Like me, this blogger came to the show as an avid fan of Aaron Sorkin’s previous work. I, too, always felt a twinge of sadness at the final fade-out of a West Wing episode. "That’s it?" I’d wonder. "It’s over? Now what am I gonna do?" Turning of the TeeVee was usually the best solution (at least until we started watching The Daily Show).
But when I read:
So I stepped into The Music Box this afternoon fully prepared to enjoy the story of how David Sarnoff basically stole television from inventor Philo Farnsworth. And did.
…then I realize how much The Farnsworth Invention misses the point. The truth is: Sarnoff and RCA tried to steal television from Farnsworth and failed. The play lands on the note that Farnsworth lost his ligitation against RCA, but that’s not what happened.
There are three reasons why the name of Farnsworth was lost to history. At the top of the list is the fact that he was not survived by a company that could promote his legacy. The Farnsworth Television and Radio Company — which based much of its commercial appeal on the slogan "First in Television" — faltered in the marketplace in 1949, just as television was becoming an industry. (Oh, and, for the record: the Farnsworth portfolio still had many patents that were valuable well into the 1950s.) It was only then that RCA could begin to make its false claims that Zworykin invented the Iconoscope for RCA in 1923, etc etc. The field was clear once there was no Farnsworth Company left to challenge such ludicrous claims.
But within the time frame depicted in this play, Farnsworth was totally victorious, and that is the legacy that many of us had hoped to see portrayed in what is the first "popular entertainment" to approach this story. It is just unimaginable how such a heroic victory can be turned into such an ignominious defeat.