Lawrence Daressa, Laurence Hall and Lawrence Sapadin are the collective mind and spirit behind the Independent Television Service, designed this year to provide independent producers with new opportunities to air public TV documentaries.
The three Larrys attribute their success in developing the ITVS — endowed by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting with $6 million ordered by Congress — to being prepared when congressional hearings about the state of public broadcasting came to a head in 1987.
“Instead of simply complaining and decrying the degeneration of public television from its original public service orientation, we actually had a solution and an answer,” Daressa, 43, explained from his office in San Francisco, where he serves as co-director of California Newsreel.
Daressa, a 15-year veteran of Newsreel, one of the nation’s oldest nonprofit media centers, said the “solution and answer” was to give the opportunity to independent producers to come up with programming “independently of the priorities of the stations.”
We’re different aspects of one urge, kind of a collective personality — for the field, for independents and for the public interest in public TV.
It was Daressa’s frustration over the reluctance of public stations to air his 1984 film The Business of America that first led him to write about a network that would air independent productions funded, packaged, promoted and formatted for public television.
The Business of America, a work critical of the Reagan administration’s policies and the behavior of the large steel companies in Pittsburgh, was “not membership or corporate underwriter-driven programming,” Daressa said. “It became very clear to me that the system was not in fact primarily concerned with the distribution of strong point-of-view work,” he added.
By 1984, Daressa had already crossed paths with Hall, a San Francisco theoretical physicist-turned-media reformer. Hall, now 60 and retired from physics, became involved in public interest issues during a 1974 strike at KQED. A self-avowed “news and public affairs buff,” Hall said he began to wonder “what was happening to my public television station?”
His concern about the increasing commercialization of public broadcasting brought him to Washington in 1984 to join Daressa and other independent producer representatives negotiating with CPB.
The negotiations were organized by Sapadin, executive director of the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers and now the first chairman and president of the ITVS board of directors.
Unprecedented discussion between independents’ advocates led to the formation of the National Coalition of Independent Public Broadcasting Producers and the revitalization of Daressa’s idea for an independent production service within the public television system.
Today, only Daressa of the three men characterizes himself as an independent producer. “It’s been a great sacrifice not to be able to make films,” he said. “I hate sitting in board meetings. I hate discussing by-laws. I’m a program maker.” He laughed ruefully. “I’ve really hated this. It’s kept me from doing what I want to do.”
Sapadin, a film student who took “a turn toward the practical” by getting a law degree, said he has fantasies about making more films, but could not foresee having time to return to the craft. “But I certainly think about it,” he said.
Hall has never made a film and is “very jealous of those who have the wonderful, artistic abilities to express themselves,” he said. “I don’t have those abilities myself,” he added, but “I don’t like to see them artificially hampered, constrained on the part of those that do have those talents.”
From his office at the AIVF in New York, Sapadin mused over the dynamics between the Larrys.
“We’re three very different people,” he began. “We have different backgrounds, different perspectives, different personal styles, different ways of looking at an issue and different ways of solving a problem, so that it’s been a relationship of creative tension.”
Sapadin’s wife Micki Segal, a psychiatric social worker, goes a step further. She swears the trio are actually the same person. “One is the Ego, one is the Id, and one is the Superego.”
Sapadin found the metaphor appealing. “We’re different aspects of one urge, kind of a collective personality — for the field, for independents and for the public interest in public TV.”
Daressa agreed. “We as a team work very well. We argue much more with each other than with anyone in the system, but in fact we each bring something to it,” he said.
Hall added, “We certainly have the ability to argue with one another; we also have the ability to come together after we’ve argued out differences, to work together. I think that’s been, to me, an extraordinarily satisfying and delightful part of working with these two people for whom I have an extraordinary fondness.”
Sapadin characterized their individual strengths. “Daressa’s greatest contribution is being the spark — or sometimes the necessary irritant— to get the idea going,” he reflected. “I think the critical and analytical approach and communication ability are part of my strength. And I think Hall’s strength is basically the strategic thinker— he was our chief negotiator and legislative liaison.”
Daressa warmly praised Hall’s contribution. “We could not have done it without someone who was as experienced and organized as he was, and as experienced in Congress.”
Ruminating over the successful working relationship of the three Larrys, Daressa concluded, “There was a serendipitous conjunction of abilities.”
Sapadin elected first president of ITVS, Daressa is chairman, 1989.
Hall dies at age 74, 2004.