Thursday, July 25, 2002
Snowy Kinescopes, Two Weeks Late
By ROGER M. GRACE
It’s been observed that those entering college have never known a world without cable TV and VCRs.
There are sets now sold that will let you leave the room, come back, and resume the TV broadcast at the point where you left off, the set having retained the transmission in memory.
How times have changed since the days of black and white sets that could pull in a maximum of seven channels. No color, no instant replay, no twirling graphics, and no live news reports from abroad. Not back then.
I remember television in the late 1940s. My parents had an early set that was in a wood cabinet. You would lift the top, which was on hinges; the picture tube was facing up; the top, now at an angle, had a mirror on it which magnified the image. Of course, when lettering appeared on the screen, it was backward.
I was a tot then. My favorite show was “Howdy Doody,” seen live from New York each week-day at 4:30, Chicago time.
Moving with my family to Los Angeles in 1950, I learned that there was a difference in programming on the West Coast. Many network shows that were broadcast live on the East Coast would be seen here two weeks later.
A live show would be filmed in New York, from whence most network programs originated, by aiming a camera at a special monitor (which showed the signal that was emitted, not what was received on local TV screens, which could include static). The film would be developed; prints were made from the 16 mm. negative and were shipped to stations in other time zones; technicians would project the film—known as a “kinescope”—onto a screen and aim a camera at it. The visual quality was not ideal.
Anyway, kiddies in towns and cities back East would see “Howdy Doody” at 5:30 p.m. and we youngsters in L.A. would view the befreckled puppet at the same hour (on KNBH, Channel 4)—but not the same week.
The delay was particularly noticeable in connection with holiday programming. A “Colgate Comedy Hour” Christmas show, for instance, would air on this side of the continent in mid-January.
There were, of course, broadcasts from New York seen here live. But, to note the obvious, it was three hours earlier here than there. “What’s My Line,” for example, emanated from New York on Sunday nights at 10:30, ET, and we would watch it live here at 7:30, our time.
A “spectacular”—the word then for a “special”—couldn’t be aired in the East too late for the young folks to view, so something like the 1955 Producers’ Showcase presentations of Mary Martin in “Peter Pan” or Humphrey Bogart in “The Petrified Forest” would be on the tube here (as I recall) starting at 4 in the afternoon.
A show that was broadcast live from New York which couldn’t be aired here live was NBC’s “Matinee Theater.” If the program, which was performed each weekday from noon until 1 p.m., had been shown live in West Coast cities, it would have defeated the purpose—that purpose being to show off NBC’s “living color.”
NBC was then owned by RCA which, on Dec. 1, 1954, had begun commercial production of color TV sets. “Matinee Theater” went on the air Oct. 31, 1955, and the idea was for color sets to be demonstrated at electronics stores and department stores during the lunch hour.
A new color kinescope process was utilized. In 650 productions over the show’s run, which was nearly three years, NBC showed off not only color technology, but some excellent acting and script-writing—orchestrated by producer Albert McCleary.
“The $64,000 Question,” by contrast, had to be live back in 1955, the year it went on the air and quickly became TV’s top-rated show (just ahead of “I Love Lucy”). Within minutes after a contestant who was going for a big sum won or lost, the outcome was being heralded on radio newscasts. The show’s time slot on CBS on Tuesday nights was 10 p.m. in the East, 7 p.m. on this coast, being aired in Los Angeles on Channel 2, then KNXT.
Nowadays, with videotape, shows can be edited to fit the allotted time precisely. But when shows were live, it was different. Do you remember the time a contestant was in the isolation booth, the questioning had begun, all America was waiting to find out if the contestant would win the prize, and time ran out? Well, the show could not just stop. It continued for another three minutes, until host Hal March shouted, “You’re right for [whatever it was] thousand dollars!” CBS instantly cut away to the “Phil Silvers Show” (“Bilko”), in progress.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company
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