Serge Krizman (1914-2008)

October 21, 2009

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Production designer Serge Krizman died one year ago, on October 24, 2008, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  He was 94.  Krizman’s death was reported at the time in his hometown paper, but has not yet been noted by any entertainment industry sources.

Krizman was the initial and/or primary art director on at least four important television shows: The Fugitive, Batman, Harry O, and The Paper Chase.  He also designed sets for the Schlitz Playhouse, Happy Days, Charlie’s Angels, T. J. Hooker, and a number of other series and made-for-television movies.

Because of The Fugitive’s continued popularity, Krizman may be best remembered for his work on that series, which was realistic in its look and somewhat ahead of the curve in combining studio sets with extensive Southern California location work.  (At the time, most TV dramas stuck to the backlot, if they went outdoors at all.)  Krizman even attended at least one Fugitive fan convention in the nineties.  But the most important item on his resume is unquestionably Batman.  Very few television series can claim production design as the defining element of their creative makeup; Batman tops that list.  Krizman’s designs drew on the DC comic, of course, but also expanded to include elements of exuberant camp and dry visual humor that were unique to the TV version.  For that credit alone, Krizman merits a mention in the annals of television history.

That obituary in the Santa Fe New Mexican does a nice job of filling in some details of Krizman’s eventful life, but the author commits one serious error that I think is worth singling out.  The obit lists a purported tally of the individual episodes of various series on which Krizman worked: 70 Batmans, 17 Fugitives, 13 Charlie’s Angels.  I can guess where those stats were sourced.  Wait for it: my old nemesis, the Internet Movie Database. 

The problem is that the IMDb is still hit-or-miss in listing the episodic television credits of many people, especially “below the line” crew members.  It will scoop up a few mentions on one series, and every credit on another, without much rhyme or reason.  In that way, the database presents a very distorted portrait of the significance of specific shows within an individual’s career (or, conversely, the extent of a person’s involvement on a particular series).  Just in the year since his obituary has published, the IMDb’s totals of Krizman’s Fugitives and Batmans have ticked upward by a few episodes. 

I don’t have credit transcripts of any of those shows handy, so I can’t provide the correct numbers.  But I can point out that, while Krizman was credited on all twenty-two episodes of Harry O’s first season, the IMDb records him as the art director for only two.  The IMDb contains a lot of traps into which inexperienced users can fall, but that’s no excuse for journalists to depend on it for “facts” that cannot be confirmed from reliable sources.

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Krizman in the early 1990s, at the Goldwyn Studio during one of the Fugitive fan reunions.

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