November 5: "Vaudeville Stars and Early Television"

Report
Hitch Your Antenna
to the Stars
Chapter 4: “’TV is a Killer’:
The Collapse of the Vaudeo Star &
TV’s Talent Crisis
Early 1950s Radio & TV
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Radio becoming more about music (local)
1952 FCC TV licensing freeze lifted (1948)
Many new TV stations
1952-TV censorship manual: TV Code
NBC & CBS build studios in LA
Telefilm becomes viable
Coaxial cable finished
1948 Television Freeze
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50 stations operating, 50 more have licenses
VHF band becoming crowded; signals overlap
1948, FCC puts a freeze on all new licenses
RCA & CBS fight over color broadcasting
UHF broadcasting undecided
Educational frequency set-asides needed
Lifted in 1952
TV 1952
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Ownership: 1% in 1948 to 34% in 1952
6th Report & Order decides conflicts
Intermixture, both VHF & UHF
242 channels set aside for educational use
If city has 3 VHF stations, 1 more must be
educational
• 1953, FCC chooses RCA’s color system
• Still favors live TV
Live TV
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3 camera live system
No post-production, programs go out as is
Only recording, kinescope
Films must be coordinated with a film chain
Networks liked live advantage
Ties affiliates closer to networks
FCC likes it too (as it had in radio)
Vaudeo Stars
• Some saw vaudeville material style as stale
• Vaudeo stars a temporary answer to need for
television programming
• Stars’ salaries skyrocket
• Audiences & sponsors also tire of format
• Amateur hours & sitcoms substituted
• Live TV takes toll on vaudeo stars
Vaudeo Stars Collapse
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Most end up in the hospital
Nervous exhaustion or physical distress
1952 casualty list
Milton Berle
Jack Benny
Red Skelton
Jackie Gleason
Ed Sullivan
Vaudeo Format Requirements
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At least an hour of new material weekly
Tough on writers & performers
Unlike radio, must memorize lines
Difficult to learn camera movement
Vaudevillians could repeat material
No “do overs” in live TV
Stars push for change in hours (1951)
High Cost of TV Talent
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Networks locked into star TV format
Independent talent agencies help stars
TV stars can’t work in any other medium
Stars often threaten networks
Wages rise: 1948 $9500 a week, 1950 $35,000
$20,000 for airtime=$65,000 weekly budget
Some sponsors priced out of the medium
Vaudeo Humor
• Vaudeo stars control content of shows
• Vaudeville uses bawdy antics, ethnic jokes &
sexual asides; seen as New York sensibility
• Government & critics call for censorship
• Makes sponsors nervous
• Vaudeo stars seen as “not family friendly”
Red Scare
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Sponsors fear political controversy
Anticommunist group publishes Red Channels
Creates a blacklist, Often inaccurate
Many on the list were Jewish or African
American, and/or gay
• Langston Hughes, Leonard Bernstein, Lena
Horne, Zero Mostel, Dorothy Parker, Pete
Seeger, Wm. L. Shirer, Howard K. Smith
“TV is Bad for Kids”
• 1950s a low crime decade
• Yet in l. 1940s & e. 1950s, a juvenile
delinquency scare
• Congressional investigations, scientific
research blame the mass media
• Due to 2 factors: 1. teen culture, 2. entry of
women into the workforce (James Gilbert)
• Kefauver hearings (1955) inconclusive
TV Code (1952)
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NAB builds on codes established in radio
No plunging necklines
No married couples in or around a double bed
No shots of toilets in bathrooms
No pregnant women (or use of the word)
Limits advertising (6-10 minutes at night, 1014 minutes during the day each hour)
• Penalty: Removal of the NAB Seal of Quality
Sponsors’ Limits on Content
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Decide what can be on their shows
Extends beyond protection of their products
Can restrict discussion of controversial topics
Race, religion, labor, & the Red Scare off limits
Networks happily go along with sponsors
Allows them to distance themselves from
charges of censorship
• Networks paint themselves as “the good guys”
Repackaging the Variety Format
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Amateur programs (Talent Scouts, Ted Mack)
Longer sitcom sketches (The Honeymooners)
Look for younger talent
Convince successful comics to come to TV
(Jack Paar)
• 1955, Komedy Kapers (local show); Jonathan
Winters, Kaye Ballard, George Gobel, Pat
Carroll, Mort Saul, Shecky Greene
Longer Storylines
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More after TV Code (1952)
Eliminate direct address to audience
Include more plot, characters & actors
Sitcom-within-a-variety show strategy
Burn & Allen
Vaudeo stars no longer the sole star or focus
Precursor to the domestic comedy
1951-52 TV Season
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A turning point
The Milton Berle era was over
Sitcoms (like I Love Lucy) were the future
NBC’s reliance on top comedy stars, misguided
Arthur Godfrey still a valuable commodity
Decline of Red Skelton Show & Berle question
the wisdom of lifetime contracts

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