Exterior view of Rockefeller University's striking Caspary Auditorium.
Interior view of Caspary Auditorium and the stage for The Great Challenge panels.
The premiere of The Great Challenge empanelled eight of America's foremost educators for the panel discussion, Education for What?
CBS spot ad promoting the CBS Television version of The Great Challenge
America's fascination with 1950s Television slowly--and inevitably--eclipsed the popularity of Radio throughout the Nation. And though popular Television was acquiring its share of critics, the die had been cast. Radio's popularity was on the wane. Radio's Golden Age reluctantly gave way to Television's Golden Age. But Radio wasn't about to give up without a fight. The 1950s found Radio mounting some of the finest programming of its [then] 30-year history. The major networks, still somewhat wary of the enduring strength of Television's growing popularity often mounted simulcasts of Television broadcasts that could just as easily lend their impact to Radio.
By far the easiest of the programs to simulcast or air on a staggered schedule over both Television and Radio were the popular panel and public affairs programs of the era.
Long running news, commentary, and discussion panel programs from the Golden Age of Radio inevitably found their way to Television. Iconic programs such as Meet the Press and Crossfire successfully managed to straddle both Radio and Television.
Throughout the 1950s, several important public affairs programs of the era found their way to both Radio and Television, either in simulcast or in staggered scheduling over Television, then Radio. These programs were generally one-offs or short series'. NBC-Radio's Monitor programming was one of the more innovative responses to the encroachment of Television, airing all manner of weekend programming--comedy, variety, science fiction, human interest, and public affairs--for thirty-six to forty hours each weekend between June 1955 and 1961. Sunday morning's Meet The Press aired under weekend Monitor's programming schedule, while airing simultaneously over NBC Television.
CBS-TV launches panel series at the new Caspary Auditorium
CBS was by no means a newcomer to important panel discussions or public affairs programming. Edward R. Murrow and his 'Murrow's Boys' had become legendary War correspondents from the earliest days of World War II. Murrow's own hard-hitting interview and commentary programs routinely made headlines throughout the 1950s--over both Radio and Television. Murrow's Boys also found their own niches over CBS Radio and Televison, as well as over ABC and NBC in time.
CBS' three-year series, The Great Challenge, was broadcast from Rockefeller Institute's new Caspary Auditorium (1957), a stark, blue geodesic dome housing a dramatic, modern, state of acoustic arts auditorium. The Great Challenge premiered over CBS Television on February 23rd, 1958 with a panel of distinguised educators discussing the topic, "Education for What?", moderated by Howard K. Smith:
Dr. Harrison Brown, California Institute of Technology
Dr. Wallace Sterling, Stanford University
Dr. Harold Taylor, Sarah Lawrence College
Max Lerner, New York Post columnist and professor at Brandeis University
Dr. Clarence Faust, Ford Foundation
Dr. James L. Morrill, University of Minnesota
Very Rev. Theodore M. Heshurgh, Notre Dame University;
Dr. Harold B. Gores, superintendent of schools, Newton, Mass.
The premiere Radio broadcast of The Great Challenge aired over CBS-Radio two to four days later, a pattern that the series maintained over most of its airings over the following three seasons. But while the CBS Television broadcasts aired on Sunday afternoons, the edited Radio version aired in mostly late-night timeslots--either Tuesday or Thursday evenings for the first season; the second season aired on either Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and the third Radio season on Tuesdays. The Television broadcasts of The Great Challenge were either 30 minutes or one hour in length. The first two seasons of Radio rebroadcasts were always 30 minutes, edited down for the 30-minute format. The third season of both the Television and Radio versions of The Great Challenge were hour-long programs.
Season One Topics:
Program 1 - Education for What?
Program 2 - The Role of the Scientist In America's Future
Program 3 - How Strong Is Our Economy?
Program 4 - Human Relations: Individual Relationships In A Mass Society
Program 5 - Government and the Democratic Process
Program 6 - What Makes An Effective Foreign Policy?
Program 7 - What Beliefs Sustain the Free World?
Season Two Topics:
Program 1 - Where Is Science Taking Us?
Program 2 - Is America Anti-Intellectual?
Program 3 - Can Democracy Meet the Space Age Challenge?
Program 4 - Is America's Journalism Meeting Its Responsibilities?
Program 5 - Is the American Public Getting the Information It Needs?
Season Three Topics:
Program 1 - Can We Improve Our Education For Leadership?
Program 2 - How Can We Get Things Done In A Democracy?
Program 3 - What Role Can the Mass Media Play In Producing Effective Democratic Leadership?
All three seasons of The Great Challenge empanelled the foremost proponents in their respective fields to discuss some of the era's most pressing issues. As must be apparent from the log details below, CBS had no trouble attracting the world's best and brightest from the realms of Academia, Medicine, Politics, the Military, and the Arts to The Great Challenge.
The series first aired over CBS Television. Here's the announcement for the first program in the series, from the February 15th 1958 edition of the Coshocton Tribune:
Famed Educators Appear
On 'The Great Challenge"
Dr. Harrison Brown, author and professor of geo-chemistry at the California Institute of Technology has been added to the roster of distinguished educators comprising the symposium on problems facing education, the premiere program of "The Great Challenge," Sunday, Feb. 23 on the CBS-TV network (5-6 p.m.).
The hour-long broadcast, titled "Education For What?" will introduce a discussion format new to television. The program will get under way in the unique setting of the Capary auditorium of the Rockefeller Institute in New York City.
Dr. Brown and Max Lerner, columnist for the New York Post, will be seated in the forefront of the audience in the recently completed dome-amphitheater and will open the discussion with a statement of the principal challenges confronting educators today.
These challenges will be taken up by a group of distinguished educators seated on stage: Clarence Faust, vice president of the Ford Foundation and president of the Fund for Advancement of Education; Dr. Wallace Sterling, president of Stanford university; Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president of Notre Dame university; Dr. James L. Morill, president of the University of Minnesota; Dr. Harold Taylor, president of Sarah Lawrence college; and Dr. Harold Gores, superintendent of schools, Newton, Massachusetts. CBS News Correspondent Howard K. Smith is moderator for the series.
An invited audience representing key educational groups will attend "The Great Challenge" symposium and, during the concluding portion of the hour many of these guests will have an opportunity to question the participants on stage.
The theme of "Education For What?" is an assessment of the tasks facing education in a rapidly changing modern world. The members of the symposium will concentrate their attention on the substance and function of education in the face of new challenges from abroad.
The assignment for the symposium, on each broadcast during "The Great Challenge" series, is an attempt to draft a talement for the American people which will clarify and summarize some of the primary issues and problems in the area under discussion.
Here's an announcement for Radio Program No. 2 of The Great Challenge's first season, from the March 1st 1958 edition of the Austin Herald:
for March 16
Six scientists will participate in a television symposium on "The Role of the Scientist in America's Future." It will be presented by CBS, March 16 in the network's series titled "The Great Challenge."
Scientific issues will be discussed by Dr. Edward Teller, a physicist who played a leading part in the development of the hydrogen bomb; Dr. Joseph Kaplan, chairman of the U. S. national committee of the International Geophysical Year; Dr. Howard L. Bevis, chairman of the President's committee on scientists and engineers; Dr. Clifford C. Furnas, chancellor of the University of Buffalo; Dr. Roger Revelle, director of the Scripps Oceanographic Institute and Dr. Paul Sears, Yale University botanist.
Another participant in the discussion will be William L. Laurence, science editor of The New York Times.
"The Great Challenge" series, which made its debut Sunday, is designed to explore various issues confronting this country.
It was The Great Challenge's first season that explored the most topics--seven in all. Given the somewhat expansive topics during The Great Challenge programs, reviews over its three seasons varied widely. Witness the following review of the 2nd Season premier of The Great Challenge from the February 24th 1959 edition of the Middlesboro Daily News. The topic was "Where Is Science Taking Us?" :
By William Ewald
United Press International
NEW YORK (UPI)--Sunday afternoon has been called the intellectual ghetto of TV, but I wonder if anyone has ever really felt any intellectual ferment yeasting up within him after spending Sunday with the tube.
My feelings are usually those of disappointment: The panel shows are frequently just contests of personality, the interview shows frequently just essays in pios banalities, the filmed background shows usually just oatmeal. What Sunday lacks is spine, depth and freshness.
Sunday, CBS-TV brought back its "Great Challenge" series and I know with a show like this a reviewer is supposed to be "constructive"--that is, overlook its sodden texture. After all, it isn't a Western and it means well--shouldn't we pretend, therefore, that it is "stimulating" or "absorbing" or "valuable?"
Sunday, "The Great Challenge" tried to tackle the question "where is science taking us" without ever getting close to the nut of its topic. As in so many of these Sunday things, there was too much wandering, too little purposiveness, too much acceptance of the torturous inanities express by fellow panelists.
A good information show should be built on lines just like those of a good drama, a good song, a good joke. It should have some conflict, a sense of direction and discipline. Flabby give-and-take isn't enough particularly when it lends to unmeaningness like this Sunday.
"The fact that the span of human life has been increased during the past 50 years by somewhat more than 20 years gives to men, women and children an opportunity to live longer..."
I might add that everyone accepted this without a blink.
On the other side of the coin, Leonard Bernstein on CBS-TV Sunday gave a demonstration of what Sunday daytime could be like--if, indeed, it must be an "intellectual ghetto."
Given 60 minutes to explore musical invention, Bernstein fanned oxygen into the afternoon. His hour had a sense of structure--Bernstein built solid block upon block, did it tersely and with some wit, and moved steadily toward a meaningful climax.
As a result, when the hour was over there was a feeling of shared experience, of a quickening of the emotions and intellect, of fulfillment. If this sort of thing means being ghettoized, I would say hurrah for the ghetto. Unfortunately, it is a lonely exception.
Then Senator John F. Kennedy participated in the third program of the second season, in a panel discussing "Can Democracy Meet the Space Age Challenge?" This was all the more prophetic, given Senator John F. Kennedy's literal 'space age challenge' to Congress and the entire Nation as President John F. Kennedy during his speech on May 25th 1961--only two years later. From the March 22nd 1959 edition of the Advocate:
Kennedy, Professors Join
In Space-Age Discussion
Sen. John F. Kennedy (D., Mass.), former government official Arthur Larson, and university professors Clinton Rossher of Cornell and Merle Fainsod of Harvard will join moderator Eric Sevareid in exploring the question "Can Democracy Meet the Space Age Challenge?" on "The Great Challenge" Sunday on CBS (1:30-2:30 p.m.).
The symposium, third in the current series, will attempt to appraise the capacity of institutions in a democratic government to meet challenges such as the current intensified Soviet competition and to keep pace with the increasing complexity of our society in the space age.
Sen. Kennedy is the author of the Pulitzer-prize winning book "Profiles In Courage." Arthur Larson, formerly under-secretary of labor and director of the United States Information Agency for the Eisenhower administration,
is widely known through his most recent books, ''A Republican Looks At His Party," and "What We Are For."
Dr. Rossiter is professor of American institutions and chairman of the Department of Government at Cornell and author of several , books on American government.
Dr. Fainsod, professor of government at Harvard, is a leading authority on the government of the Soviet Union and author of several books on government, including "How Russia Is Ruled."
In discussing the processes of government and the functions of governmental institutions in a democracy, the participants will debate such questions as: How viable today are the various institutions of a free government? and can these institutions act with the wisdom the times demand?
From the August 24th 1959 CBS promotion in the New York Times:
NO SECRET CORNER of the world, however tiny, is hidden from the curious cameras of our far-flung correspondents, such as, for example, Tavisak Viryasiri, a wealthy Bangkok businessman whose sideline is working as a CBS News cameraman. The moment the Thai government cracked down on narcotics Tavisak and his camera infiltrated a group of local opium dens and took some fascinating pictures. Perhaps you saw them on a recent Saturday news program the customers walking into a bunk-filled room, blue with smoke, buying their opium pellets, preparing their pipes, and sliding into their separate cubicles to sleep, perchance to dream. After getting his films Tavisak then went to the Klong Rangsit Sanitarium and showed you Thai doctors attending long-term addicts and their methods of rehabilitation; similar in so many ways to our own. Altogether it was pretty impressive and informative journalism, in the best Pulitzer Prize-winning tradition, thanks to Tavisak, CBS News and in the last analysis, television.
Every year the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge presents awards to television broadcasters for programs which "create or support" a better understanding of the nation's fundamental traditions. Last week it gave its George Washington Honor Medal to the CBS Television Network, for a full-hour program called "Government and the Democratic Process" one of a series of seven programs entitled The Great Challenge.
Perhaps you remember seeing it. A group of distinguished historians and journalists including, among others, Prof. Allan Nevins of Columbia University, Prof. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. of Harvard University, Arthur Krock of The New York Times and Emmet Hughes of Life Magazine sharply examined the quality of American leadership and the capacity of democratic institutions to act swiftly in moments of crisis. The Freedoms Foundation called it an "outstanding achievement."
The 'Great Challenge' of the series' brilliant moderators
It should come as no surprise that CBS selected Howard K. Smith and Eric Sevareid to moderate The Great Challenge for its three seasons. Rhodes Scholar Howard K. Smith was clearly up to the task of steering, reigning in and moderating the world's greatest thinkers in their respective areas of expertise. And Eric Sevareid, educated at the University of Minnesota [Poli-Sci], in London, and later at the Sorbonne in Paris, was no shrinking violet either. Both seasoned war correspondents, their experience with Murrow's Boys for CBS equipped both of them quite well for holding their own among a stage full of large egos. Indeed, it was the profound mutual respect between both the panelists and moderators of The Great Challenge that made for truly compelling, yet spirited, discussions of the three seasons' fifteen wide-ranging topics.
||Dr. Edward Teller, Dr. Joseph Kaplan, Barbara Ward, Leo Cherne, Barbara Ward Jackson, Dr. Howard L. Bevis, Dr. Clifford C. Furnas, Dr. Roger Revelle, Dr. Paul Sears, William L. Laurence, Neil H. Jacoby, Leon Keyserling, Dr. Lawrence S. Kubie, Dr. Ralph W. Tyler, Dr. Brock Chisholm, Lionel Trilling, Eric Fromm, Dr. William Foote Whyte, Arthur Krock, Allan Nevins, DeWitt Clinton, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Emmett Hughes, Dr. Elmer Schattschneider, Ernest Lindley, Anthony Nutting, Lester B. Pearson, Dean Rusk, Prof. Arnold J. Toynbee, Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, Dr. Charles Frankel, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, Dr. Detlev W. Bronk, Dr. Jerome B. Weisner, McGeorge Bundy, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert M. Hutchins, Edward H. Litchfield, Senator John F. Kennedy, Arthur Larson, Professor Clinton Rossiter of Cornell, Merle Fainsod, Barbara Ward, John Fischer, Eugene C. Pullilam, J. Russell Wiggins, Sig Mickelson, James Hagerty, James Reston, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Governor Rockefeller, Thomas K. Finletter, Marquis W. Childs, Victor L. Butterfield, Senator Henry M. Jackson, Dr. Henry M. Wriston, Robert L. Heilbroner, Maj. Gen. John B. Medaris, Gilbert Seldes, Frank Pace, Jr., Leo Rosten, Marguerite Higgins, Fred W. Friendly, Paul H. Nitze, Robert R. Bowie, Robert D. Sweezey,