Merrill Brockway attended Columbia University where he received a graduate degree in musicology. He initially worked as a touring piano player, showcasing his skills across the country with other musical acts. Brockway became interested in the exploding new medium of television in the 1950s and contacted a friend who worked at NBC in New York for help and advice. He was able to secure a position at the television station WCAU in Philadelphia and left New York. In Philadelphia, Brockway worked as a production assistant on various soap operas such as Action in the Afternoon, as well as news broadcasts. While working on the set he became very interested in the role of director and began studying the films of William Wyler to influence his own style.
Brockway eventually worked his way up to director at the station and helmed news broadcasts as well as Philadelphia Eagles games despite having never been to or watched a football game. After continuing to direct for several years in Philadelphia, Brockway was recruited by the Program Director of CBS and hired to come back to New York. There he directed episodes of Repertory Workshop which led to his hiring on Camera Three in 1967, a variety show which showcased various dance, music and drama acts. While helming this show Brockway worked with such future notable names as George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp.
Having directed many dance performance and getting more interested in ballet and dance, Brockway was hired as the director and producer of PBS’ Dance in America (which eventually became part of the Great Performances series), where he modeled many of the dance numbers after those of Fred Astaire and became known for showing dancers’ bodies in full. Brockway stayed with the program through 1980 until he was hired as executive producer of arts programming for CBS for several years. Brockway produced the film The Nutcracker in 1993, followed by his final directorial effort in 1994 for the documentary series American Masters. Brockway’s directorial productions include Dial M for Music (1965), Kabuki Techniques (1969), The Metaphysics of Buster Keaton (1970), Inner Exile: The Poetry of Anna Akhmatova (1971), Songs of Bertolt Brecht (1972) and The City in the Image of Man: Ideas and Work of Paolo Soleri (1972), among others.
For his directorial efforts Brockway has been nominated for four DGA Awards, winning twice. In 1979 he won the Musical Variety Award for Dance in America and in 1989 won the Documentary/Actuality Award for Great Performances. Brockway has also been nominated for seven Primetime Emmys, winning twice for Great Performances: Dance in America in 1979 and 1984.