Oh, Those Pesk Details Again

Link: The Farnsworth Invention, by James E. O’Neal. 

Granted, it’s all very "technical," but this might be one of the most comprehensive blog entries I’ve read yet that explains all this teeth-gnashing over a Broadway play:

In taking issue with a particular chamber of commerce’s version of the landing of the Mayflower, Will Rogers once exclaimed, “Don’t be misled by history, or any other unreliable source.” Sorkin seems to have followed this recipe in putting together his latest drama.

While it is admirable that the playwright has rescued the names of Philo Farnsworth, David Sarnoff and Vladimir Zworykin from the legion of the obscure—names that are virtually unknown to many of the present generation—it is lamentable that he has taken so many, many liberties with the facts surrounding their lives.

Blogger James O’Neal then offers what may well be the most concise explanation I have read yet of the differences between Farnsworth’s Image Dissector and Zworykin’s Iconoscope, and why Farnsworth’s victory in the litigation (that is portrayed in the play as a defeat) is such a critical point of history. 

For example, what drama there is in The Farnsworth Invention revolves around Farnsworth’s inability to come to grips with his "light problem," but Mr. O’Neal addresses the reality much more effectively:

While both approaches worked, by today’s standards they were relatively insensitive to light. Early television studio base lighting for an iconoscope was around 1,000 foot-candles. The image dissector required even more.

Mr. O’Neal then does an exemplary job of explaining how Farnsworth’s fundamental concept of the "electrical image" was the indispensable ingredient in making television work.  That was the concept that RCA tried — and, dear God, failed — to appropriate for Zworykin in the litigation with Farnsworth.

Mr. O’Neal then goes on to outline some of the play’s lesser (but no less egregious) historical transgressions.  Given his mastery of the the technical issues involved, he is certainly entitled to his opinion.

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