Jun 262017

John R. Coleman

On my way back from Salinas, I stopped in New York and signed a generous contract Tom Ryan had negotiated. Although my job would not start until October, I would be given a full year’s pay. Sig needed me. I rented an apartment from plans in a building then being erected. The rental included a studio where Tuulikki could paint. Some of her paintings had recently been in a group show at Raymond Duncan’s gallery on the Rue du Seine.

We brought furniture from France and installed ourselves. John was enrolled in a bi-lingual school, but he learned English quickly from television. The only problem I had was that I had a nice office, a secretary, an expense account—but nothing to do. My immediate superior was pleasant enough, but my salary came from his budget, and I was an annoying over-the-budget item. Then I earned my salary.

President Eisenhower had been ill-advised by his economic team. They zigged when they should have zagged, and the economy went into a mild recession. In 1962, I was called on to produce “Money Talks,” a five-part series in prime time, hosted by Professor John Coleman in which he explained basic economic concepts such as gross national product and the Consumer Price Index. A year later, Coleman was tapped for the CBS project “College of the Air,” in which he taught an experimental course, “The American Economy,” that was carried on 241 affiliate stations and 54 educational channels. Imagine a commercial network devoting morning time to direct systematic classroom teaching.  Educational television on commercial channels!

CBS News did its duty, called it public service, and no one bothered with the ratings.

I was surprised when CBS spent the money to re-print and distribute all five lectures in an elegant soft cover. Years later Frank Stanton, president of the network, told me Eisenhower had watched the series and had his economic advisors see the re-runs. (Ike and Stanton were close and the President had put Frank into a shadow cabinet, in case the Soviet Union wiped out his sunlit cabinet.)

As the producer, I was just a plumber, as most producers are. I saw that the information flowed through straight lines. Nobody wants a creative plumber who puts the pipes into expressive circles. Nevertheless, the success of the five broadcasts had echoes. Stanton did not contact the producer. He went to the head of CBS News, Sig Mickelson, and congratulated him and passed on the gratitude from the President of the United States.

Sig must have talked to my immediate superior who had asked if he could fire me because I cost too much. This time money did not talk. I stayed on.


John R. Coleman: https://www.haverford.edu/college-communications/news/john-r-coleman-1921%E2%80%932016

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