I Love Television
I LOVE TELEVISION. It entertains me. It educates me. It enrages me. It wakes me up. It puts me to sleep. It’s a lot like most people I know.
My personal memory of Television goes back to 1952 or thereabouts. That was when my father came home with our first television set. It was a Philco brand with a 12 inch screen. Everything was in black and white and we had a whopping three channels to pick from.
It didn’t matter which channel you watched they were all pretty much the same – Old movies, Cartoons, News, Kids Shows, and Wrestling. Lots of Wrestling.
At first there was very little live broadcasting other than the News. Even doing that was Hot, Difficult, and limited in scope and it called for hiring people who had some performing abilities.
We used to watch a live variety show, broadcast out of Pittsburgh, every morning during the week called “Meet Your Neighbor.” The hosts, Joe and Elaine Mann would sing a few songs, play some games with the audience, and then interview whatever Celebrity was passing through town.
I was in that audience one time. My mother had taken the train to Pittsburgh to do some “Big City” shopping and dragged me along. I had to be no more than four or five years old. Somehow she got us in to see the show live. The audience was 95% women with the other 5% being little kids like me. I was impressed. I was seeing a TV show without the TV! – And in color!
That 12 inch Philco got a real workout in our house between Joe and Elaine, Old Movies, Three Stooges comedies, and Wrestling – lots of Wrestling. Those early days of Television formed my tastes in Music, Humor, and how to put a “Sleeper Hold” on every kid in the neighborhood. Those Wrestling Shows were very popular. They were cheap and easy to produce and filled up a lot of empty airtime. How many of you remember “Gorgeous George” an early wrestling Super Star?
A typical day’s programming lineup was like this. There was Joe and Elaine every morning after the Today Show. News and then a couple of Soap Operas after lunch. There was a gap until about 4 PM when American Bandstand came on. Howdy Doody (My personal favorite), Captain Video (Sci-Fi), a short gap, and then the News at 6 PM. After the News there was another gap until the Network Shows began at 8PM and went on until 11. On a lot of stations in the early 1950s a five minute show called “Sermonette” finished the day. At midnight there was The National Anthem and a Test Pattern until 7 AM when it all started over again.
A lot of those gaps were filled with short fifteen minute shows like Liberace and his Piano. Larger gaps got filled in with filmed Wrestling out of Chicago. On Saturday Night the Wrestling Show was Prime Time, live from Pittsburgh!
I was born in 1946, just after the end of World War Two when Television was really just beginning. It was an era of self-confident experimentation in all aspects of American Life. TV was no exception.
For the people working on local television stations their imagination often exceeded their talent and their budgets. They had hours of Airtime to fill and very little material to harness to fill those gaps. There were live puppet shows, “Amateur Hour” talent shows – the Grandparents of shows like today’s “America’s Got Talent.” There were live cooking shows that didn’t always end up looking all that tasty. For those early years local television was faking it. How else could you explain “Buzz and Bill” – a daily fifteen minute show that filled up the space after Captain Video until the News started at 6 PM.
Every day these two guys would sing a couple of songs and do a little “Old soft shoe” dance. They were brave men, but not all that talented.
And then there was Wrestling – lots of Wrestling.
“Gorgeous George”? Sure, I remember him. Used to watch him and others whenever wrestling was on. I didn’t watch much of anything during the first years. Not until 1956 when I returned home from the Military. But, George was something. I think he was the first of the “Showman” Wrestlers. The rest is history. Thanks for writing this up, John. Again…..good memories!
I remember most of it all. Well, I’m four years younger, so that explains it. I loved the Indian test pattern. Were you too old for Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo? And those Betty Boop cartoons!
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I was too old for Romper Room and I always thought that Captain Kangaroo was too silly. Howdy was my guy when I was 5 or 6.
I don’t think I saw the Betty Boot cartoons until much later.
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