This video contains raw footage shot for "Five Day Bicycle Race," a project comprised of live in-studio commentary and taped edited coverage of the 1976 Democratic National Convention in New York City. Produced by independent videomakers calling themselves The Image Union (including many members of TVTV and Videofreex), it aired on Manhattan Cable for three hours per night for five days during the convention. In this video, videomakers Elon Soltes and Bill Marpet get up close and personal with legendary sports commentator Howard Cosell at his fancy Park Avenue home. The ever eloquent Cosell talks about a variety of issues pertaining to the Democratic National Convention.
00:00Copy video clip URL This tape begins with a blue screen.
00:16Copy video clip URL The videomakers test the equipment before leaving to interview sports commentator Howard Cosell.
00:26Copy video clip URL Cut to a shot of Elon Soltes and Bill Marpet in the lobby of Howard Cosell’s Manhattan home. The doorman calls Cosell from the lobby to get his permission to allow the two men into his home.
01:29Copy video clip URL Cut to inside Cosell’s home. A woman and a small child sit quietly while Cosell speaks with Soltes and Marpet. Soltes first explains to Cosell that the Image Union is covering the DNC on an extremely limited budget in comparison to the networks, which have millions of dollars to spend on the coverage. He appears to be fishing for a comment about how the videomakers can cover the convention in a unique way because of their mobility and independence. Upon hearing the question, Cosell gets a little perturbed and asks Soltes what he is asking him. Cosell then says that he believes that the three networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) are generally doing a good job covering the convention. He goes on to say, “Overall I think over the long span of years, television has developed to the point where they cover a convention as sophisticatedly as we of ABC Sports cover the Olympics or Monday Night Football or any of the great sports events.” When asked if he believes politics is becoming a spectator sport, Cosell states that the question is quite deeper than the way it is presented. “I think in a sense in the contemporary America, politics is becoming a spectator sport because what’s happened on the political scene in America through the decade of the sixties and into the seventies has necessitated the fact. People have been affected in so many ways, especially during the sixties with three assassinations, with racism occasioned probably by Brown v. the Board of Education in the fifties and the busing and all the rest, with the escape hatch that was provided for some however wrongly through narcotics addiction, with the tragic shoot down at Kent State, and then moving into the seventies with the loss of faith of government with the Watergate and then the subsequent CIA and FBI disclosures–politics and in the midst of all of this Vietnam–the unending, that cost so many American lives. All of this somehow pervaded the American society and understandably so, and so the American people became absolved with politics it seems to me and the importance of elections to a far greater degree then they ever would have, and yet, not concomitantly but contradictorily, registrations went down, voting interest went down, but that relates most directly to the loss of faith in government and general disgust on the part of the American public. But there is no question that overall, politics has pervaded the American society more in the recent years than it ever did before and in that sense, yes, it’s become a spectator sport more than ever before.”
05:01Copy video clip URL Soltes explains to Cosell that he believes there are some ritualistic aspects to the Convention. Cosell respectfully disagrees with Soltes and gives his thoughts on the DNC. Cosell states that much of the action within the convention is ritualistic, but that each election cycle and the conventions that are held for those cycles are very unique. In talking about the 1976 election cycle, Cosell says, “You’ve got a man who was a total national unknown a year ago who somehow captured the votes that ensured his nomination going into the convention. You had a party utterly torn apart in 1968, everybody remembers what happened in Chicago. You had a party torn apart in 1972 and now suddenly somehow, you’ve got a party united behind this total unknown of a year ago. I don’t think that’s a ritualistic situation. I think it’s a curious matter as to how suddenly there is unity in the Democratic Party and the willingness to back this man who was scorned a year ago. Nobody would take him seriously as a candidate.” He also comments on the Republican primaries and President Gerald Ford’s struggles in winning the party nomination. Soltes talks about the differences between Carter and Ford, saying that Carter has a better telegenic image than Ford. He goes on to ask Cosell about the differences between network coverage and the Image Union coverage of the event. Cosell gives his reasons why the Image Union cannot get the type of coverage bigger networks get. Cosell then states that he disagrees with Soltes’ comments about Carter and Ford. He lays out his reasons for the disagreement. He states that many people are still confused about what Jimmy Carter’s stances are on certain issues. Cosell also states that the majority of the American people think of Ford as a “decent man.” He then states that the country is divided and says that television cannot elect or un-elect a President, but can only influence the American electorate. He talks about the 1960 election and how television affected American voters.
13:00Copy video clip URL Soltes brings up the notion of the American people taking a passive role in politics because of television. Cosell disagrees and believes television creates more participation. Marpet then asks Cosell what kind of television work he loves best. Cosell explains that he would really like to get involved in hard news and political reporting but that he’s never been given the opportunity. He states that he has tried to make a contribution to sports journalism but that this specific kind of journalism is virtually non-existent in America. When asked what he would do if he were to be on the floor on the convention in a position of power, Cosell is quick to respond and says that he doesn’t believe journalists are in a position of power, but that their presentations can influence the American people to a certain extent. “One of the problems we face in America, if one studies the Nielsen ratings, which is basically what television lives by, and that’s a whole subject by itself and economically understandable, the conventions do not draw the interest, excitement, and viewership they should historically.” He goes on to talk about sports journalist Red Smith and Jim Murray’s coverage of political conventions and expresses his admiration of their coverage. He then talks about what he would do on the convention floor if given the chance. “I feel that if I were on the convention floor, I could take the whole of my background in academia at law and the whole of my interview capacities and at the same time relate that to the greater common denominator for the American people which is sport, and use it irreverentially, satirically, and draw a great deal many more viewers to the ABC coverage, because ABC is my network, of the conventions. And that’s what I’d like to do, an answer to your question and why I’d like to do it, but I don’t know if that will ever eventually.” Soltes then states that he hopes something like that could happen for Cosell. Cosell then immediately responds in a glum tone of voice, “Well I hope it does, but I suspect I’m stigmatized forevermore in the trade phraseology as ‘just a sports guy.'”
18:07Copy video clip URL Cosell goes into more detail about what the Image Union can provide to the coverage of the convention, such as deeper insights into delegate profiles and New York citizens. “This is their time in life to become noticed, important in their frames of reference, their preference. And something’s sad about it because it only lasts for a few days. It’s synthetic, it’s tinsel, it’s like Hollywood, it’s like ‘Shampoo’ as Warren Beatty portrayed it. And it’s a kind of sad thing because the nomination of a presidential candidate and a vice presidential candidate, as we’ve learned, is a terribly terribly serious thing… I don’t like to see a society victimized by emotional and moral cripples when great issues are at stake.”
20:22Copy video clip URL Cosell begins to talk about the differences between Image Union and network coverage of the DNC. Cosell states that the Image Union can get a much more intimate portrayal of the event by following and individualizing the delegates. “You can get to the whole of the American elective process if you follow those delegates intimately–personal close up as we say at ABC Sports, in everything they do–the seedy parties, the quick thrust at some limelight, the hope that they’ll be captured by television so they’ll be readily accessible to you. And you will get, I think, your viewers to begin to think seriously for the first time about this whole delegate process–How did we come by it? Is it really right? Who are these people? What are their qualifications? After all, they’re on a nominating convention floor. They’re making the vote for who’s going to be the president possibly of 210 million people and the most polyglot population existing anywhere in the world. And then when you get a close up look at these delegates and see them fall easy prey to the most cosmetic things, the cheapest kinds of thrills, you leave wondering. And as many people as you can reach, it’s very important that they wonder. It’s very important that New Yorkers not view the convention as just another bi-centennial celebration with the fireworks going off and all the rest because we’re not in a celebration here. We’re in a very very serious thing.” Cosell continues to talk about the subject in detail. The interview ends shortly afterward.
24:13Copy video clip URL We then see footage from a private party. This closes the video.
24:45Copy video clip URL Tape ends.