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  • Archives and Sources for Television Music Studies: An Appraisal and Examination
  • Reba A. Wissner (bio)

Like film music studies in the 1990s, television music is now becoming one of the most popular research areas in music studies. As more people undertake television music research, more of them will venture into the archives to find material pertinent to their research. But television music research is not simply about looking at manuscript scores for a certain episode. Rather, it concerns looking at items across media formats— digital, analog, and paper, including manuscript scores and sketches, studio recordings, production documents, cue sheets, correspondence, scripts, and the recordings of the television shows themselves—in order to obtain a complete picture of what creates a specific aesthetic in the show or genre researchers are studying. In this way, television music research is akin to film music research. However, archival documents for film music are more readily available than for television research, which only recently has begun to be compiled and open to the public.

Locating archival material for American television music research is far easier in the present day than it has been in the past. With the Internet abounding in finding aids and sometimes even digitally available sources, one has the ability to identify and locate pretty much anything one might be looking for, if the composer (or their estate), network, and/or production company has decided to make the sources available, that is. There are, however, still challenges, some of which pertain to access, reproduction, and availability. This article will outline the state [End Page 419] of archives and sources in television music, presenting the reader with information about the most valuable archives and discussing the challenges that still exist in television music research, as well as introducing paths for archival research outside of the traditional archive. To be sure, this article does not present a complete inventory of archives, but it is a place where one may begin to locate some of the largest collections of television music sources and understand the role that archives and sources play in television music research today.

A general problem in archival research that is not limited to television music is that there is an inherent value system about what should and should not be saved in an archive, since it is based on what archivists think matters or is valuable.1 This limits what archivists are willing to accept, especially based on the severely limited room in archival storage. Here the hierarchy of film versus television comes into effect, and television typically loses out.

There are certainly issues of curation and curatorial practices that have to do with the vagaries of cataloging television materials. These vagaries sometimes make it nearly impossible to identify a television episode unless the name is on the film itself or the episode identifies its title on the screen. There are also sometimes documents that pertain to television shows that are not identified, making placing them in the proper context difficult. All of this makes it difficult to come up with the proper metadata for cataloging the material correctly.

Starting Television Music Research

Television, as Margaret A. Compton has written, “has been and remains one of our most fragile cultural assets.”2 This fragility in part concerns the preservation of the medium and its related materials, which, until relatively recently, have been tenuous at best. Television archives—music and otherwise—have only recently been established, partially because there was no impetus or motivation for the archiving of early television; in fact, this lack of motivation was because scholars and archivists did not consider television materials important enough to warrant their preservation, with the thought that television shows would not have any future research value. As a result, many early television shows, such as episodes of live anthology series like Joseph Schildkraut Presents and Armstrong Circle Theater, are lost.

The loss of television shows is indeed tragic, but were it not for those who began to seriously write about television, the loss would have been greater. The impetus to archive television shows started when scholars began to seriously and analytically write about television in the early 1960s, though the earliest articles about...


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pp. 419-434
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