In the beginning there was research, some legal work and in some cases, a lot of restoration. The result is a niche and a Web site www.broadwayarchive.com that specializes in theatrical productions made for television. Gathered together, they make an unusual outcropping in the home video sea.
At present, about 40 productions are available on videocassette at the site, most of them from PBS. Swoosie Kurtz and Geraldine Fitzgerald star in Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness!" (1976), Blythe Danner and Frank Langella in Tennessee Williams' "Eccentricities of a Nightingale" (1976), Irene Worth in Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days" (1980), Dustin Hoffman and Eileen Brennan in Maxwell Anderson's "The Star Wagon" (1966), James Earl Jones and Raul Julia in "King Lear" (1974). . . .
Productions to be added go back to the Dupont Show of the Month and the Kraft Television Theater in the '50s and '60s: George C. Scott and Agnes Moorehead in "A Tale of Two Cities" (1958), Lee J. Cobb and Eli Wallach in "Don Quixote" (1959), Julie Harris and E.G. Marshall in "The Night of the Storm" (1961) and Laurence Olivier, Judith Anderson, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy in "The Moon and Sixpence" (1961).
To start such a collection, one negotiates for rights and goes digging for the material, wherever it has landed over the years. "Basically, they were rotting in warehouses," said Andrew Barrett, a vice president of the Broadway Theater Archive, which began looking for the productions in 1996 in broadcasters' vaults, libraries, museums and other likely spots.
And there are hundreds more out there to be found. The owners include estates, production companies and various individuals. About 70 broadcasts have come from WNET. Barrett said that owners have been cooperative. "They realize that no one else is doing this, and their stuff would be lost forever," he said. Information: 1-800-422-2827.
IN 1955, ORSON WELLES had yet to make "Touch of Evil," but he already had made "Around the World With Orson Welles" for British television. As presented on disc and cassette from Image, the circumnavigation gets only as far as Paris and the Basque country. But as travelogues go — not that these five short documentaries could be classified as such in any true sense — this one has to be among the more eccentric.
Welles, it could be said, does it his way. Often that means venturing short distances, planting a camera, charming a group of elderly folk and leading them in discussions that may begin with some connection to locale but soon diverge into free-form ruminations on life. At all times, Welles makes a paternal but affectionate conversational overseer, deftly verbal and genuinely curious.
In the English countryside, the subject is the tragedy of loneliness. In Basque country, he turns to values of raising children in varied cultures. In Madrid, he studies the ramifications of the bullfight with help from the critic Kenneth Tynan and his wife. "Orson," she explains, "was a picador in Spain 20 years ago."