“Heritage: Civilization and the Jews, “the nine one-hour series telecast locally by WNET, the New York area’s major public television station, drew for at least part of the series nationally an audience of Jews and non-Jews during its telecast last fall — an estimated 50 million viewers– that plans are being made to repeat the entire series on public television next fall, according to WNET president Jay Iselin.
He also said, at a recent press conference called to assess the impact of the series, that its success had prompted renewed and enhanced educational outreach efforts planned to continue well into the next decade. A WNET spokesperson told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Heritage series was telecast on virtually all of the approximately 300 PBS stations.
Abba Eban, host, narrator, and chief editorial consultant for Heritage, said he was surprised at the size of the estimated audience. He added that Jews had never had such “a massive dialogue with the Gentile world.”
Iselin said the “astonishing figure ” of the size of the viewing audience stemmed not only from the “power of the series” but also from “the unprecedented educational and archival use of the series “since the premiere in October, 1984. He announced plans for “Phase Two “of a decade-long educational experience built around the planned 1985 rebroadcast.
WILL BE TELECAST IN BRITAIN AND ISRAEL
Iselin said WNET had reached agreements in Britain and Israel to show Heritage in those countries and was negotiating with telecast entities in other countries. He said Channel 4, which will distribute the series in Britain, is considering distribution of the Viewers Guide prepared by WNET.
Timothy Gunn, Heritage educational activities project director, described the scope of the Heritage outreach effort. He said teachers guides were distributed to every high school in the United States — two per school. He said 150 colleges nationwide — 25 percent in southern states — used the series as a TV study course.
Prager Books published two college – level texts: A narrative history study guide to accompany the TV series, and a reader with primary sources relating to the series.
Gunn also reported the American Library Association produced and distributed packets of material to 6,000 libraries, including discussion outlines, suggested book displays and a comprehensive bibliography.
WIDE DISTRIBUTION OF GUIDE
WNET printed 50,000 70-page, heavily-illustrated Viewers Guides which were distributed by Hadassah, the National Council of Churches, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the United States Catholic Conference, and similar agencies. Gunn said the American Jewish Committee prepared an extensive interfaith guide.
Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of the AJCommittee’s interreligious affairs department, told the JTA its guide was a lavishly-illustrated 20-page booklet, 17,000 copies of which were distributed to churches, YWCAs, councils of churches and colleges and universities. Rudin also reported that his department arranged for meetings of Christian and Jewish leaders in 22 cities to discuss the AJCommittee guide, involving an estimated 2,200 top leaders of the two faiths. He said the guide had been prepared by Rabbi Alan Mittleman, the department’s program specialist, and Judith Banki, the department’s associate director.
OTHER RELATED ACTIVITIES CITED
A companion book was written by Eban which, as of the time of last month’s press conference, had been on The New York Times best seller list for eight weeks.
In New York City, Gunn said, the Board of Education held a conference for high school principals to prepare for classroom use of the series and the guides.
Gunn said the demand for the materials WNET had created, supplies of which had been exhausted , was testimony “to the readiness of individuals and groups of all faiths to engage in a serious and compelling learning experience.”
Iselin said WNET is also producing a completely new college publication, a Class Guide for use in humanities and social science courses.
Videocassettes of the series, as previously announced, were donated by WNET to the National Jewish Archives of Broadcasting of the Jewish Museum where they are planned for use both for archival purposes and as a basis for lecture series and continuing education courses.
Iselin added that “the most interesting result “was the interest and participation not only of the Jewish community “but the non-Jewish community as well.” He said the series had proved “there is an enormous public television audience for information that is well- produced and stories that are well told.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.