Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Radio Killed The Video Star

The DuMont network developed several comedians, including Jackie Gleason ("The Honeymooners"), Morey Amsterdam, and Ernie Kovacs, who would later go on to stardom at other networks doing essentially the same material. It anticipated Sesame Street by two decades with a smarter-than-it-sounds program called Your Television Babysitter, and its Your Television Shopper was around way before cubic zirconium was cool.

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Reason Magazine recently published a fantastic book review entitled "Who Killed Captain Video? (How the FCC strangled a TV pioneer)" Here's are a few selectcerpts:
The Forgotten Network, David Weinstein's absorbing account of Du Mont's rise and fall, is aptly titled. Even the explanation of why the network altered the spelling of its creator's name to DuMont has been swallowed by the sands of time. Most television histories mention DuMont only as a footnote, if that, and because the network left the air before the invention of videotape, its programs have mostly faded from memory. When The Hollywood Reporter recently compiled a list of every scripted network program that ran for more than 100 episodes, it omitted DuMont's Captain Video, which had more than 1,500, as well as Life Is Worth Living, the prime-time religious lecture that ran five years and outlived the network itself...

...DuMont programs usually contained commercials from several different advertisers, which meant every comma of a script didn't have to be approved by Procter & Gamble or General Mills. The result was that DuMont producers had much freer rein than their counterparts at the other networks, and--for better or for worse--they used it.

That freedom was never more obvious than at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, when Captain Video whipped out his nucleamatic pistols and thermal ejectors to do battle with evil across the galaxy. Arriving on the DuMont airwaves in 1949 and sticking it out until the network shut down six years later, Captain Video was the first, the last, and certainly the mightiest (he had to be; the prop budget was just $25 a week) of the rocket-jock heroes who magnetically, mesmerically drew America's kids to those early TV sets...

Most intriguing of all was Life Is Worth Living, a weekly chat by the Catholic bishop Fulton J. Sheen on ethics and philosophy that for many Americans was probably an introduction, however cursory, to the thought of people like Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Sheen's plain-talk approach, soft peddling Catholic doctrine while twitting himself with gentle self-deprecatory humor, turned Life Is Worth Living into a genuine hit: It ran Frank Sinatra's CBS show in the same time slot off the air and made enough inroads against Milton Berle on NBC that the comedian was moved to remark that if you were going to tank in the ratings, it might as well be against a show written by the guy who scripted the Bible. Life Is Worth Living is virtually the only DuMont show to have survived the network's plunge into obscurity; reruns still air on the Eternal Word Television Network, the Catholic Church's cable channel.

Here's the article!

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi. I enjoyed your post. I run The Ernie Kovacs Blog and mentioned it in my latest update.

    You can always visit us at:
    The Ernie Kovacs Blog
    The Ernie Kovacs Tribute Site
    and The Ernie Kovacs MySpace Page.



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