(Television History and Trivia)
Victor Edward Swanson,
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- - - T.H.A.T., Edition No. 40 - - -
For the tenth day of each month, I publish or post two new main Web pages at the Web site for The Hologlobe Press--one of the pages has information about places to see in Michigan (and each edition is called Michigan Travel Tips) and the other page is like the page that you are viewing now, which has information about television and is informally called T.H.A.T.. In the previous edition of T.H.A.T., I said that I would have information about The Four Freshmen, but, as you will see by reading this entire edition of T.H.A.T., I do not talk about The Four Freshmen in this edition of T.H.A.T. I have had to postpone talking about The Four Freshman, which was one topic in the previous edition of T.H.A.T., because I have been away from the place where, for instance, my special television files are kept and because I have not been able to do additional research on The Four Freshman. Instead of giving you information about The Four Freshman, I have the following information:
In the previous edition of T.H.A.T., I asked: "What was the first locally produced and staged play to be televised in Detroit?" For you, the answer to that question, if you were to get it right, should have been hard to find. I only found the answer because of my work to see the daily program schedules for WWJ-TV Channel 4 (as noted in editions of The Detroit News) in 1947 and 1948. Of course, if I had not done the work, I would never had been able ask the question. The first real stage-play material to be broadcast in Detroit was done over WWJ-TV, and the broadcast was given on Friday, June 27, 1947. It was the Wayne University Players, who were associated with Wayne State University (the place where I would get a degree related to broadcasting and film in the 1970s) in Detroit that performed a play entitled "The Man Who Married a Dumb Wife," which had been written by Anatole France. Incidentally, on that June 27, the play was the final main program seen for the day--or, really--the evening. The main programs for that evening were a news program hosted by Ted Grace, which ran for fifteen minutes, and that program was followed by a fifteen-minute long sports program, and then the program featuring the Wayne University Players was shown. Remember: Not much television programming was being put on the air each day during the several weeks around the time that this program was broadcast.
Let me give you an impression, which will give you an idea what the first people with television sets saw on their television sets during the early days of television broadcasting in Detrot--a time when there were no hundreds of television broadcast stations and hundreds of networks or channels, when there was no video-on-demand, when there was no multiple runs of a particular program in a single week, et cetera.
Commercial television broadcasting started in Detroit on June 3, 1947, and the only television station that was broadcasting through the remainder of 1947 (and into 1948) was WWJ-TV (remember: WWDT-TV, a noncommercial station, did intermittent broadcasts between about October 1946 and June 1947, and the station, in essence, evolved into WWJ-TV). The first day was basically an afternoon broadcast, one part of which was an opening ceremony saluting the station and a baseball game featuring the Detroit Tigers (the home team) and the New York Yankees (from New York City, New York), and the other part of which was an evening broadcast, which lasted about two hours, and, for example, had a soapbox-derby film and a variety show (which was locally produced). During the first several weeks of broadcasting--that is, at least the first several weeks of broadcasting--the station usually was on the air on a Tuesday-through-Saturday basis, and the station usually broadcast two blocks of programming each day--an afternoon block and an evening block, each of which began with a showing of a "test pattern," which could be used to adjust the picture quality and picture position on a television screen (and a test pattern could be shown for, for instance, from fifteen minutes to about two hours). Over the next few weeks, viewers were given some other live baseball games, but what was the most regular sports programming was a live horse-racing programming on Saturday afternoon, and the origination point of the horse-racing programs was the state fairgrounds, and besides the live sporting-events programs, there were some filmed sports programs. Scattered about the weekly schedule were "newsreels," some of which, for example, were produced by WWJ-TV and some of which were produced by NBC-TV (those were often called "NBC Newsreel" in television-programming listings in The Detroit News), and often newsreels in the early days of WWJ-TV ran for fifteen minutes. The first television personalities that viewers became accustomed to seeing were people who were doing work or had done work for WWJ-AM as broadcasters or The Detroit News as writers; Jean McBride, associated with the "The Detroit News Home Institute," was the first real female personality, hosting cooking demonstrations, the first regular show of which was given on Thursday evening, June 5, 1947, but, usually, she had a Tuesday afternoon show each week, and Dick Havilland was one of the regulars on a locally produced Friday evening program entitled Open House, and three of the other regulars seen on television were Paul Williams and Bill McCullough (who, for instance, did man-on-the street interviews) and Dave Zimmerman (who hosted a Thursday afternoon program called Television Party). Generally speaking, on weekdays at 7:30 p.m. and for fifteen minutes, Ted Grace hosted a news program, which could have news reports and interviews (Ted Grace took over from Ken Manuel in mid-June 1947). Incidentally, locally produced programs were usually fifteen-minutes long, thirty-minutes long, or one-hour long. If progarms were not live programs, they were filmed programs (remember: videotape did not come till the mid-1950s), and when films or cartoons were shown, they were former theatrical productions (since the day of made-for-TV cartoons and made-for-TV movies would not come till years later and since big-budget movies would not begin to appear on networks till 1961). If a movie were to be shown, it was often a Western (those considered "B-pictures" and not those that were considered "A-pictures," which could have big-name performers, such as Van Johnson, Clark Gable, and Bette Davis), and some of the first films or movies to be shown by WWJ-TV were Code of the Fearless (shown on Saturday evening, June 14, 1947), Last of the Mohicans (generally speaking, a theatrical serial that was shown weekly on Tuesday evening in at least June and July), and Red Wagon (shown on Thursday afternoon, July 9, 1947). From time to time, the station broadcast cartoons (they certainly were not regularly broadcasted, as they are today on, for instance, a 24-hour basis, as is done by several networks, or on Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings). Long before Dancing with the Stars would ever be broadcast by ABC-TV, WWJ-TV showed a weekly program on Thursday evenings during which "Arthur Murray" dancers did dancing demonstrations (by the way, in essence, "Arthur Murray" was a business--named for a well-known dancer, Arthur Murray--that set up dance studios around the country). Here is a sample of some of the "one-shot" programs (or one-time programs that were shown during the first few weeks of commercial television in Detroit--Know Your Federal Government (shown on Friday afternoon, June 13), X Marks the Spot (a safety drama film shown on Thursday evening, June 19), Midget Auto Racing (shown on Thursday evening, June 26), Your City (shown on Tuesday evening, July 22), Help Wanted (a first-aid film shown on Wednesday evening, July 23), and a live mock bombing of Detroit by B-29s (hosted by Paul Williams and Bob Leslie and shown on Friday afternoon, August 1).
That concludes the impression, and whether or not it was helpful to you is something only you know.
In case you are yet unclear about the feel of the what commercial television in Detroit was in the early days, let me add information about what you would not have seen if you were to have been viewing television during the early days. There was no program on the schedule in which parents with uncontrollable children would have a nanny show up to try to fix matters (today, there is Super Nanny). No program existed in which overweight people were taking up the challenge to lose weight and win money (today, you have such programs as The Biggest Loser and Fat March). The schedule had no "infomercials" (such as those that can be seen today, examples of which are half-hour programs selling investment advice or exercise machines or lifetime-guaranteed knives). No programs that focused on personalities or stars were put on the air (today, you might watch The Surreal Life or The Rock Life). No people were shown living together in a house or on an island and hoping to win a lot of money by getting rid of others (today, television has versions of Big Brother and Survivor). No program was involved in people trying to form a rock band (today, you might see Mission: Man Band). There was no such thing as a "reality" program in which police officers or others try to catch real criminals (today, you might see Cops, Bounty Girls Miami, and Detroit SWAT). No one was "flipping" houses (today, you might see Flip That House).
That is enough, and I hope that helps.
While traveling far from home, I was reminded--by my watching television channels that I am unable to see when at home--of work done by a gal in a television series that was produced in Canada and that was distributed in the U.S. originally between about 1994 and 2006, and it is still seen in the U.S. The series to which I refer is The Big Comfy Couch, and, as you should expect by seeing the title, a big couch was a main feature of the series, and, in fact, it was extra big so that the main character--a gal who dressed as a clown and who was not a child--would appear to be small in relation to the couch by viewers, particularly children. Some of the regular characters of the series were real people (in costume and makeup) and some of the regular characters were not real people and one of the non-real characters was Molly, a cute little girl puppet with a red nose and curly hair. The gal who was the main character also had a red nose and curly hair, and she often bounced around like a little girl. One of the things that I like about The Big Comfy Couch is the program did not have a preachy feel to it, which many programs made for children today can have, and, yet today, the tone reminds me of shows that were produced in Canada and seen by people in at least towns and cities of the U.S. that were near Canada in at least the 1960s and 1970s, such as The Friendly Giant. Now, I have to make something clear--since the program was started in Canada in 1993, two gals have played the lead character, but I have only seen the first gal who played the lead character, so I am not thinking about the second gal who played the main character (the second actress is Ramona Darling, and I am at the moment unaware if her version of the series has been officially distributed in the U.S.). The first gal who played the main character, who was dressed in a baggy jump suit (I guess that is what it was), was delightful, cheery, bubbly, and sparkly, and she had a natural innocent quality like that of a child. Remember: The main character--that gal--was not loony, she was a clown. Who played the main character? (You are supposed to come up with the answer to that questions by the time you see the next edition of T.H.A.T.)
copyright c. 2007
Date published: August 10, 2007
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