Sunday, 25 May 2014

There's No New Haven For TV

Network television took the baton from network radio and, at the start, tried running the same way. A sponsor put a show on the air, handled day-to-day by its ad agency. The only difference was some shows were so expensive to broadcast, they appeared every other week or once a month, with the time slot taken the following week by another sponsor of another show with another star.

That changed, and only in a matter of a few years. People wanted their favourite stars on the screen every week, just like they heard them every week on the radio. So a toe dipped in the TV pool became a leg and eventually a whole body.

All this was disconcerting to some of the veterans of entertainment who found radio was dying and they either had to move into TV or retire their shows. Vaudevillians were used to the old stage tradition—take your act on the road and hone it before you brought it to the big time. Television wasn’t like that. Television was like radio. Writers got together and came up with a script which was then produced, rehearsed and aired—and then they started from square one again.

Here’s Jack Benny on the whole issue from an International News Service column of August 5, 1952. Jack’s toe was dipped in the CBS-TV pool in fall of 1950, when he appeared in the first of only four shows that season.

Jack Benny Gets Cozier With TV

INS Staff Writer
New York—The most popular man in radio, Jack Benny, has not even a fleeting notion of his own future in that venerable medium. Beyond next season, anyway.
Jack was having his final few days of vacation here in New York before driving back to Hollywood (in a new Cadillac convertible, not the Maxwell) after his newest British triumph.
Not that he is a fair weather friend of radio, which has been so good to him these 20 years. It's just that he's getting along toward 59, a slight complication for a fellow of 39, and he feels he just can't do everything.
He wants to stay in radio. But his sponsors want him in TV, and Jack is a nicely adjusted fellow in deed. Unlike certain recent nitwits who have made public proclamations of their disrespect for the folks paying the bills for their TV shows, Jack retains an honorable attitude toward the direction whence his cash flows.
Jack this season will do nine TV shows, three more than last year. It means one every four weeks, where last season it was one every six. It also means, he said, the end to his free time.
His radio shows fall comfortably into formula and by now are comparatively simple, if not quite easy, to play and perform.
In radio, Jack pointed out, the biggest part of the job is in the planning, the fashioning of fun on paper and through sound effects.
In television the planning's still a great part of it, but the work to be done after everything's been blueprinted and mimeographed is the crusher.
"You have to stick around for camera angles, where to stand, for how long, which way to turn, which camera to face, all the same problems an actor encounters on a Broadway stage," Jack said. "Only there's no New Haven to try it out, no Boston to rewrite the first act, inject new business, to pick, change and discard.
"You set your sights four weeks ahead to a Sunday night at 7:30 and by gosh you better be there, and ready.
"With six weeks between shows, I was able to enjoy the couple of weeks resting up from TV. Now even that's gone.
"It takes just about four weeks of planning for a TV show, the way I like to work. I don't know how some of them do it every week. Maybe I could do it every two weeks, but even that's too tough. I can't see how possibly I could do more than one TV show a month and radio at the same time."
What about TV without radio?
"I don't like to think of it," said CBS radio's number one boy.

Well, Jack had to think about it. He had no choice. The public wanted TV, not radio. Sponsors wanted TV, not radio. So Jack Benny dove into the TV pool. Considering his regular show carried on until 1965, he was working on specials until his death, and people still watch reruns on their small screens (including computers hooked up to video web sites) his fears about television were all for nothing.

1 comment:

  1. Jack indeed WANTED to continue his radio show. But American Tobacco informed him, in early 1955, that they were discontinuing their sponsorship at the end of that season to concentrate on his TV show. He was free to secure another radio sponsor- but Jack decided it was time to "pack it in", and concentrate on TV as well. His last radio show aired on May 22, 1955.