Thursday, October 24, 2002
1954: KTTV Dumps Du Mont, KHJ Becomes Its Affiliate
By ROGER M. GRACE
As 1954 got underway, KTTV, Channel 11, was, as it had been since 1951, an affiliate of the Du Mont network. That, however, was about to change.
Du Mont and NBC were the nation’s first television networks. It was on April 13, 1946 that Du Mont linked its New York and its District of Columbia stations; a regularly scheduled series on the two-station network, “Serving Through Science,” began Aug. 15, 1946. NBC had commenced broadcasting a variety series, “Hour Glass,” on its linked stations in New York and Philidelphia in May of that year. CBS and ABC joined the rivalry in 1948. With all four players transmitting signals, Du Mont was, as some saw it, the No. 3 network in the late 1940s and early ‘50s. But by 1954, it was decidedly in last place, and losing ground.
•CBS was broadcasting 25.5 hours a week of prime-time shows, and its “owned and operated” station in L.A., KNXT, Channel 2, was airing every one of the network’s programs (though it did relegate the “Gene Autry Show” to the non-prime time slot of 5 p.m. on Sundays). CBS was known as the “stars’ address,” being home to Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Arthur Godfrey, Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Red Buttons, Fred Waring and others. It carried the highest rated show, “I Love Lucy,” as well as “Studio One,” “What’s My Line” and Edward R. Murrow’s “Person to Person.”
•NBC offered 25 hours of prime-time programming each week and its “O and O” here, KNBH, Channel 4, was showing all of it except “Life of Riley” (to which KTTV had gained broadcast rights), “Man Against Crime,” and three quarter-hour sports shows; also, it showed “Mr. Wizard” on Sundays at 1 p.m. rather than on Saturday nights. There were stars at that address, too, including Milton Berle (known as “Mr. Television”), Groucho Marx (on “You Bet Your Life”), Sid Caesar, and (on the Colgate Comedy Hour) Eddie Cantor, Martin and Lewis, Jimmy Durante and Gordon MacRae. Blockbuster shows included “Dragnet” (the No. 2 rated program), “This Is Your Life,” “Kraft Television Theater,” and “Loretta Young.”
•ABC had a prime-time schedule comprised of 20.5 hours a week. Its “O and O,” KECA-TV, Channel 7, aired only 12.5 hours of ABC’s prime time shows each week, relegating one of them, “Talent Patrol,” to Sundays at 4:30 p.m. (TV Guide’s listing for that panel show identified Arlene Francis as the show’s “femcee.”) KECA aired syndicated shows, such as “The Cisco Kid” and “Orient Express,” or locally produced programs in place of ABC’s east coast sporting events and such shows as the “Orchid Award Show.” “Disneyland” would not be on the air until the next year, and ABC had no programs among the top 20.
•Du Mont beamed 18.75 hours of prime-time programming a week. KTTV aired only 4.5 hours of that supply each week, in the form of nine half-hour shows—five on Sundays, two on Mondays and two on Thursdays.
KTTV had never placed on its schedule all of the Du Mont shows (nor had KTSL, Channel 2, the previous Du Mont affiliate in L.A.). In fact, none of the Du Mont affiliates ran the whole gamut of shows except the network’s own two original stations, WABD in New York (named after founder Allen B. Du Mont) and WTTG in the District of Columbia. But Channel 11 was clearing less than a quarter of the Du Mont shows, airing them on days and hours bearing no resemblance to the East Coast Du Mont schedule. Du Mont was more of vendor to KTTV than a network.
The Du Mont network was deteriorating. This was partly the result of inane decisions by the FCC which put Du Mont at a competitive disadvantage — but mostly because of rival ABC receiving a huge infusion of cash. Details of that are to come in a future column. The tragedy was that Du Mont did not fail for lack of effort. In its early years, it was marked by promise and feistiness. Its downfall was largely the product of fortuity.
KTTV, on the other hand, was not failing. It had L.A.’s top personalities in its stable, and had secured rights to the premier shows in syndication. It didn’t need Du Mont. KHJ-TV, on the other hand, was an anemic station that could use any help it could get.
So it was that Times-Mirror, owner of KTTV, announced on March 19, 1954, in its morning newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, its parting of ways with Du Mont. The announcement was not in the nature of a bang, but a whimper. On the television/radio page, under the heading “Video-Radio Briefs,” it reported, in the third item:
“KTTV, (11) is relinquishing its Dumont network franchise locally to concentrate on the local public service and entertainment programs that have brought it into the No. 3 spot among TV stations locally. KHJ (9) takes over the franchise April 1.”
Ironically, Channel 9 became the Du Mont outlet on April Fool’s Day,
1954 — and on April Fool’s Day, 1955, Du Mont was to announce the cancellation of
most of its shows, as it prepared to close up shop.
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