PBS's long-running series, History Detectives, is as easy-to-watch as it is fun and intelligent. On Tuesday, July 17 at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings), the show begins its 10th season, building on the successful momentum of the previous nine with three interesting segments.
Good as they are, one segment leaves the "detectives" with unusually flat feet, and fumbles a quality ball
that the series has, up until now, handled carefully and successfully. It turns out ownership of one of the items covered in this episode was in question prior to, during and after production of the segment. Even though the show openly raises the issue more than once, it fails to offer significant details. Viewers aren't given any information on the beyond-the-camera turmoil, which ultimately results in a segment that's disjointed and incomplete. More on this in a minute...
History Detectives is all about conclusive fact-finding: People ask for help from the five hosts (and the show's squad of researchers, who do a lot of the work) to determine whether an object they own has any historical value. The scholars do a lot of digging to resolve each case, and the hosts and producers skillfully weave the search for information and the resulting findings into intriguing stories.
In the July 17 episode, the show takes on three music-related objects: What could be authentic 1964 autographs from Beatles John Lennon and Ringo Starr; an electric guitar that was believed to be used by singer-composer Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival (a performance that got him booed off the stage by the audience); and an art collage (right) that might have been constructed by ultra-counter culture musician Frank Zappa.
It's a good hour, except for the holes left by the aforementioned ownership issue revolving around one of the three objects.
SPOILER ALERT! For those of you who'd like to see the show in its entirety before learning about the behind-the-scenes dispute, we suggest you stop reading now, watch the episode and then return here for a producer's explanation of what went wrong. If, however, you want to know more, keep reading...
The controversy touched upon earlier revolves around the segment about the electric guitar, a 1964 sunburst Fender Stratocaster. With some pretty convincing and extensive legwork, the show comes to the conclusion that the guitar in question was Bob Dylan's, as were the song manuscripts that were left in the case with the guitar.
Expert appraisals included in the program value the papers at $30,000-$50,000; the guitar is said to be worth between $300,000 and $500,000. Those are big numbers, even outside a recession.
The guitar was submitted to the show by Dawn Peterson, a New Jersey woman whose late father, Vic Quinto, was a pilot who flew various artists from show to show in the 1960s. Peterson (left, center) had been told the guitar was left on her father's plane, and attempts to return it to the artist failed. It ended up in her mother's attic and, later, her own home, largely forgotten. Until, that is, Peterson contacted History Detectives.
In the History Detective segment about the guitar, small references are made to a contact with Dylan's advisors some years ago, and a smaller footnote-style reference is made to case law — so much more reason for viewers to ask who owns the materials. But ultimately the producers chose not to directly address the controversy.
As the show's airdate grows closer, the controversy continues to swell. On Thursday, July 12, Dylan's attorney told news outlets that Dylan is in possession of the guitar he used during the Newport Folk Festival, adding that he owned several other Stratocasters that were "stolen" over the years. No doubt this story will continue to develop in the days leading to the show's broadcast.
At our request, History Detectives producer Jennifer Silverman, who is employed by show producer Lion TV, provided the following narrative to help shed light on the behind-the-scenes issues, and offer an explanation as to why the show's loose ends couldn't be tied. It was strongly stressed in supplying the following that it is the show's position that it is not in the business of resolving ownership.
"In the fall of 2011, when we started researching this story in earnest, Associate Producer Tom McNamara reached out to Jeff Rosen, Bob Dylan’s manager, via email and phone.
"The reason was threefold: see if Mr. Dylan would look at the guitar and lyrics, see if Mr. Dylan would appear on our show, and see if Mr. Dylan would grant access for us to view his papers currently housed at the Morgan Library (he needs to sign off).
"Mr. Rosen was kind and courteous, and said that he would, off the record, take a look at the guitar and lyrics. He said that he (Jeff Rosen) would not appear on camera, and was vague about whether or not he would involve Mr. Dylan.
"Tom set up a meeting in October. By then, we had gotten a lot of positive feedback from our experts that this might, indeed, be the Newport Guitar. We had also reviewed the series of letters between Dawn Peterson, the contributor, and Dylan’s attorney, Orin Snyder, from 2005, where they went back and forth on ownership. It is not History Detectives’ position to make a determination of ownership.
"Lion TV had a materials release with Dawn that says, more or less, that the guitar and lyrics would remain in our possession during research, and that we would take good care of the items. At this point, we had to consider the possibility that Dylan’s management could ask for the guitar back; something we, as the production company couldn’t accommodate. We asked Mr. Rosen to meet us in the Lion Production offices; he said we need to meet in his offices.
"Finally, we decided we couldn’t take the risk to bring the guitar and lyrics to Mr. Rosen’s office without a guarantee that we would be able to leave with them. Mr. Rosen was as kind and courteous as ever when Tom brought this up, but at this point, via email, he referred us to Mr. Dylan’s attorney, Orin Snyder, who was cc:ed on the email.
"Mr. Snyder did not reach out to us at this time and we did not reach out to him. We shot the story in December and January. When we were finished shooting, I sent two emails to Mr. Snyder, asking him to comment and did not receive a reply." After reading the above and knowing Bob Dylan's reputation as a recluse, the next mystery may well be whether his palace guard even told him any of this was going on, and if they had, would he have cared."
Expect to hear a lot more about the controversy surrounding Dylan's guitar in the coming days.
7/13/2012: Editor's Note: History Detectives released the following statement in response to a claim by Dylan's attorney that Dylan is in possession of the Newport Folk Festival guitar: "History Detectives stands by its reporting of our story in which we conclude that a contributor to the show is in possession of the Fender Stratocaster played by Bob Dylan at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The guitar was authenticated by Andy Babiuk of Rochester, New York, based on the evidence provided – which included close-up color photographs of Mr. Dylan performing at Newport. Mr. Babiuk was able to match the wood grain shown in detail on the photographs with the wood grain of our contributor’s guitar. According to Mr. Babiuk, like a fingerprint, no two wood grains are identical. Mr. Babiuk has previously authenticated numerous guitars including a John Lennon Gretsch 6120 currently on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and a Bob Dylan Hummingbird used by Mr. Dylan at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. History Detectives welcomes the opportunity to examine the guitar which is currently in Mr. Dylan’s possession."