Collection founder and president James Comisar is a renowned art market specialist with the focused expertise of locating, valuating, authenticating and caring for television artifacts, having created the marketplace in 1989. He is of service to a stellar clientele that has included Johnny Carson, David Chase, Simon Cowell, Norman Lear, David Letterman, Ray Romano, Jerry Seinfeld, Donald Trump, Steven Spielberg, Aaron Spelling, John Wells and Dick Wolf; and he has expertized many millions of dollars worth of ephemera presented by auction houses Butterfield & Butterfield, Bonhams, Christie’s North America, Christie’s South Kensington, Heritage, Julien’s, Profiles in History, Sotheby’s North America, Sotheby’s United Kingdom, as well as having founded the Hollywood memorabilia department for eBay-Butterfields in 1991.
According to Dr. Norma Herman, Professor of Science and Education at California State University, Northridge, the American public spends a total of 250 billion hours each year watching TV; and over the past half century this is equal to us collectively having watched about 15 trillion hours of television. In fact, since 1960 watching television has been America’s number one leisure time activity, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor the television is on over 5 hours a day, and for the first time in history there are more TVs than people in American homes. Charles Coletta, Professor of Popular Culture at Bowling Green University wrote that this is precisely why academic study and the preservation of TV’s past provides a window on American culture: “Television both reflects and influences our lives, and therefore it is necessary we take television scholarship seriously.” Life without television is basically unknown to and “Archie Bunker’s Place” most of us, and TV is affixed to American culture as a root is to a tree. What we learn when we look closely at the development of television programming and technology is not a distant tale that has no connection to contemporary American life, but rather it is the story of the past four generations of Americans; it is our story; it is our lives of which we see a reflection. With mind boggling new technology and an even wider availability of television programming, where it will go from here is yet to be seen. One thing is for certain: In one form or another, television is here to stay and it will continue to be the story of an unknown number of future generations.
The Comisar Collection, Inc. is the most comprehensive archive of original television costumes, props, sets, and related ephemera in extant. Since its inception in 1989, the collection’s mission has been to conserve and celebrate television’s tangible history, and its artifacts span the history of television from the first flickering moments of the broadcast medium to what was on TV last night. Collection assets are as varied as Ralph Kramden’s bus driver jacket from The Honeymooners, Ricky Ricardo’s tuxedo from I Love Lucy,Captain Kirk’s uniform tunic from StarTrek,Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone from Get Smart,Archie and Edith Bunker’s living room chairs from All In the Family, and Johnny Carson’s complete set from The Tonight Show to the vomit bucket from Fear Factor, Donald Trump’s boardroom from The Celebrity Apprentice, Simon Cowell’s judges desk from American Idol, and a section of the downed plane from Lost.
After two decades of collective day-dreaming, gathering iconographic materials, and refining a unique concept, we now have the framework for a fresh new look at America’s modern history and a creative space dedicated to public dialog about television, our relationship with it, the technology that delivers it, and how we as viewers can influence where it goes in the future.
Our archived materials have been featured at exhibits including “Inside the Box” (in partnership with Warner Bros. Television & the Paley Center); “The 1969 Exhibit” (supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services); and our tribute to Johnny Carson including at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills (in support of the PBS “American Masters” series), at the Hammerstein Theater in New York City (in conjunction with Comedy Central), and in the theatrical release, “The Amazing Burt Wonderstone” (Warner Bros. 2013)
Museum of Television, James Comisar, The Comisar Collection, Geeking Out AMC, Kevin Smith.