Czech Television: content, history, future
EUscreen is a three-year project which started in October 2009. The project brings 36 partners together, from 19 countries and offers access to digitised items of television content. There are currently over 12,000 items of digital content which are freely available to view on www.euscreen.eu . More material is becoming available all the time and by the end of September 2012, there will be around 30,000 items available on the site. Although the majority of this material is video, there are also still images, documents and audio records within the collection. The material is not simply about television but about how television records, shapes and documents history and historical events.
This series aims to focus on the archives which are contributing material to the EUscreen project, drawing attention to collections of audio visual material which relate to European television. Many of these collections have never before been digitised and some of them have never been made available outside their countries of production.
The series begins with a focus on the archive of Czech Television. Czech Television is currently giving over 1000 items of digital content to the EUscreen project. But what is this material and is it of interest to researchers? Martin Bouda (archivist in the Czech Television Archives in Prague) has offered this introduction to the archive and reveals a great deal about the television content.
The Czech TV Archives contain approximately 235,000 hours of Audio Visual material dating from 1953 to 2011. About 1,200 hours of this material are classified as the most ‘valuable’ and they include historical moments from Czech history, footage from the first days of broadcasting, and the 1968 Prague Spring and 1989 Velvet Revolution. In January 2010, the process of digitizing the Czech TV archives began and this ongoing process aims to create a digital archive with a final capacity of 500,000 hours. This new digital environment will improve the availability of archival materials and ensure that this valuable digital heritage is preserved for future generations. As part of their commitment to the EUscreen project, Czech TV will be supplying 1000 items of digital content.
So what is in the archive? A large proportion consists of dramatic movies and serials, which can not be published on the EUscreen portal due to IPR reasons. Much of this material was acclaimed throughout Europe, notably series which originated in the 1970’s and 1980’s which were coproduced in collaboration with Western European TV companies. For example the TV series Hospital at the End of the City enjoyed great success and its sequel was enthusiastically received by West German viewers. Other important TV series’ include Circus Humberto and Adventure of Criminalistics.
Czech TV also enjoyed success with TV movies and series’ for children. The TV series’ Arabela, The Visitors, The Flying Cestmir, Hamster in a Nightshirt or Pan Tau were all popular across Europe. These series’ were mostly made in the Barrandov Film Studios and West German television helped finance their production. There are also animated movies and cartoons which were significant, notably the Little Mole series which became known worldwide. Although Czechoslovak TV itself did not produce these cartoons, the frequent broadcasting on Czechoslovak TV helped to dramatically increase their popularity. Other animation movies were also, such as Bob and Bobek, Fireflies or Maxipes Fik, which were often broadcast as Večerníček (Little Bedtime Stories) - a short story broadcast every day for children before bedtime.
Music and music-entertainment shows have been an integral part of the Czech TV broadcasting since the 1950s. They were widely popular among viewers and the top pop music stars also performed there. Also the epic New Year's Eve shows enjoyed significant following. In June 1964, ČST organized the 1st International TV Festival "Golden Prague", and event which specialised in music and ballet. In 1992 this event was taken over by Czech Television and it has been held annually ever since.
On 11 February 1955, the first live TV sports broadcast was held – an ice hockey match between Czechoslovakia and Leksand IF from the Prague indoor sporting arena. Other live broadcasts soon followed and on 1 October 1956, the first regular television news program ‘TV News and Interesting Facts’ was aired. Three years later this title was changed to Television News.
Dubbing in Czechoslovakia was traditionally of a very high standard. It always received special attention and the top artists from contemporary film, theater and television often appeared as dubbing actors. One of the best dubbing actors was František Filipovský, who unforgettably interpreted French comedian Louis de Funés' performances for Czech viewers. The connection between Funés and Filipovský became legendary in Czech dubbing and Filipovský's vocal expression was often considered better than the original version. To this day Czech dubbing actors win annual František Filipovský Awards for outstanding performances in the art of dubbing.
In 1990s, after the fall of the communist regime, Czech TV was finally given full freedom to produce documentary and factual programs. Many factual series’ that drew a wide audience were produced, including the series Views from Elsewhere which aimed to describe (with humorous exaggeration) European countries that had until recently been inaccessible for Czechs behind the iron curtain. Documentary series What is the life like for... focuses on the life of various professional or social groups from interesting perspectives. The series Ten Centuries of Architecture which mapped Czech architectural treasures created over the centuries was also hugely popular.
So where did it all begin? The first television broadcast in Czechoslovakia was demonstrated experimentally at the International radio show MEVRO in Prague as early as 1948. Czechoslovak Television launched its first experimental broadcast on 1 May, 1953. TV viewers were welcomed by the popular film actor Jaroslav Marvan. He announced the forthcoming programme of Czechoslovak Television and introduced his co-workers, who were mostly other actors and radio commentators. The announcements were followed by a live show performed by another immensely popular film actor František Filipovský. But this was not what was originally planned; the equipment did not work and therefore the originally planned movie could not be screened. So Filipovský stepped in to save the day and performed a dramatic improvisation of Moliere’s The Miser.
Regular broadcasting began on 25 February, 1954 and initially, ČST only broadcast 3 days a week, and in the summer for just two days a week. In November 1953, the number of broadcast days expanded to four, and two years later to six days. Fully weekly broadcasting began on 29 December1958.
In the spirit of communist policy of centralized management of the country, ČST was formerly organizationally associated with the Czechoslovak Radio and both media were collectively managed under the Czechoslovak Committee for Radio and Television. During 1958 television became independent and on 1 October 1959 it was established as a stand-alone central organization.
Soon after the Prague studio was founded, other studios also began to operate: Ostrava on 31 October 1955, Bratislava on 3 November 1956, Brno on 6 July 1961 and Kosice on 25 February (1964). The Prague Studio, however, continued to play a major role in the managing and broadcasting of Television in Czechoslovakia. In the 1960s the construction of the television centres in Prague and Bratislava began. The new Prague TV studio located in Kavčí Hory began operating on 17 October 1970 and the Bratislava TV studio in Mlynská dolina on 26 October 1970. On 10 May 1970, the second television channel was added and on 9 May 1973 color broadcasting was launched on this channel, but audiences had to wait to see a color broadcast on the first channel until 9 May 1975. Along with television's technical and program development, the number of viewers also kept growing. In September 1962, the number of paying viewers exceeded one million, in March 1965 this had become two million, by December 1969 3 million and in 1978 4 million registered TV receivers were reported.
Thanks to society-wide liberalization in the second half of the 1960s, even topics previously seen as not permissible suddenly made it on to the screen, for example a report on the first strip shows which had appeared in Czechoslovakia in the late 1960’s. The liberalization process was forcibly terminated by the invasion of the Soviet troops, and during 21– 26 August 1968 all buildings of Czechoslovak television were occupied by Soviet occupation troops. Thanks to the skills of television technicians programs supporting the legally elected government and party representation were aired from makeshift studios.
Significant changes occurred in Czechoslovak Television in November 1989, during the Velvet Revolution. TV workers revolted against the existing management who could not appropriately respond to the revolutionary events sparked by a police attack on a peaceful demonstration on 17 November 1989. For a few days ČST became a crucial medium to inform the public about current events. After 36 years, ČST finally ceased to be governed by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. This state-subsidized organization had provided the broadcast monopoly in Czechoslovakia for over four decades. With the exception of the years 1989-1992, it was under the direct influence of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.
The creation of the independent Slovak Television on 1 July 1991 accelerated the end of the central federal broadcasting and the Czech National Council's Act on Czech Television, establishing the first Czech national television on 1 January 1992, thus confirming the extinction of ČST. On the last day of 1992, both the Czechoslovak federation and federal television ceased to exist; ČST was replaced with Czech Television, a public broadcaster.
Much of the content mentioned above can be seen on the EUscreen site. More material is being added all the time including important political footage (including the Prague Spring 1968 and Velvet Revolution 1989) so why not come and browse the archive material of Czech TV on EUscreen?
Martin Bouda is an archivist in the Czech Television Archives in Prague. He studied Librarian and Information Science at Charles University and graduated in 2006. Martin is the EUscreen project coordinator for the Czech TV Archives (Archiv programových fondů České televize).
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