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The Farnsworth Invention

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Title: The Farnsworth Invention  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Aaron Sorkin, Hank Azaria, Andover High School (Massachusetts), 2007 plays, Aaron Krohn
Collection: 2007 Plays, American Plays, Broadway Plays, Idaho in Fiction, Plays Based on Actual Events, Plays Set in the United States
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Farnsworth Invention

The Farnsworth Invention
Aaron Sorkin discussing The Farnsworth Invention with an audience at the Music Box Theatre on November 8, 2007
Written by Aaron Sorkin
Original language English

The Farnsworth Invention is a stage play by Aaron Sorkin adapted from an unproduced screenplay about Philo Farnsworth's invention of television signal transmission and David Sarnoff, the RCA president who stole the design.


  • Screenplay 1
  • Stage play 2
  • Historical accuracy 3
  • Critical reception 4
  • Additional reading 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


On April 29, 2004, New Line Cinema announced they had acquired the drama script The Farnsworth Invention from award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin. Thomas Schlamme was set to direct.

The release read in part: "The Farnsworth Invention tells the story of Philo Farnsworth, a boy genius born in Beaver, Utah, who later moved to Rigby, Idaho, where he began experimenting with electricity. In 1920, when Farnsworth was 14, he showed his high school chemistry teacher a design he had made for an electronic television only to become involved in an all or nothing battle with David Sarnoff, the young president of RCA and America's first communications mogul." Schlamme described the movie as "a classic American tale driven by the conflict between a Mormon farmer and a Russian immigrant over the ownership of the most influential invention of the 20th Century."

Following its initial press release, New Line did not disclose any additional information about the film. As a result, websites such as the Internet Movie Database incorrectly anticipated a film in 2005. IMDb eventually removed the entry.

Stage play

In 2005 it was announced that Sorkin was adapting the screenplay for the stage and the play would debut in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland. It was staged at the La Jolla Playhouse from February 20 - March 25, 2007 as "a page-to-stage production" with Jimmi Simpson (Zodiac) playing Farnsworth and Stephen Lang (Gods and Generals, Avatar) as Sarnoff. Award-winning composer Andrew Lippa penned 45 minutes of music to underscore the drama.

It was scheduled to open on Broadway on November 14, 2007, but this was delayed due to the 2007 Broadway stagehand strike.[1] It opened at the Music Box Theatre on December 3, 2007, with Hank Azaria in the Sarnoff role due to Lang's commitment to James Cameron's 2009 film Avatar.

The show closed on March 2, 2008.[2]

An Australian production directed by Louise Fischer officially opened on July 13, 2011 at the New Theatre in Newtown.

Historical accuracy

The play is not historically accurate, and is an intentional alteration of the story. It shows Farnsworth as being defeated legally by Sarnoff, and then spending his life in obscurity. In reality, Farnsworth won the lawsuit, later received a $1 million payment from RCA for the purchase of his TV patents, and went on to have an illustrious career in technological research. There is a statue of Farnsworth in the U.S. Capitol.

This was later addressed on a Facebook question where Sorkin wrote:

Critical reception

In the New York Times, Ben Brantley panned the play with faint praise:

In the New York Post, Clive Barnes awarded it 2½ out of 4 stars and stated, "Sorkin's take on the Farnsworth/Sarnoff standoff would be better suited to a screen, either big or small. Even now, while crackling with crisp dialogue, The Farnsworth Invention often has the air of a clumsy stage adaptation of, say, Citizen Kane." [5]

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News described it as "disappointing and ho-hum" and "seldom deeply involving . . . Scenes play out like brief vignettes from a History Channel biopic . . . without stirring emotions." [6]

In Newsday, Linda Winer called it "vintage Sorkin and crackling prime-time theater . . . breezy and shrewd, smart-alecky and idealistic." [7]

In Variety, David Rooney said, "The plot-heavy drama is light on fully fleshed-out characters or subtext, making it likely to play more satisfyingly when it inevitably reverts to being a film or cable project . . . [it] never fully moves beyond its stream of over-explained factoids." [8]

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Hedy Weiss described it as "a firecracker of a play in a fittingly snap, crackle and pop production under the direction of Des McAnuff, the drama has among its many virtues the ability to make you think at the same time that it breaks your heart." [9]

Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune called it "slick yet deeply conflicted" and "restless" and added, "this is one of those Boomer-friendly, media-savvy, self-aware pieces of effective theater that feel like they owe a lot to TV writing and our celebrity-obsessed culture . . . this is a jumpy piece of writing. It feels like the writer is worried the audience might change the channel. That's not entirely a bad thing. As fans of Sorkin's TV shows know well, the internal psyche of Sorkin is a very stimulating place in which to dwell for a couple of hours. His characters are uncommonly articulate and witty—albeit without much differentiation. He has mastered all the dramatic rules so well, he can titillate you by deconstructing and then reassembling them. And in this case he certainly knows how to make a dry scientific quest into a provocative piece of theater." [10]

Additional reading

  • Evan I. Schwartz (2003-05-13). The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit & the Birth of Television. Harper Paperbacks.  


  1. ^ Aaron Sorkin's Farnsworth Invention to Open on Broadway in November – Playbill Article, June 21, 2007
  2. ^ "Official Show Website". Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  3. ^ Sorkin, Aaron. "Questions for me?" Message Board on Sorkin's Facebook page
  4. ^ Brantley, Ben. "A Farm Boy and a Mogul, and How They Changed the World," New York Times. December 4, 2007.
  5. ^ Barnes, Clive (2007-12-04). 'New York Post'' review"'". Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  6. ^ 'New York Daily News'' review"'". 2007-12-04. Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  7. ^ Winer, Linda (December 4, 2007). "Review: Aaron Sorkin's "The Farnsworth Invention".  
  8. ^ Rooney, David (December 3, 2007). 'Variety'' review"'". Retrieved 2009-09-15. 
  9. ^ Weiss, Hedy (December 4, 2007). "'"Moguls, Scientists, and 'Farnsworth.  
  10. ^ Jones, Chris (2007-12-06). 'Chicago Tribune'' review"'". Retrieved 2009-09-15. 

External links

  • The Farnsworth Invention at the Internet Broadway Database
  • See the official trailer for "The Farnsworth Invention"
  • The Farnsworth Invention: Fact -v- Fiction
  • official websiteThe Farnsworth Invention
  • Farnsworth Archives
  • Big Dream, Small ScreenPBS American Experience Documentary :
  • The Farnsworth InventionThe Saga of
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