Moonves, Michaels, Schieffer, Wolf Enter the TV Hall of Fame

Alex Ben Block

Beverly Hills - Leslie Moonves was the last up at the 22nd Television Hall of Fame ceremony on Monday evening -- following emotional acceptance speeches by sportscaster Al Michaels, newsman Bob Schieffer, producer Dick Wolf, actor turned director Ron Howard and writer Aaron Sorkin speaking about the late TV pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth --  but in his acceptance the Chairman and CEO of CBS managed to sum up an evening that was as much about showcasing the power of the medium of television as it was about the distinguished group of honorees.

“I guess all the people who have been saying television is dead were a little bit off,” said Moonves, beaming before a partisan audience that included many of his CBS colleagues, numerous people in the industry he has touched and helped over the past four decades, his wife Julie Chen and his parents who recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. “It’s alive and well and no better place to be.”

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Moonves paid tribute to those who have helped him rise from actor to executive to a broadcasting mogul who has led his network to the top of the ratings for ten of the last eleven TV seasons. “Loyalty,” said Moonves, “is what has meant the most to me.”

Standing nearby were married actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, who presented his award. Steenburgen  recalled being in the same acting school with Moonves in the early 1970s when he was a year ahead of her and didn’t have to be nice but was. “He was nice to all of us,” she recalled, “dashing, brilliant and lovely in his dance leotard and tights.”

Steenburgen said Moonves might joke with David Letterman about his early years as an actor but she said their famed acting teacher Sandy Meisner considered him “a very talented actor.”

Moonves preferred to talk about all the television business has given him back over the years.

“I’ve met the Pope and I’ve met presidents,” Moonves said, “and I am in awe of the reach and influence of our medium…It speaks to why this business is so important to our nation and the world.”

Turning to his parents, Moonves said “I think my father tonight, finally, is accepting it’s OK I didn’t go to medical school.”

Earlier in the evening at the Beverly Hilton, producer Dick Wolf, who has created more than 30 TV series and produced over 1,100 episodes - most notably the Law & Order franchise – played a similar theme when he said, “Nobody gets here alone. It is the most collaborative form of communication ever invented.”

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Wolf started by praising rapper turned actor Ice-T, with whom he has done five TV series, including the past dozen years as NYPD Detective Odafin Tutola on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In introducing Wolf, Ice-T said he paid him his greatest compliment: “He said Ice-T is the least pain in my ass” of all the actors and crew he worked with.

Ice-T said people always ask what is the “boom boom” sound that punctuates the action on the Law & Order shows. “We decided that’s Dick Wolf’s cash register,” joked Ice-T.

Wolf paid tribute to the late Brandon Tartikoff as his first mentor. He said it was Tartikoff who put Law & Order on the air and kept it there in the early days despite low ratings, after it had been passed over by Fox and CBS.

Wolf said he still gets a thrill out of having a new show become a hit, as Chicago Fire did this season. He looked at Al Michaels, who calls the shots on Sunday Night Football, another hit for NBC and said they had to keep going so that NBC can at least beat Univision for fourth place.

“It’s a great ride,” said Wolf, “and I hope it continues. I’ve had the best career I could conceive of.”

The tribute to Bob Schieffer started with a video in which the veteran newsman said his own life story as a country song at the Grand Old Opry, while the video showed his rise from local newsman to White House correspondent to anchor and host of the long running Sunday morning news shot Face The Nation.

Schieffer said he loved what he has done but said he worries in this fast paced world, with all the new media and new forms of journalism, that the standards he has lived by are being eroded.

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“The most important thing we all have to talk about as journalists is what our rolls will continue to be,” said Schieffer. “Will these young journalists adhere to the same standards the mainstream media has adhered to and (continue to ask) the main things (about the news): Is it true?

Schieffer said what separates a democracy from a totalitarian state is that there is an independent effort to gather information. “We believe very strongly in that at CBS News,” he added. “We believe that is as important to having a democracy as the right to vote.”

A cancer survivor who has proven his adherence to those principals, Schieffer looked out at his wife who he will have been married to for 46 years in April and said she had made him a promise. “When I start drooling she will tell me,” he joked, “and it will be time to go.”

Former coach and broadcaster John Madden presented the award to his friend and former colleague Al Michaels, noting they had worked together for seven years at ABC and then NBC. “No one is perfect,” said Madden, “but Al is as close to being perfect as a broadcaster can be – and he works at it.”

Madden said Michaels is always prepared but his gift is that he is ready no matter what happens. “You can’t format a live event,” said Madden. “You have to react to it.”

Noting Michaels has covered all of the major sports events of his era – the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, baseball World Series, Hockey and both the winter and summer Olympics (most famously calling the “miracle” American hockey team that beat the Russians in 1980), Madden said Michaels had met the test of time. “There is no way the history of sports television can be written,” said Madden, “without at least a chapter on Al Michaels.”

Michaels recalled growing up in Brooklyn and at age six being taken to Ebbets Field to watch the Dodgers play. He later moved with his family to Los Angeles around the time the Dodgers relocated. “My dream was to succeed Vin Scully,” joked Michaels, adding he recently ran into Scully and said “How is it  I’m going to retire before you do? God bless him. He’s a phenomenon.”

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Actor Will Arnett presented the award to Ron Howard, whose company produces Arrested Development, which is currently being revived with the original cast by Netflix.

Calling Howard an “American treasure,” Arnett said as an actor he played the “everyman character.”

In a video about his life, Howard was seen in his early TV roles as a child, most notably as Opie on the Andy Griffith Show. Griffith himself was shown prior to his death last year talking about Howard: “He never considered me his father. He didn’t even consider me a father figure. He considered me his friend.”

Howard's own father Rance Howard was in the audience and his son asked him to stand and take a bow. He said his father was also his teacher and “made it safe and fun (for him to act providing) a remarkable life experience.”

Howard said he met the late Henry Fonda on an acting job, and Fonda had been a friend of his father as well. He said it was Fonda who looked at his home movies and his early attempts to write a script and encouraged him to become a director.

First however Howard was to star in American Graffiti, produced and directed by George Lucas, who was in the audience. He said that was what convinced producer and writer Garry Marshall to cast him in the series Happy Days. He praised Marshall as another important mentor who taught him if he was ever pitching a comedy show to a network executive and it wasn’t going well, the secret was to use a lot of curse words to get the executives attention again.

Howard talked about meeting Brian Grazer, who was to become his producing partner in Imagine Entertainment, which has had a long record of success in movies and TV. “Good television is always about ideas meeting talent,” said Howard, “and some luck.”

Writer Aaron Sorkin presented the award posthumously to Phil Farnsworth, who was only 14 years old when he first had the idea for an electronic television. Farnsworth faced challenges from big companies and a set back during World War II when development of the new medium was set aside. But he got a thrill in 1969 when his system was used to capture and send back images from the moon.

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Farnsworth’s son and grandchildren accepted his award. His grandson said the promise of TV that was Farnsworth’s dream has been fulfilled because he was able to see the medium both entertain and educate.

Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum, who is also a top executive with Warner television, noted that for the first time the proceeds from the gala went to benefit the Academy foundation’s Archive of American Television, an ever growing collection of videos with the founders, pioneers and legends of TV that now holds over 3,000 hours, all available for free to students and others who want to know the history of the medium.

Peter Roth, who heads Warner TV, said there are now 140 members of the Hall of Fame. He said they are people who have “advanced the medium” and “shaped popular culture, informed and entertained generations of viewers.”

Kaley Cuoco, who plays Penny on the CBS hit The Big Bang Theory, acted as mistress of ceremonies for the evening. She opened with a reference to the current legal battle between CBS and other networks who are upset with the Dish Network, which offers a device that makes it easy for viewers to skip all commercials.

Turning to Leslie Moonves, Cuoco said: “Leslie, fuck the Dish Network. Are we cool now? Are we good?”

The gala was executive produced by Phil Gurin, producer of Shark Tank and other shows.