05/04/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT
When TV began regular broadcasts in 1939, there were, alas, no PEOPLE reporters on hand to capture the moment. This year marks another television milestone, and times are different. "This magazine has covered TV extensively for 15 years," says executive editor Jim Seymore, who had overall responsibility for this issue. "We felt we were in a perfect position to do a retrospective."
Last fall, senior editor Richard Sanders began signing up a staff for a special issue and creating the first mock-up. Picture researcher Sarah Rozen made the first of more than 50 visits to TV networks, warehouses, private collections and photo agencies from coast to coast in search of photographs. In January, a hybrid task force of PEOPLE staffers and free-lancers began assembling in new quarters on the 31st floor of the Time & Life Building. Senior editor Dick Lemon became the point man and began assigning articles. Under the direction of chief of reporters Peggy Brawley, reporter-researchers Martha Babcock, Hugh McCarten and Marianne Macy dove into reference works with titles like The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows and My Scrapbook Memories of "Dark Shadows." Rozen and assistant Maria Higgins by then had hunted down more than half of the 7,000 photographs Rozen would view. In Los Angeles, reporters Jim Calio and Lois Armstrong began interviewing stars, producers, directors. Writers Lorenzo Carcaterra, Brad Darrach, Stefan Kanfer, Joanne Kaufman, Louise Lague, Jill Pearlman, Alan Richman and Lynn Schnurnberger sat down at their word processors.
Once enough material to fill a TV museum had been assembled, winnowing began, "The amount of material we had was overwhelming," says Seymore. "We realized there was no way we could include every reader's favorite show and star—but we tried. Assembling it all was like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle while guessing weeks in advance where every piece would fit." Final selections were made after many staff debates and more than a few fights. PEOPLE managing editor Jim Gaines weighed in on the 25 Top Stars with, "You can't forget the Beav!" After editing the articles on those stars, Lemon made an announcement: "We have a 25-way tie for first place." While choosing the events pictured in the "Unforgettable Images" section, remembers Hugh McCarten, "We'd be talking about the Nixon-Kennedy debates and the moon landing, and Sarah Rozen would say, 'Wait a minute! What about that time on Mary Tyler Moore when Rhoda said, "I don't know why I'm bothering to eat this chocolate, I might as well apply it directly to my hips"?' " The debates and moon landing won. Rhoda found another niche.
The task of arranging all this material gracefully and strikingly fell to art director Hillie Pitzer and her associate, Phil Simone, who presented their first designs in late January. By the end, they had deftly worked 750 photos onto 129 pages and the cover. "That's many more pictures than we have in a regular issue," says Pitzer. "It was the roughest job I've ever done." While the staff's eight writers composed the text, reporter-researchers Maria Speidel, Michael Tanner and Rosemarie Touris joined up to help verify the minutiae. How many bullets hit J.R. Ewing in Dallas's most famous episode? Answer: two. For the special issue staff, which egan to resemble a commune, the work added up to weeks-on-end of 16-hour days. If was worth it. "I think," says Dick Lemon, "this is the single best magazine about TV that's ever been done." We hope you'll agree—and enjoy it.