Monday, June 27, 2011

This week in Television History: June 2011 Part IV

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As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

June 28, 1951

Amos ’n’ Andy moved to CBS-TV from radio.

Amos and Andy began as one of the first radio comedy series, written and voiced by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll and originating from station WMAQ in Chicago. After the program was first broadcast in 1928, it grew to become a huge influence on radio series that followed. The show ran as a nightly radio serial from 1928 until 1943, as a weekly situation comedy from 1943 until 1955, and as a nightly disc-jockey program from 1954 until 1960. A television adaptation ran on CBS-TV from 1951 until 1953, and continued in syndicated reruns from 1954 until 1966. The Amos 'n Andy Show was produced from June 1951 to April 1953 with 78 filmed episodes, sponsored by the Blatz Brewing Company. The television series used African-American actors in the main roles, although the actors were instructed to keep their voices and speech patterns as close to Gosden and Correll's as possible. Produced at the Hal Roach Studios for CBS, it was one of the first television series to be filmed with a multicamera setup, four months before the more famous I Love Lucy used the technique. The lighting cameraman (Director of Photography) was Robert de Grasse ASC. The operating cameramen (camera operators) were Robert de Grasse, Lucien Andriot ASC, and Benjamin Kline ASC. The classic theme song was "The Perfect Song." In the TV series, however, the theme became Gaetano Braga's "Angel's Serenade", which sounded similar to "The Perfect Song" (and because it was in the public domain), performed by The Jeff Alexander Chorus. The program went on the air June 28, 1951.

The main roles in the television series were played by the following African-American actors:

This time, the NAACP mounted a formal protest almost as soon as the television version began, and that pressure was considered a primary factor in the video version's cancellation (the sponsor, Blatz Beer, was targeted as well, finally discontinuing their advertising support in June 1953). It has been suggested that CBS erred in its choice of having the program premiere during the NAACP national convention for that year, as the timing may have increased the objections to it. The show was widely repeated in syndicated reruns until 1966 when CBS acquiesced to pressure from the NAACP and the growing civil rights movement and withdrew the program. Until recently, the television show had been released only on bootleg videotape versions, but by 2005, 72 of the 78 known TV episodes were available in bootleg DVD sets.

When the show was cancelled, 65 episodes had been produced. An additional 13 episodes were produced to be added to the syndicated rerun package. These episodes were focused on Kingfish, with little participation from Amos 'n' Andy. This is because these episodes were to be titled The Adventures of Kingfish, but they premiered under the Amos 'n' Andy title instead. The additional episodes first aired on CBS on January 4, 1955. Plans were made for a vaudeville act of the television program in August 1953, with Tim Moore, Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams playing the same roles. It is not known whether there were any performances. Still eager for television success, Gosden, Correll and CBS made initial efforts to give the series another try. The plan was to begin televising Amos 'n' Andy in the fall of 1956, with both of its creators appearing on television in a split screen with the proposed African-American cast.

A group of cast members began a "TV Stars of Amos 'n' Andy" cross-country tour in 1956, which was halted by CBS; the network considered it an infringement of their exclusive rights to the show and its characters. A similar tour had been planned by some cast members in 1953 after cancellation of the series. Following the threatened legal action which brought the 1956 tour to an end, Moore, Childress, Williams and Lee were able to perform like this for at least one night in 1957 in Windsor, Ontario.

In 1978, a one-hour documentary film, Amos 'n' Andy: Anatomy of a Controversy, aired in television syndication (and in later years, on PBS). It told a brief history of the franchise from its radio days to the CBS series, and featured interviews with then-surviving cast members. The film also contained a select complete episode of the classic TV series that had not been seen since it was pulled from the air in 1966.


July 1, 1941

NBC broadcasts the first TV commercial to be sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC began licensing commercial television stations in May 1941, granting the first license to NBC. During a Dodgers-Phillies game that was broadcast July 1, NBC ran its first commercial. Advertiser Bulova paid $9 to advertise its watches on the air.

Although the first TV license was issued by the Federal Radio Commission (which later became the FCC) in 1928, all licenses were noncommercial until 1941, meaning they were not allowed to sell air time for advertisements or other commercial purposes. However, several stations had already aired advertisements by the time the FCC began issuing commercial licenses.

Although the development of television had been eagerly pursued by radio companies for decades, World War II slowed the development process. Only in the late 1940s did the medium become widespread: Until 1947, no commercial TV stations were licensed west of the Mississippi. Geographically Speaking, the first commercially sponsored TV show, debuted in 1946 with the backing of Bristol-Myers. Many other sponsored shows debuted in the early 1950s.

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa

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