USC Libraries and KCET collaborate for TV show

Season 2 of “Lost LA”, a show about Los Angeles history, will air weekly on KCET. Photo by Junyi Li | Daily Trojan

USC Libraries and public broadcaster KCET have collaborated for the second time to create Lost LA, a TV show about Los Angeles history. The show returned with its second season on Oct. 10 and will run weekly until Nov. 14.

In January 2011, after KCET parted ways from PBS to become an independent television station, it invited USC Libraries to write content about Los Angeles history for KCET’s shows, using archival materials like photographs, paper documents and maps.

Nathan Masters, USC Libraries’ manager of academic events and programming communications, began writing weekly blog posts for KCET, which featured the visual collections of “LA as Subject.” Eventually, the popularity and amount of views on the website and writings led to the creation of Lost LA, with Masters as its host and producer.

“There’s so many things to say about [Southern California history],” Masters said. “The city of L.A. grew so fast. In 1900, we were a large town of 100,000 and then in 1930, we were a metropolis of 2 million. We were once a town surrounded by the countryside and all of this open space … and then we had to figure out in 30 years how we would organize our city.”

Aired in January 2016, the pilot season of three episodes was based on Masters’ blog posts, which primarily focused on the transformation of Southern California’s physical landscape. The season educated viewers on the relationship between the natural environment and the city, the lifestyle of the people living near the Elysian Hills and the topographic comparison of the historic and modern Los Angeles.

“The history of Southern California is complicated, mysterious and fascinating, and all we need to do to understand that is to drift into the archives that illustrate the history of this region,” said Bill Deverell, Lost LA’s historical advisor. “Various aspects of diversity and demography are a long and old story to our region, so this show reminds us of that historical continuity.”

KCET and USC Libraries took a new approach on how to produce and present the show for Season 2. Rather than creating episodes based on blog posts like the previous season, they instead decided to tell a narrative epic starting from before the Spanish colonization in 1769 to the events happening today, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley.

“What we want to do with this season is to recenter the telling of L.A. history,” Masters said. “California history is often told at the end of this triumph march westward, from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. In a way, it makes sense to fold L.A. history into American history because we’re politically a part of the United States.”

However, Masters emphasizes the different cultural and economic ties of the region which he says are largely ignored in popular history.

“Culturally and economically, we’re a part of Latin America and the Pacific Rim too … and those historical ties go back centuries,” Masters said. “We wanted to highlight those this season.”

To present its history, Lost LA utilizes photos that start off as negatives or prints, which eventually get scanned and digitized by the USC Digital Imaging Lab.

Throughout the series, Lost LA has used a variety of visual materials with photographs, illustrations, paintings and maps from USC Libraries.

These collections contain more than a million photographs of the the physical transformations of Los Angeles, taken for commercial use by private companies, or by newspaper companies within the city.

In addition to the archives at USC, Lost LA has also used resources from county public libraries, UCLA and the Huntington Library.

“We want Southern Californians to watch this and and come away with a deeper sense of place,” Masters said. “We want them to understand Los Angeles and the region better and they can do that by having knowledge of our history. We can better understand where we’re headed in the future if we know where we’ve come from.”