writers who have never considered the medium,” Ms. Schultz told The New York Times in 1974 as she embarked on “Visions.” “The whole idea is to try to discover what television can do in drama.”

“Visions” earned plaudits for many of its offerings, among them: “Gold Watch,” by Momoko Iko, concerning racial prejudice against Japanese-Americans during World War II; “The War Widow,” by Harvey Perr, the story of two women who fall in love; and “Alambrista!” by Robert M. Young, which explored the plight of migrant Mexican workers.

Ms. Schultz’s aspirations were rooted in television’s original golden age, from the late 1940s to the late ′50s, when a bounty of live dramatic performances appeared on acclaimed anthologies like “Studio One,” “Playhouse 90” and “The Philco Television Playhouse,” among many others.

Those series thrived when television sets were chiefly in the homes of the affluent and educated. But when they became affordable for the masses, commercial interests drove out much studio drama in favor of formulaic comedies, game shows and adventure series. Many serious writers gave up television for films and the stage.

The field lay largely fallow until 1966, when CBS produced a made-for-TV film of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” starring Lee J. Cobb, a stunning achievement that inspired the networks to offer more and longer literary dramas again as series, not just as occasional specials. They included “NBC Experiment in Television” and the short-lived “ABC Stage 67.” The CBS entry was “CBS Playhouse,” with Ms. Schultz as executive producer.

“ ‘The Playhouse’ is a writer’s theater,” she wrote in 1968 in an article carried by The Associated Press. She said she was looking for “gutsy original plays.”

Her only requirement was that a drama be written specifically for television, “a medium where intimacy, close-ups and detailed exploration of character best tell a story.” “Playhouse” writers, who were paid better than most, included Tad Mosel, Rod Serling, Gore Vidal and Paddy Chayefsky.

The first play Ms. Schultz produced, broadcast in 1967, was Ronald Ribman’s “The Final War of Olly Winter,” a harrowing study of a black soldier in Vietnam. It was watched by more than 30 million people.

She went on to produce other critically acclaimed works, including Loring Mandel’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” starring Melvyn Douglas as an elderly man angry at being put in a nursing home. (Both Mr. Mandel and Mr. Douglas won Emmys for the production.)

But at the end of the 1970 season, CBS shut down “Playhouse”; although most of the plays had been well received, the sponsor, General Telephone and Electronics (a forerunner of Verizon), which had agreed to underwrite the programs without commercial interruption, withdrew its support, and the network lost interest.


“Visions” was conceived along the same lines as “CBS Playhouse.” And it ultimately met the same fate.

In 1974, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced that they were giving $10 million for a series of original dramas. They ended up giving about $7 million. And no corporation stepped forward to underwrite the series, apparently worried about controversial topics over which they would have no editorial control.

The first “Visions” project to be broadcast, in 1976, was “Two Brothers” by Conrad Bromberg (son of the blacklisted actor J. Edward Bromberg). Starring Judd Hirsch and David Spielberg, it explored how a doctor’s mental illness disrupted his relationship with his brother, who tried to help him.

One prescient critic in 1976 wondered whether the series would prove “too far-out, too experimental for audiences conditioned to pablum.”

“Visions” lasted four seasons. Succumbing to some of the same pressures that killed “Playhouse,” PBS officials squirmed (one called the plays “too ethnic”) and funding dried up.

A few of the “Visions” plays were “unmitigated disasters,” the Times critic John J. O’Connor wrote. But, he added, “The series had a vitality and ambition that were rare and exciting for television.”

Ms. Schultz’s PBS series “Visions” won praise for airing original dramas like “Gold Watch,” a 1976 drama by Momoko Iko concerning racial prejudice against Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Ms. Schultz’s PBS series “Visions” won praise for airing original dramas like “Gold Watch,” a 1976 drama by Momoko Iko concerning racial prejudice against Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Barbara Ann Schultz was born in Manhattan on Feb. 4, 1927. Her father, Joseph, was a lawyer and her mother, Isabelle, a homemaker. She grew up in New Jersey, then crossed back over the Hudson River to attend Barnard College. She graduated in 1948 with a major in English.

She leaves no immediate survivors.

Ms. Schultz started out wanting to be an actress and landed roles in several productions at Barnard. She even made it to Broadway, with a bit part in the 1952 production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Desire Under the Elms.”

But she felt she wasn’t cut out for acting and sought work behind the scenes. She became a story editor for the anthology series “Armstrong Circle Theater,” a vestige of the golden age, and for weekly series like “The Defenders,” a father-and-son courtroom drama starring E. G. Marshall, and “The Trials of O’Brien,” starring Peter Falk as a literary-minded detective.

Recruited to be executive story editor for “CBS Playhouse,” she was soon named executive producer. When “Playhouse” ended, she produced “You Are There,” an early 1970s reboot of an educational program that originally aired in the 1950s, hosted in each iteration by Walter Cronkite. She then became director of program development for CBS.

She also produced the “CBS Children’s Hour.” Its best-known production was “J. T.,” Jane Wagner’s Peabody Award-winning 1969 tale of a young black boy and a stray cat.

It was Ms. Schultz’s reputation for smart storytelling, her steely single-mindedness and her ability to spot talent that made her so sought after, Sandra Schulberg, the story editor for “Visions” and a longtime friend, said in a telephone interview.

After PBS scrapped “Visions,” Ms. Schultz turned briefly to directing, including episodes of sitcoms like “Family Ties” and “Diff’rent Strokes.” But, Ms. Schulberg said, “the industry was not very receptive to a woman director of her age.”

In a look back at Ms. Schultz’s work in 2017 at the Billy Wilder Theater at U.C.L.A, Mark Quigley of the university’s Film and Television Archive said her career, especially her work on “Visions,” “stands today as a testament to both her immense talent and the glorious, sadly mostly untapped possibilities of the medium.”

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