By: Charles Bowen
If there is a cozy communal campfire for the people of the Information Age, it’s got to be our television sets. Even in a time when our society is ever-more fragmented and segmented, TV continues to be the something that we have in common. Love it or hate it, praise it or ridicule it, television is one of the ties that binds the people of the 21st century.
And in terms of pop cultural literacy? Well, while an alarming number of our fellow citizens might not know who wrote Moby Dick, how the American Civil War ended, or when Jimmy Carter was president, ask them who Ginger and Mary Ann were. Call it televised immortality: A show that left the air almost 40 years ago still has characters living on in the collective psyche. In fact, in our lifetime, television has evolved from a mere after-work diversion to life itself for some people, or at least a most insistent imitator of life.
For the working journalist, that means TV has become more than the listings of what’s on tonight. Smart reporters and editors should have a fast-access database of broadcast history, trivia, and culture for use in those stories that cry out for a TV-oriented hook.
And where better to look for such a resource than on the Web? My favorite new TV culture site is TV Acres, a site created and maintained by Jermone A. Holst, a distance education librarian with Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pa. It is a guide to characters, places, and things that appeared on television programs broadcast from the 1940s to the present during prime time and Saturday mornings.
To check it out, visit the site at http://www.tvacres.com, where the introductory page provides links to these key departments:
* The TV Acres Index: an alphabetized list of topics, ranging from advertising, aliens, alligators, and androids to wagons, weapons, werewolves, and woodpeckers.
* Search the Database: The site uses the “Webglimpse” search engine. Subsequent screens walk you through using keywords or phrases for probing the material.
*TV Resources: This is the front door to the site’s extensive collection of related links for all kinds of television topics, such as episode guides, quotations, reviewers, newsletters, cartoons, celebrities, museums and history, theme songs, and listings.
If you become a frequent visitor to the site, the introductory screen’s “Latest Additions to the Database” will be especially useful. A resulting screen lists the item entered (such as “Hi Bob!” as heard on “The Bob Newhart Show” added to the “Catch Phrases” section).
Also of interest is the introductory page’s “TV Acres Archives” link. This catchall section has back issues of the site’s newsletter, a collection of TV character biographies, trivia, and curious facts submitted by site visitors and more.
Here are some other considerations for using TV Acres in your writing and editing:
1. Regarding the sources for material, Webmaster Holst reports all the material is the product of more than 25 years of research. “Initially,” Holst says in an online statement, the information “was to be part of a book entitled: The TV Encyclopedia: The Channel Surfer’s Guide to Television Program Facts, Themes and Trivia — 1947 to the Present. However, the project became so large (1,500 pages and five volumes) that [we] decided to transfer all the information into a Web site. This would allow the project to expand in size easily, and to be quickly updated.”
2. For new material, Holst extracts facts from TV programs, books, magazines, TV-related Web pages, or from people directly or indirectly associated with the shows. The data is then assigned to an appropriate subject category. For example, on the police drama “Nash Bridges,” Detective Bridges drives a classic yellow 1971 ‘Cuda. This fact is found by following the links in the Table of Contents under Automobiles — Makes & Models — Plymouth (or by using the keywords “Nash Bridges” in the Web site’s search engine).
3. By the way, the TV Acres site is not a good resource for searching either actor’s names or theme songs. While the site does mention actors in the database, it does not contain lists of who starred on what program. A good resource for this material is the famed Internet Movie Data Base (http://www.imdb.com). And for theme songs, try http://www.classic-tv.com/themesongs.