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Thirteen/WNET New York invites you to check out the finding aid for our newly remastered landmark public affairs series, The 51st State.

On the air from 1972-1976, The 51st State began as a nightly news program with a mission to present in-depth and thoughtful reporting of regional issues.  During this period, New York City was struggling with the national traumas brought on by the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the Vietnam War, as well as facing a rising crime rate and heading towards the largest financial crisis of its history (“Ford to City: Drop Dead”).


The program was noted for an unorthodox journalistic style and covered a wide range of subjects, from a town hall meeting of youth gangs in the Bronx and the pollution of the Hudson River to statewide hearings on abortion legislation and the New York City take on such national issues as pornography and the war in Vietnam. 


Unconventional from the start, Jack Willis, the series’ Executive Producer, hired a combination of experienced print and television reporters along with a selection of completely inexperienced but eager young journalists.  He gave The 51st State added credibility with the hiring of Host and Editor, Patrick Watson, who had long been regarded as the foremost television interviewer and public affairs program producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.


The program was given an unprecedented amount of editorial freedom and jumped right in to exploring contemporary urban concerns.  This resulted in fresh and creative coverage of the people and issues that made up New York City, affectionately known as The 51st State.  Nat Hentoff stated, “This provocatively unpredictable nightly news show [The 51st State] is beginning to present a formidable challenge to print journalists while leaving the other local television news operations a light-year behind (The New York Times, April 2, 1972).” 


This project was made possible thanks to a grant from the NATIONAL HISTORICAL PUBLICATIONS AND RECORDS COMMISSION (NHPRC).  It is the first in an ongoing initiative at Thirteen to preserve important programs from our library of 30,000 videotapes. 


Stay tuned for announcements about other collections!

For more information about viewing the programs, please contact us:

Winter Shanck
Archival Media Librarian
450 West  33d St.
New York, NY 10001