Sunday, September 2, 2012

Robert Kotlowitz RIP

NYC in the 1970s and 1980s was an historically rough place. High crime, rising rents, the fiscal crises, AIDS, Ed Koch -- it was tough. But there was one place that was, for many of us living in this city at that time, a kind of mental and emotional refuge. 

It was Channel 13. 

The programming on this local PBS station at that time was glorious. It brought great high culture to the unwashed masses in NYC. Even though I was watching things like "Sesame Street" and "Mr Roger's Neighborhood" on Channel 13 at the time, there were also programs like "Live from Lincoln Center" that presented performances of ballet, the philharmonic and the opera; long before "Downton Abbey" made it cool again, "Masterpiece Theater" was in its prime with shows like "Upstairs, Downstairs", "I, Claudius" and "The Jewel in the Crown"; there were also great news shows like "The MacNeil/Leher Report", "Bill Moyer's Journal" and "Nature"; and there was comedy too with shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus". I also remember in 1988 Channel 13 had a wonderful series of Saturday nights where they showed old silent movies. And "Brideshead Revisited", the glorious 1981 mini-series that gave the world Jeremy Irons, was the "Downton Abbey" of its day. 

In those down and dirty decades in NYC. Channel 13 was an uplifting and beautiful escape.

The man who made all of it possible -- and who made not only Channel 13 but all of public broadcasting what it is today -- was named Robert Kotlowitz, and he died recently at the age of 87. He had an interesting and unusual background for a TV executive. He was a novelist and magazine editor who was hired at Channel 13 in 1971 basically because he was unemployed and Channel 13 couldn't find anyone else to do the job. It was totally haphazard and accidental but it changed the culture of NYC -- for the better -- and Mr Kotlowitz's legacy lives on.

Thank you, Mr Kotlowitz, for what you did for Channel 13, my family, and NYC back then. Rest in peace.

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