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The Tesla Memorial Society
21 Maddaket, Southwyck Village
Scotch Plains, New Jersey 07076
William H. Terbo
Executive Secretary
  Maria Godfors
Nikola Tesla: 1856 - 1943


Tesla's Death Ray

Genesis of a Network Television Production

Many television viewers have seen a program series IN SEARCH OF … on the SciFi Cable Channel that contained an approximately twelve-minute segment TESLA’S DEATH RAY. The genesis of this short program segment is interesting and instructive for those people who may wonder how an important element of the creative genius of Nikola Tesla, perhaps the modern world’s greatest scientist and inventor, might appear on such a semi serious entertainment venue as the SciFi Channel, particularly when associated on the same hour-long program package with similarly produced ruminations on Hell, Vampires and Lake Monsters.

In 2000 Fox Television Network had finalized their decision to resurrect the once popular entertainment series IN SEARCH OF … that had enjoyed significant ratings success for several previous seasons. While Fox has their own very extensive production facilities, these facilities are usually reserved for news and current events programming. Industry practice is to hire a programming subcontractor on a turnkey basis for the entire package of programs. Fox had authorized hour-long IN SEARCH OF … programs for later network airing on various subjects including a program segment on Tesla focusing on the “Death Ray” announced by him on his birthday newspaper interview of 1934 and made current by the ongoing Strategic Defense Initiative “Star Wars” missile deterrent controversy. The subcontractor selected was KAOS Entertainment of Santa Monica California. KAOS set up a separate department to create the twelve program segments.

In early 2001 KAOS contacted William Terbo, Tesla’s closest living relative, Executive Secretary of the Tesla Memorial Society, Inc. and a Tesla expert of more than 30 years standing. A “Letter of Understanding” was negotiated that included consultation, a video interview and access to some personal archival material for a segment that might extend to an entire program. (While Mr. Terbo does not accept any honoraria for personal participation in projects such as this, he does ask a fee for the Society. That fee can range from little or nothing - for reporters, authors and playwrights and under funded documentarians - to substantial amounts for funded independent and corporate entities. Participation helps maintain some level of accuracy in the finished product.)

For Mr. Terbo the “Letter” required KAOS to deliver an unedited video copy of the entire interview, two copies of the finished Tesla program segment, certain program end credits, use of the archival material restricted to the program and program promotion and a fee. For KAOS the “Letter” required Mr. Terbo to provide appropriate releases and a Society invoice to generate the fee. KAOS also required that the finished segment tapes were not to be delivered until the program had been broadcast (for security reasons.)

On schedule Friday, March 16th 2001, the KAOS Field Producer and a New York video crew appeared at Mr. Terbo’s Scotch Plains New Jersey residence and conducted the interview. The 3½-hour schedule allowed camera, sound, lighting and makeup set up and wrap in addition to the interview that created approximately 90 minutes of recorded tape. KAOS had developed about twenty specific questions to be used in the interview. Mr. Terbo expanded of these questions and added additional insight and clarification of details not available to the KAOS writers. At this point, and except for some minor additional consultation details, Mr. Terbo’s task was complete.

At some time, after (as was later determined) at least eight of the segments had been completed, Fox decided to delete IN SEARCH OF … from their network broadcast schedule. These programs represented an asset of value with no specific home and the odyssey began. Mr. Terbo, expecting that a broadcast date would have been announced by early 2002, began a status search in August of 2002. (The address and phone numbers of KAOS were no longer active so the search began with Fox.)

After a series of phone calls Mr. Terbo reached the Fox Headquarters in Los Angeles and the Executive Producer responsible for IN SEARCH OF… as well as other projects. She informed that IN SEARCH OF … had been sold to the UPN Network. Upon reaching the UPN Headquarters in Los Angeles Mr. Terbo was informed that the UPN Production division of Paramount would be in charge and was directed to the UPN Legal Department. They informed that KAOS still had the property and provided new KAOS contact information in Santa Monica.

On August 9th Mr. Terbo reached a KAOS Line Producer who informed that almost everyone involved with the early 2001 IN SEARCH OF … effort had moved on and that Fox still had the property. He would review status and take responsibility for outstanding items. Mr. Terbo sent him copies of the “Letter” and other documents to establish KAOS outstanding responsibilities. In September KAOS sent a form post card thanking IN SEARCH OF … program participants and announcing that the SciFi Channel (evidently chosen by Fox) will begin airing the series on Friday October 4, 2002. On November 5th Mr. Terbo received two VHS tapes incorrectly covering four different segments (Werewolves, King Tut’s Curse, D.B. Cooper and Titanic/Reincarnation!) On November 29th Mr. Terbo received the correct VHS tapes. The KAOS Line Producer notified by letter that he was still looking for original interview tape. That tape is still missing.

Reviewing the eight IN SEARCH OF … segments, each eight to thirteen minutes in length, it appears the Tesla segment is the most serious and has the best production values. (Among the “talking heads” presented in the Tesla segment, Mr. Terbo’s 90-minute interview resulted in ten seconds of face time. William Wysock, premier commercial Tesla Coil builder and colleague of over 25 years, fared somewhat better for face time.) Being philosophical, it is better that Nikola Tesla is introduced to the general public even in this lowbrow form of entertainment than not to be introduced at all. Tesla has been recognized in many more dignified and appreciative video venues. The SciFi venue may draw viewers not previously reached. The pity is that program aired on cable rather than network and that a longer segment format never found airtime.

William H. Terbo, Executive Secretary TMSzt 070226

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