Saturday, February 14, 2015

Molly's Turn: My father Robert Hagopian, producer & director, KQED TV, San Francisco, and KCTS TV, Seattle.

Robert Hagopian 

Every so often I will enter my father’s name on the web to see if anything new has turned up in relation to his work at KQED or KCTS. I was very surprised and pleased to find the article written by Adam Grossberg for KQED News. It tells the tale of Alex Cherian and his quest to find the complete episodes of Black Blues Black!, a series of interviews produced and hosted by Maya Angelou, and directed by my father Robert Hagopian (the first two interviews were directed by Tony Batten, the last eight by my father).  I have posted excerpts from the article at the bottom of this post. 

At work, KQED

Bob Hagopian created many wonderful programs for KQED  TV and KCTS TV. He started working for KQED about 1955, coming from KPIX TV. KQED was cutting edge at that time. Creating its own programs explicitly for the Bay Area.  I was on several shows, The Math Club, The Laura Weber Show (a music show for children), and also an Art Program for children, which I can’t remember the name of.  When we had rainy days in elementary school I would often find myself watching myself with the rest of my class as our teacher would tune into one of the instructional programs KQED offered.
That's me, middle right with bangs
KQED was a very close-knit community. The people who worked  there were very excited about the opportunity to create local relevant shows. In 1968, when the San Francisco newspapers went on strike my father was one of the creators of NewsRoom, an innovative approach to supplying news on the air. The upstairs of the old KQED building on 4th st and Bryant st. became the newsroom where members of the new team lead by Mel Wax would read the news on the air from other sources.
                             Bob is sitting far right, Bill Trieste is closest to the window.

My father also traveled to New York (I think) where he created a documentary on a famous Russian violinist of the 1960’s for which he won an award. (I wish I could remember the program and/or the violinist’s name). He was very pleased to make this documentary, I can remember, in the days before he left, his coming home and learning to read music so he could follow along with the music as they filmed the documentary.
The people who worked at KQED often had parties on the weekends at their second homes (this the age of having a second home as the norm for this crew of people) in Bolinas or Inverness and other places. We would drive from Potereo Hill over HWY 1 in our big boat of a station wagon, me in the way back with a paper bag for when I got car sick, and arrive for pot-luck meals, great music, drink and ?? while we the kids, all ran around like crazy.  I loved those times.

Bolinas party
My father would often take me to work with him at KQED. I would spend time with Betty, the woman who ran the phone switchboard, (which now would be considered archaic, you would plug in and out of an upright board to connect with the different parties) she would let me be in charge of the switchboard – a job I loved!

Gini & Bob at a KQED auction
My mother, Virginia (Irvin) Hagopian, a wonderful graphic artist at the time, was also working in the art department for KQED.  Back then it truly was a family affair.
This was taken on the day I graduated from Francisco Jr. High School just before my father moved to Seattle. 
My father moved to Seattle in 1973 where he became Executive Producer Director for KCTS.  Among other things he created a series called “Images of Indians” with Phil Lucas which won the Special Achievement Award in Documentary Film, in 1980 from the American Indian Film Institute and the Prix Italia Award in 1981. He was very proud of this. 

I appreciated his enthusiasms and accomplishments. His energies took us to Cyprus when he was asked by the Cypriot government to teach the Cypriots to run their own Television stations after the British pulled out in 1966/67.  He was always interested in people and their plights, we went on many demonstrations, be they about the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, or Farm Worker's Rights. He worked with Maya Angelou, Cesar Chavez, The SF Mime Troupe and many other human rights people trying to make a difference. As a child I didn’t appreciate all the creative and energetic people he brought into our home. I do appreciate them now.  He lived in Seattle until he died, July 21st, 1983, a week into being 60.

 Here is article on Black Blues Black!  Produced by Maya Angelou and Directed by Robert Hagopian (8 interviews).

From the Archive: Maya Angelou Hosts 1968 Series ‘Blacks, Blues, Black!’

FEB 13, 2015

All ten episodes available online at the S.F. Bay Area Television Archive.
In 1968, Maya Angelou wrote and produced a 10-part series for KQED called “Blacks, Blues, Black!” The series explored the influence of African-American culture on American society, and featured episodes on African history, art, Africanisms and “violence in the black American world.”
After airing in the summer of 1968, “Blacks, Blues, Black!” was lost and unavailable for decades. Angelou herself had reportedly been searching for the series for years. Her representatives reached out to the Bay Area TV archive as early as 2005 looking for it, but there was no trace of the series there or in any other local archive, including KQED’s.
In 2009, San Francisco State film archivist Alex Cherian was working on a project for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, sifting through thousands of cans of film, when he came across one canister with a single handwritten word scribbled on the outside: “Angelou.”
Intrigued, Cherian queued up the film to find the poet touring a neighborhood in Watts, just a few years after the 1965 riots had ripped through that community. In the segment, which Cherian would later learn was part of the ninth episode, Angelou says the conflicts in Watts “represented a people, a race fighting for survival.”
“The material was so compelling, I wanted to find the whole series,” Cherian says. “I assumed it would be relatively simple. It was not.” He spent the next four years looking for any information about the series but found virtually nothing. In early 2013, on a whim, he called the Library of Congress and learned that they had the entire 10-hour series preserved on two-inch videotape.
 So why did the Library have it? To make a long story short, KQED co-produced many films with National Educational Television, a public broadcasting predecessor to PBS in the sixties. When NET dissolved in 1970, a part of their archive including KQED’s “Blacks, Blues, Black!” was transferred to WNET, New York City’s public media affiliate. At some point after that, WNET deposited a small sampling of this inherited archive at the Library of Congress, where it sat untouched for decades.  Until Cherian called in 2013. 
After determining that KQED was the copyright holder and securing permission, the Library of Congress agreed to digitize the series, at a cost of close to $5,000. Over the next year, the J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State, where the Bay Area TV Archive is housed, was able to raise the necessary funds, mainly through commercial licensing for Bay Area television stations.
At that point, confident that “Blacks, Blues, Black!” would finally be made widely available again, Cherian reached out to Maya Angelou’s representatives to share the good news. In an email dated May 14, 2014, Angelou’s office manager relayed that the poet was “over the moon” that the series had been found.
 Two weeks later, on May 28, Angelou passed away.
 By that time the hot summer months had set in, and with them another delay. “It turns out the Library of Congress doesn’t work with old video in the humid season,” Cherian said. So the restoration process was put on hold until November.
Finally, last month, Cherian received the full 10 hours of uncompressed digital masters of “Blacks, Blues, Black!” All ten episodes are now freely available online.
 According to Cherian, an American Masters documentary film about Dr. Angelou’s life, set to be released in 2016 and endorsed by her family, may use some of the unique footage rediscovered in this series.
 To celebrate Black History Month, we will be highlighting clips from the KQED video archive throughout February. All clips have been made available by the Bay Area TV Archive at San Francisco State University.
If you have any information regarding “Blacks, Blues, Black!” contact Alex Cherian at All information will be added to the series record within the Bay Area TV Archive. 

To see Molly's Turn: Maya Angelou go to 2014, July posting.

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