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Joseph Seeman Iseman (1916-2006) was actively involved with all the public television enterprises in the greater New York City area from 1954 to 1980. In 1954, Iseman became involved with Metropolitan Educational Television Association Inc. (META) through his law partner and friend Mr. Rifkind, and within a few weeks, he was voted Chair of META. He also became the legal advisor for the Fund for the Advancement of Education. Iseman became outside counsel to the Educational Broadcasting Corporation and Channel 13 until 1980. He was also a legal adviser to the Children's Television Workshop during its formative years.
The collection documents Iseman's close involvement, as outside legal counsel, with the purchase of Channel 13, New York City's public television station, and its consolidation as WNET, a PBS flagship station.
This collection is open for research use.
Photocopies of original materials may be provided for a fee and at the discretion of the curator. Please see our Duplication of Materials page for more information. Queries regarding publication rights and copyright status of materials within this collection should be directed to the appropriate curator..
7.00 Linear Feet
The Joseph S. Iseman papers cover the years 1951 to 1986, with the bulk of the materials from 1961 to 1980. The first part of the collection dates from 1961 to 1972 and relates to Iseman's close involvement, as legal outside counsel, with the purchase of Channel 13, New York City's public television station, and its consolidation as WNET, a PBS flagship station. The second part of the collection relates to the move to the Henry Hudson Hotel, a series of renovations and expansions and finally, its acquisition by the station (1972-1980); it includes the papers of one of Iseman's law partners, Anthony B. Kuklin. Most of the first section of the collection consists of correspondence, memos, minutes and legal documents, while most of the second section consists of construction documents and correspondence. Original documents can be found at the end of the collection, in an oversized box.
Joseph Seeman Iseman was born on May 29, 1916 in New York City, the son of Percy Reginald and Edith Helene (Seeman). In 1937, Iseman received a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Harvard University. Also that year, Iseman published a work of literary criticism (the prize Harvard honors thesis in English): A Perfect Sympathy. In addition, Iseman worked as an investigator and clerk with Commercial Factors Corporation from 1937 to 1938. He then went to Yale Law School, from which he graduated in 1941. That year, Iseman was admitted to the New York Bar.
Iseman worked briefly as an attorney before serving in the United States Army during World War II. He served in several arenas from 1942 to 1946, attaining the rank of Captain in the Army Air Force. Iseman was discharged in Egypt.
Before returning to the United States, Iseman worked as the Managing Director of the newly-formed Iranian Airways (1946). Then, until 1950, Iseman was a law associate with Chadbourne, Wallace, Parke and Whiteside in New York City. He joined the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison in 1950 and was made a full partner in 1954. One of the sections which Iseman developed as a partner in this firm was in the area of legal affairs in public broadcasting.
In 1966, Iseman married June Lorraine Bang. Iseman had three children from a previous marriage: Peter A., Frederick J. and Ellen M. Joseph and June Iseman also reared two daughters and a son from June's previous marriage: Anne Hamilton, Susan E. Hamilton and William C. Hamilton.
Iseman was a member of the American, New York State and New York City Bar Associations. A registered Democrat, Iseman was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Century Club of New York City and the Coveleigh Club in Rye, New York, where he resided part time. Iseman resided the rest of the year in Paris, France, where he was a member of the Cercle de L'Union Interalliée and the American Club of Paris.
Iseman was active and influential not only in the field of public television but in other areas as well: he served as a director of Gould Paper Corporation and of Apparel Buying Associates; was secretary and general counsel for Charles F. Kettering Foundation, Educational Facilities Laboratories, and the Academy for Educational Development and served on the Board of Directors of the Scherman Foundation, and Victims Services, where he served as board chairman. Iseman was a trustee of Bennington College, and became Acting President for one year in 1976. From 1977 through 1984, Iseman was Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and at six other American colleges and universities. Iseman was Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of The American University of Paris and a Director of the Civic Education Project which provides faculty members for 45 colleges in Central and Eastern Europe. Iseman was the author of several articles in professional journals.
Joseph S. Iseman died in May 2006.
BACKGROUND TO THE COLLECTION: CREATION OF WNET
From 1954 to 1980, Iseman was actively involved with all the public television enterprises in the greater New York City area. In 1954, Iseman became involved with Metropolitan Educational Television Association Inc. (META) through his law partner and friend Rifkind, and within a few weeks he was voted Chair of META. In addition, partly because the Fund for Advancement of Education, funded by the Ford Foundation, was located in the same building as the law firm where Iseman was partner, he became the Fund's legal adviser.
The Board of META was, by law, made up only of representatives from educational institutions and universities, all of which competed with META for funding. Hence, it was felt by proponents of public television that META could never succeed in acquiring and operating a public VHF channel in New York and should step aside for a new entity, which would initially be supported by the Ford Foundation and related entities. According to Iseman, the META Board in 1960-1961 agreed to dissolve META and donate the association's assets (a broadcasting facility) to New York University. At the same time, a group of important New York citizens, some with Ford connections, decided to try to set up a public television station for the city under a new organization, Educational Television for the Metropolitan Area (ETMA). However, because the two acronyms, META and ETMA, were too close phonetically, it was decided to rename the new entity Educational Broadcasting Corporation (EBC). John (Jack) White, President of the National Education Television and Radio Center (NETRC, later NET), which had just moved its headquarters to New York, was the driving force behind this strategy, according to Iseman.
The fact that the station ETMA proposed to purchase (Channel 13) had a "fluid location" was to herald a thorny and prolonged legal battle. As Jack Guthman wrote in a seminar paper in 1963, "The Channel 13 Case: FCC Intervention in a 310(b) License Transfer":
The licensee [Bremer Broadcasting Corporation] had successfully petitioned for the channel [in 1946] on the strength of its New Jersey locale. Nonetheless, its original transmission plans reveal a service area which encompasses New York City. With its move to the Manhattan skyscraper which housed the area's other six channels, Bremer's New Jersey identity -- albeit its studio in Newark -- became more tenuous … Bremer's hybrid, part-New Jersey, part-New York City approach to its channel can only be a realization that if WATV [Channel 13] were known as a New Jersey station, its future sales value would be substantially less than if it were identified with the nation's largest city.
It is important to note that at that time (1961), there were no satellites and no cable television: only six VHF stations (all with commercial licenses) were allocated to New York City. The seventh in the area, Channel 13 (a commercial licensee allocated to Newark), at first tried to broadcast from New Jersey, but because local viewers were turning their television antennas towards NYC and its six VHF stations, Channel 13, like them, began to broadcast from antennas atop the Empire State Building.
The ETMA Board retained a television station broker, Howard Stark, to "find" a VHF channel in the New York area for ETMA to purchase. As three of the channels were network-owned and three others had strong owners (Dumont Broadcasting, General Tire, New York Daily News), it was quite clear from the outset that Channel 13, a money-loser and then owned by a disinterested California entity, National Telefilm Associates (NTA), was the only candidate for purchase. Iseman, as legal adviser to ETMA/EBC, and Eugene Aleinikoff, as legal counsel for NETRC, set out to negotiate and resolve the sundry legal issues and complications involved with the purchase and transfer of Channel 13. According to Aleinikoff, NETRC originally had wanted Channel 13 as its "owned and operated" flagship channel. Ironically, EBC's Channel 13 eventually became not just the independent public television station envisioned by ETMA/EBC, but the organization that bought out the pioneering NET and all its assets.
ETMA's Board raised $4 million to buy Channel 13 in Newark, but that station's owners, NTA, wanted more: they wanted to sell not just the VHF frequency but their film library and equipment as well. NTA's negotiations with other potential buyers were unsuccessful because the FCC wanted an educational channel in New York and wouldn't approve the transfer of 13's license to a commercial buyer, so, in effect, the station owners had to sell to ETMA. ETMA received the support of many New York entities in its quest for a non-profit educational television channel, since there already were six (excluding 13) commercial stations on the air in the city. One of the thrusts of the ETMA negotiators, including Iseman, was to convince these existing stations to assist ETMA in its efforts, and this they did successfully. The commercial stations, particularly the three "independent" channels (5, 9 & 11) were eager to have ETMA succeed in acquiring channel 13 because it would eliminate a commercial competitor. However, these stations were reluctant to contribute to the ETMA funds because of fear that this would produce action by the Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Iseman's partner, Lloyd Garrison, discussed the issue with Lee Loevinger, the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Antitrust Division in the Kennedy Administration. Sympathetic to public television, Loevinger agreed to give the commercial stations a "railroad release" which was a commitment by the government that if the stations contributed to ETMA, they would not be prosecuted for antitrust violations. As a result, ETMA raised $750,000 from three commercial entities: the local NBC and CBS affiliates, and the independent Dumont station (Channel 5), with each station donating $250,000.
However, while raising money from the commercial broadcasters was important it accounted for only part of the more than six million dollars paid to NTA. Most of the money, according to Iseman, came from Foundation sources.
The purchase contract between ETMA and NTA (which was quickly approved by the FCC) required completion of the transaction before the end of 1961. Just when everything seemed to indicate a smooth sale, a new and unforeseen opponent materialized: New Jersey Governor Robert Meyner. Governor Meyner's objection was that ETMA was seeking to purchase a Newark station (Channel 13--the only VHF station assigned to New Jersey) for use essentially as a NYC educational public television station. Because that would deny his state a station to provide local news and content to its residents and advertising opportunities to New Jersey businessmen, Governor Meyner objected to the ETMA purchase and asked a judicial review in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia of the FCC order approving the transfer of NTA's license to ETMA. Meyner succeeded in having a three judge panel of the Court of Appeals reverse the FCC order but then the FCC obtained reargument en banc before the entire Court of Appeals (nine judges) and that en banc court repudiated the panel and reinstated the FCC order.
The matter was resolved privately, at the end of November, 1961, with a handshake agreement in the New Jersey governor's mansion. The four-way negotiations were conducted by Governor Meyner and his staff lawyer, Douglas Hofe (for NJ); Justin Golenbock for NTA; Tedson Meyers (Chairman Minow's staff assistant) for the FCC, and Eugene Aleinkoff, Richard Hefner and Joseph Iseman (plus Board members Howard Shepherd and Devereux Josephs) for ETMA. The Governor was offered a position on the station's Board and promised special programming relating to New Jersey. An immediate closing of the purchase from NTA was scheduled and commercial Channel 13 went off the air.
The closing proved to be extraordinarily difficult. Before the $6,280,000 purchase price could be handed over to Channel 13's owners, clear title had to be obtained to each asset being purchased. It appeared that NTA had hocked every piece of equipment, thus making the closing into a three-day legal marathon. Thus, according to Iseman, ETMA's money went first to the mortgage company to release each machine and tape recorder and piece of equipment so that the closing could be achieved within the contract deadline.
But even the closing did not signal the conclusion of Channel 13's problems. On the positive side, the station soon received as a gift from CBS the CBS Theater on Ninth Avenue in NYC. Another studio in the Mosque Theater in Newark was part of the purchase of the license from NTA. But within hours after the station first went on the air in the fall of 1962, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) called a labor dispute with management, keeping the station off the air for several more months. Eugene Aleinikoff handled the labor negotiations.
It was as a partner in Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison that Iseman (and some of his other partners, most notably Real Estate Law specialist Anthony B. Kuklin) became outside counsel to the Educational Broadcasting Corporation and Channel 13 until 1980. He was also legal adviser to the Children's Television Network during its formative years.
Once Iseman's law partner, Mr. Anthony B. Kuklin, concluded the Phase II Construction and Purchase of the Henry Hudson Hotel in downtown Manhattan in 1980 (some infrequent correspondence in the Joseph S. Iseman papers dates to 1986), EBC hired its own staff counsel and no longer required the services of an outside law firm. Iseman's association with Channel 13 came to an end.
Organized as three series:
The Joseph S. Iseman papers were donated to the University of Maryland Libraries by Joseph S. Iseman in March of 1993.
Part of the Special Collections and University Archives