Jeff Kisseloff. The Box: An Oral History of Television 1920-1961. New York, N.Y.: Penguin Books, 1998 (first published 1995).
Sylvester “Pat” Weaver was network President of NBVC who saw the television could both entertain and educate audiences/
Charlie Vanda had the first live Western TV show. It was shown from Philadelphia. A drawback was the horses sometimes tried to eat the microphones.
Charles Douglas created the laugh machine.
Many of the first people in TV expressed a sense of not being sure what to do and creating things as event happened. There was much doubt as well as wonderment over presenting the first TV shows. Many early TV shows were taken from radio shows that already had some structure.
Philo “Phil” Farnsworth invented the first electronic TV picture broadcast in 1927. He built upon previous research in radio, vacuum tubes, and transmitters. Farnsworth’s work would be modified at laboratories run by Farnsworth as well as RCA, Philco, DuMont, and Bard.
The early cathode ray tube, an important element in TV, was developed in 1858 by Julius Plucker and Heinrich Geissler. The Nipkow Disk, which mechanically scanned images and transformed the images into electronic impulses that could be retransformed into the images, was patented by Paul Nipkow in 1884. Farnsworth would create an electronic, rather than mechanical, process.
Long distance wireless communication was developed in 1896 by Guglielmo Marconi in 1896.
Reginald Fessenden designed, and Ernest F.W. Alexander developed, the generation of radio communication in 1906. Lee DeForest vastly improved the reception of radio transmissions by creating the audion tube.
The initial use of radio was for communicating between ships and land. DeForest saw its use for public entertainment purposes. He broadcast show that included Enrico Caruso singing and his mother in law speaking for the right of women to vote. He created regularly scheduled shows in 1915. He is noted for broadcasting news of the wrong person as winning the Presidency in the 1916 Presidential election.
Charles David Herrold began regular program shows in San Jose in 1909. His wife Sybil played records and thus was the first female disc jockey.
David Sarnoff accidentally walked into the wrong office for a job interiw and was hired to be a messenger for the Commercial Cable Company. He studied the business, became a telegraph operator, and recommended selling radios as entertainment devices. Owen Young was the first Chairman of the Radio Corporation of America and David Sarnoff was General Manager. AT&T, Westinghouse, and United Fruit also created radio broadcast companies.
Frank Conrad in Wilkinsburg, Pa. created his own radio station. He played records to promote a local record store. Conrad built his station to win a bet. Westinghouse Vice President Harry Davis observed how Conrad’s station advertised stores. Westinghouse moved Conrad’s transmitter to the Westinghouse station and started the first commercial licensed radio station KDKA. The first broadcast correctly announced the winner of the 1920 President election. Radio stations within weeks were created in Chicago, Newark, and Springfield. There were 28 licensed stations in 1921 and 430 additional a few months afterwards. A priest started WJSV for Will Jesus Save Virginia.
Sarnoff had RCA broadcast a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and George Carpenter. There were 300,000 listeners. Sarnoff then proposed a future, instead of many local stations, but of a National Broadcasting Company. Thus, RCA began NBC. AT&T resisted linking radio stations on its telephone lines. Walter Gifford, who led AT&T, recommended RCA not have a “Jewish General Manager” in Sarnoff. In time, agreement allowed RCA to rent AT&T lines.
Herbert Hoover, head of the Federal Radio Commission, allowed AT&T a long distance (called “clear”) channel which most ended the system of small local stations in favor of radio networks.
George Rignoux and A. Fournier created the first working TV in 1907.
John Logie Baird and Charles Francis Jenkins separately in 1925 filed reports of developing mechanic TV whose 525 lines produced viewable images. Baird’s system, also showed image shading differences and his is considered the original usable TV set.
RCA sold 50 million radios in 1924. RCA was victorious in several patent disputes, primarily because they could better afford lawyers than could their legal opponents. Competing radio manufacturers were required to pay 5% of their sales to RCA. This provided $506 million to RCA in 1926.
RCA fought Farnsworth’s electric TV and buried Farnsworth in legal costs. Vladimir Zworykin had researched TV in Russia and then at Westinghouse where he patented an electric iconoscope camera that produced poor quality photographs. When a Justice Department antitrust suit required RCA to divest itself of Westinghouse, Zworykin went to RCA where he developed an iconoscope TV camera.
Farnsworth first patented an entirely electronic TV system. Yet the Federal Communications declined to create a commercial TV license. Thus, the TV system was useless without the existence of TV stations. Philco hired Farnsworth to work with them in Philadelphia creating an experimental TV station. RCA’s fight against Farnsworth led Philco to drop him. He then created the Farnsworth Television Company. Farnsworth finally won the patent dispute and was determined as being the lawful holder of six key patents for TV. RCA, though, received the patent for the iconoscope TV camera that could use both natural outdoor light and studio light.
NBC created a TV studio in 1936 at 30 Rockefeller Center, Studio 3H. Betty Goodwater hosted the first show of acts such as Hiledgarde, a singer, Ed Wynn, a comedian, the dancing Rockettes, and RCA executives wanting to be on the first 20 minute show.
In 1940, RCA and DuMont had TV sets selling in a price range of $200 to $625 with a popular price of $395. The average month’s salary was about $400. 2,500 people in New York owned RCA sets to watch RCA’s W2XBS. Movies from low budget studios were shown as large studios avoided TV. Often the station played music while showing a test pattern. There were 15 minute news programs of Lowell Thomas speaking to one camera and 2,500 TV viewers. Thomas often broadcast from his home without considering his TV viewers would miss him as he did his radio show. Ray Forrest was the regular announcer. Sporting events were also shown.
“Paul Wing’s Spelling Bee” was the first game show.
Allen Bakom DuMont obtained capital from Paramount Pictures to create W2XVT television station in 1939 in Pasaic, which broadcast experimental shows from midnight to 9 am. This was followed by W2XWV in New York that later became WABD. Among their earlier shows were Dennis James as a disc jockey and doing sports interviews as well as broadcasts of Fred Waring’s band.
William Paley at CBS observed the rise of interest in TV. He then created a TV network. His strategy was to lure known TV stars to move to CBS for more money. Arthur Johson began the Columbia Phonograph Broadcasting System in 1927. The network lost money until Vitaphone movies became its advertiser. Leon Levy, who co-owned WCAU station with his Isaac Levy, suggested his brother in law Sam Paley buy the network for Sam’s son Bill to run. Sam Paley and his wife Blanche has a WCAU show marketing la Palina cigars called “La Palina Boy”. Sam Paley had no interest in running a network. Bill Paley, though, decided to buy the company himself.
Bill Paley offered local stations better deals to be with CBS then NBC offered. He thus increased CBS from 19 station to 97 in 1935. CBS talent included Al Jolson and Nelson Eddy from NBC as well as newcomers Bing Crosby, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Kate Smith, Fred Allen, and Morton Downey.
NBC broadcast from a tower on the Empire State Building. CBS broadcast from a tower on the Chrysler Building. It was said the CBS bathroom had a great view of New York City.
William Crawford Eggy, a Captain who commanded a submarine, created several independent stations which became KTLA in Los Angeles and WBKB in Chicago. His programs included “Kukla, Fran &Ollie” puppet show and “Wild Kingdom” with Marlin Perkins.
The DuMont network faced network shortages during World War II. Their factory workers became camera operators and studio employees.
CBS worked in developing color TV broadcasts in the 1940s. CBS brought VHF frequencies and RCA sought to keep broadcasting in UHF. The FCC ruled in favor of VHF. VHF more limited the number of stations that could be created.
The House Glass” was a successful variety show. Its success led to the Kraft Theater performing live productions that aired because Cheez Whiz advertised on it. Ed Sullivan then began hosting a variety show.
In 1946, RCA sold 10,000 630TCS sets at $385 each. In 1947, a dozen TV set manufacturers sold 200,000 TV sets. In 1950, Americans owned over 7 million sets.
Gorgeous George’s wrestling on TV is believed to have caused the most people to buy TV sets in the late 1940s followed by Milton Berle. The DuMont network started showing NFL games.
Ernie Kovas first appeared on Philco’s WPTZ in Philadlephia in 1950.
In 1951, “I Love Lucy” was shown live in New York, Detroit, and Omaha with tapes available to local stations.
KTLA began as W6XYZ in Los Angeles in 1941. It developed original programming that competed with network programming. In 1951, it had 22 of the top 27 top Tele-Que rated show. In 1949, it spent 27 consecutive hours on a rescue effort of a girl who fell but perished into a well. This was one of the first uses of TV for news broadcasting. In 1952, it broadcast an atomic bomb test in Nevada. In 1958, it had the first telecopter.
WNBQ in Chicago produced half of the programs on the NBC network in 1951. This included “Stud’s Place” with Studs Terkel that was completely improvised. The McCarthy era controversies ended this show. Dave Garroway had a show “Garroway at Large”.
The DuMont network had 175 affiliates and three “owned and operated” stations in 1955. The network had the first live network show, the first children’s program shown regularly, it began daytime network programming, and had the first football programming.
The character Ralph Kramden began on “Cavalcade of Stars” on DuMont. It also broadcast Bishop Fulton Sheen. FCC regulations kept DuMont from owning stations where the other three networks had TV stations. DuMont only had affiliates in some large markets and lacked affiliates in some smaller markets. The other three networks also had radio networks to bolster their TV programming.
ABC was helped by merging with United Paramount Theaters in 1953 which gave them $30 million. Paramount Pictures owned half of DuMont. Paramount also owned three TV stations including KTLA that showed no DuMont programs. The FCC denied DuMont from purchasing more stations due to Paramount’s station ownership. DuMont sold two stations. Tom Goldstein believes Paramount bought an interest in DuMont and insisted on having the ability to approve further financing. He believes Paramount saw DuMont as a competitor to its movies and sought to contain it. ABC sought to merge with DuMont but Paramount objected. The network declined and in 1958 was gone. The DuMont stations reemerged as the Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation.
The first drama on TV was “The Queen’s Messenger” which was shown on September 11, 1928. “The Kraft Television Theater” began on NBC in 1947 and showed 650 plays for 11 ½ years. Other drama shows included emerged including “Robert Montgomery Presents” on NBC, “Studio One” on CBS and “Ford Theater” on CBS. ABC had “The U.S. Steel Hour” for two years until it switched to CBS. NBC began color drama broadcasts with “Producer’s Showcase” in 1954.
ABC found success with Western TV series “Davy Crockett” and “Cheyenne”. A half decade later, in 1959, one quarter of TV series including 8 of top 10 shows were Westerns.
Sponsors paid $30,000 a week in sponsoring a one hour drama TV show.
Syndicated TV shows emerged that sold directly to local stations. In 1955, syndicated shows grossed $150 million. The syndicated “Crusader Rabbit” was the first cartoon series made for TV. Jerry Fairbank used multiple cameras at which his syndicated shows could be produced. “I Love Lucy” adopted multi-cameras in order to appear before a live audience.
Roy Rogers was an expert horseman. Gene Autry was not. Fight scenes used doubles. Many fight scenes were choreographed over a few minutes.
Jim Bumgarner was recruited from a bar to do a few scenes in “Cheyenne”. Jack Warner was impressed and signed him to a seven year contract, shortened his name to Jim Garner, and a year later created his TV show “Maverick”.
The last episode of “Maverick” never was shown. It ended with Louis Delgado stating “we’ve been cancelled” followed by Jim Gardner replying, as his character counts money, “fuck ‘em, Louis, we can buy and sell the bastards.”
Jack Warner preferred entertainment over intelligent drama, stating “if they’re looking for messages, have them to go Western Union”.
“Texaco Star Theater” begin in 1948 on radio hosted by Milton Berle. In 1950-51, 61% of TV sets watched Milton Berle. NBC signed Berle in 1951 to a “lifetime” contract. Texaco stopped sponsoring Berle’s show in 1953 as ratings declined but Buick picked up sponsorship, followed by Kraft. Berle hosted “Jackpot Bowling” for a season and in 1957 NBC bought out his contract.
Milton Berle’s associates confirm that Milton Berle not only boasted of but did have a large penis.
“Admiral Broadway Review” with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca began in 1949. It was so successful Admiral sold so many TV sets that they shifted their capital into producing more TV sets and they stopped financing the TV show. NBC Programmer Pat Weaver decided a show could have multiple advertisers. “Your Show of Shows” with Caesar and Coca emerged.
Lucille Kallen denies the stories that Woody Allen and Larry Gelbert wrote for “Show of Shows”. It lasted four years over declining ratings. Sid Caesar decided to do his own show and the show divided, even splitting staff, into two shows, one with Sid Caesar and the other with Imogene Coca. Neither show lasted long.
“I Love Lucy” was one of the first big hit TV shows. Sponsor Philip Morris was concerned when star Lucille Ball became pregnant and her pregnancy was written into the scripts. They had an episode where she gives birth reviewed by a priest, a minister, and a rabbi, who found the show fine. 44 million, or 77% of viewers, watched the birth episode on January 19, 1953. By comparison, 29 million watched Dwight Eisenhower inaugurated as President.
Jack Carter stated that Ed Sullivan prohibited saying “belly button” or “navel” on his show.
Mel Diamand noted Bob Hope respected writers. Red Buttons frequently fired writers. Red Skelton, according to Charles Isaac, fired his heard writer on an annual basis.
George Gobel’s variety/comedy show was a hit in 1954. Gobel’s show closed with him “reminding you that the camera adds 10 pounds, so don’t eat cameras”.
Everett Grenbaum stated that early TV writers followed radio writing rules. This included the “rule of three joke” which was to use two lines to set up a joke and the third line for the joke. Another rule was to lead up with a situation to a block comedy scene with a climax that made people want to watch the next scene (especially if there was a commercial interruption.) Another rule was a comic needed a sidekick. “The George Gobel Show” challenged these rules, including when Gobel stated “as of Saturday night there have been 300 deaths from driving. You people just aren’t trying.” George Gobel also made news and was protested by some religious groups with his line “there’s an old saying that money can’t buy you happiness. Money can buy you happiness, so pick up a fifth on your way home.”
Hal Kantor reported that Groucho Marx taught him that humor resulted from making a cliché into something different.
Desi Arnaz liked speaking with writers about stories and lines. Lucille Ball never did this.
“I Love Lucy” filmed 38 shows a year.
“Father Knows Best” was originally titled “Father Knows Best?” The sponsor Kent cigarettes had the question mark removed.
Edward R. Murrow’s interview with newsmakers such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy informed the public. Yet his interviews with celebrities and athletes brought in stronger ratings.
The hearings of Sen. Joseph McCarthy were broadcast on ABC and DuMont. The public reactions led to the Senate censure of Sen. McCarthy.
Murrow quit his show “See It Now” after it had him interview Rep. Joseph Pillon. Pillon contended that granting statehood to Hawaii would lead to their electing Communists to Congress.
“Victory at Sea” was a documentary on the Navy during World War II. It was shown in 26 shows over 1951-52.
CBS showed “Harvest of Shame”, a documentary narrated by Edward R. Murrow on migrant farm workers. Ironically, Murrow became the U.S. Information Agency leader where he followed the government’s position in urging the BBC not to broadcast “Harvest of Shame”.
“The Puddle Family” sponsored by Oxydol was the first soap opera on radio. “Ma Perkins” was the first long running radio soap opera as it ran for 28 years
The first TV soap opera was “Vine Street” which began on W6XAO in Los Angeles in 1931. It was argued that housewives would work and listen to radio but they would not sit still to watch a TV soap opera. In addition, TV was limited to a set and required actors memorizing scripts. Radio could be read from scripts and scenes could be situated anywhere.
The first NBC soap opera was “Miss Susan”. It starred Susan Peters, who was in a wheel chair. The show was stressful on Susan Peters and she died after eight months on the show.
The first long running soap operas “Love of Life” and “Search for Tomorrow” both began in September 1951. “The Guiding Light”, which began as a radio soap opera, started on TV in January 1952.
Mary Stuart once wrote his lines inside a coffee cup. She, though, forgot the scene had coffee poured into the cup.
TV impacted viewers. Henry Fonda discovered this when he did a play with soap opera star Larry Haines and discovered that Haines received more first appearance applause.
The patriarchal children’s TV show hosts found commercial success, $25 million of Howdy Doody merchandise sold through 1957. Bob Keeshan, who portrayed Captain Kangaroo, disliked the commercialization of children’s show characters. Still, his show successful sold sugar cereals in commercials.
The author “believes that Chuck McCann is one of the great comedy geniuses of all time.”
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who had been doing cartoons at MBM beginning in 1938, first brought the cartoon “Ruff and Reddy” to TV followed by Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, and Yogi Bear.
Eddie Kean invented the word “cowabunga” as a word for Princess Summerfall Winter Spring to say. The word caught on.
A four minute “Ruff and Reddy” for TV cost $5,000 and took four to six weeks. A six minute “Tom & Jerry” for MGM movies cost $40,000 and took five to six months to produce.
Alex Anderson, who created Dudley Do Right with inspiration from several sources, explained “plagiarism is only when you steal from one person. I was stealing from everybody.”
Bulova bought the first TV commercial in 1941 for $9.
Shows that had cigarette companies as sponsors often found their shows faced rules that prohibited portraying cigarettes in a negative light. Smokers could not cough. Smoking was to be portrayed as something graceful. Cigarettes could not cause fires. Villains did not smoke.
U.S. Steel objected to the portrayal of the real life lynching of African American Emmett Till in Mississippi. The Southern White Citizen Council stated they would boycott U.S. Steel if the lynching was portrayed on their show. Till’s character was changed from Black to a foreigner and the location was moved to New England.
Martin Mayer reported the costs of creating and transmitting a TV show increased 500% from 1949 to 1959.
ABC created a system where sponsors would purchase commercials of several afternoon shows. The sponsor would reach more people.
A U.S. Senate committee led by Sen. Thomas Dodd found internal network memos that requested more sex and violence on TV shows. It was believed that more sex and violence improved ratings. The committee’s final report was never published, for reasons unknown.
Newton Minor became Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission in 1961. Yet, his influence was limited as he had just one vote on the seven member FCC Board. Minow successfully fought to bring a public TV station to New York but was unsuccessful in getting a public TV station in Los Angeles.