“Invention” in Houston

  Houston: The First Fight Over The TV, At The Alley.

Farnsowrth061209 Two people arguing over electrons, cathode rays and how much light it takes to transport a moving image across the country may not sound like a riveting evening to most people — but they'd be pretty much wrong.

For its final show of the 2008-2009 season, the Alley Theatre is putting on The Farnsworth Invention by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing) which is both surprisingly funny and incredibly sad in turns as it tells us the story of the early battles for a workable TV set.

Jeffrey Bean shines as David Sarnoff, the Jewish immigrant from Russia who went on to become the head of NBC during its infancy and for years thereafter. His counterpart is Philo T. Farnswoth, played by Brandon Hearnsberger who, when he was just 15 years old in 1921, drew a picture for his high-school science teacher of a diagram for an electronic television system.

"Incredibly sad"?  Well, yes, particularly when you consider that the play is what many viewers will take away as "history," when so many of the pivotal facts are… well, wrong.  This is the history of television pretty much from as RCA  has been telling it for 80 years.  So much for "setting the record straight."

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