TVTV (Top Value Television), a group I co-founded, was a band of merry videomakers who, from 1972 to 1977, took the then-new portable video camera and went out to document the world. In those days, there were only three TV networks, using giant studio cameras, and no one had ever seen a portable camera stuck in their face, let alone one held by what Newsweek called at the time "braless, blue-jeaned video freaks." Because the technology was so new, there were no rules about how to use it or what to make. TVTV used it to make format-bending satirical shows about whatever interested its members—from the 1972 Republican National Convention to an award-winning expose of a 15-year-old jet-set guru named Guru Maharaj Ji, called "Lord of the Universe."
Super Bowl X in 1976, coinciding with America's 200th anniversary, was a perfect event for TVTV's impressionistic style of video. Dubbed by someone at the time as "the Woodstock of corporate America," it was just becoming the major TV spectacle that it is now. And then as now, it drew tons of coverage, most of which was commercial pandering and a straight-ahead broadcast of a football game. To TVTV, the game was the least important aspect of the whole media orgy. TVTV wanted to get to know the players, their wives, their maniacal supporters, and ride around with corporate fat cats in their yachts and on their private planes. It wanted to capture the reality behind the hype.
In 1976, no videomakers had ever walked into a pro football locker room and hung out with the players. No videomakers had ever invited the players to drop by their own hangout—in TVTV's case, a rented mansion that could communally house 30 or 40 counterculture types making the program. No videomakers had ever had the idea of giving a player his own portable video unit for a night to go back to the off-limits player dormitory and shoot whatever he wanted.
Again, because no one had ever wanted to get close to the real event, TVTV had almost carte-blanche access. Guided by Dallas Cowboy Pro Bowl tight end Jean Fugett, a TVTV crew documented a typical day in the Dallas locker room, meeting players without their pads and hearing what they really thought about what they did. At one point Pittsburgh Steeler great Lynn Swann took off his shirt and gave a guided tour of his scars and concussions. As defensive end Harvey Martin said while showering, "It's a job." An all-woman TVTV crew hung out poolside with player's wives and followed them through the excruciating ordeal of watching their husbands win or lose the biggest game of their life.
Along with the dozen or so documentary crews covering this circus, TVTV added another element—comedy journalists. A very young, pre-SNL Bill Murray, his brother Brian Doyle-Murray, Christopher Guest, and Harold Ramis merged their improv comedy style with TVTV's improv shooting style and waded into the festivities. Decades before the faux-reporters of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, TVTV was mixing reality and comedy.
Only a year or so after the Super Bowl show, TVTV disbanded. Despite its reputation as creative groundbreakers, the collective never got any financial support from any sector of the television industry and couldn't continue making video for peanuts. Last year was the 40th anniversary of the founding of TVTV, and the Paley Center for Media in New York recognized the group with a 40th birthday tribute. As the center said in its announcement of the event, TVTV's work remains, decades later, "fresh and startling and incisive and irreverent." This is a fairly apt description of TVTV Goes to the Superbowl.