Thursday, October 31, 2002
Captain Video Navigates His Space Ship to Los Angeles
By ROGER M. GRACE
If you remember watching “Captain Video” on Los Angeles television, your memory harks back to a short period in the mid-1950s. That’s when Al Hodge’s portrayal of the “master of science” and “guardian of the safety of the world” was seen Monday through Friday on KHJ-TV, Channel 9.
“Captain Video” went on the air on June 27, 1947, and was to become Du Mont’s longest-running series. By 1951, it was shown on 24 stations, including KTTV, Channel 11 (for a short time) and reportedly had a larger viewership than “Kukla, Fran and Ollie.”
KHJ-TV became the Du Mont affiliate on April 1, 1954. That is not, however, when it began televising “Captain Video.” Getting a head start on its association with Du Mont, it started airing the serial on Jan. 15, 1954, assigning it to the 5:45 p.m. time slot. When the station hitched up with Du Mont, it moved the show to weeknights from 6:30-6:45, followed by a 15-minute sitcom about newlyweds, “Marge and Jeff.”
However, Channel 9 did not air the bi-weekly, half-hour Saturday show, “The Secret Files of Captain Video.” Those files were to be kept secret from kids in L.A. for all time. Channel 9 wasn’t on the air in the morning on any day of the week, and began its broadcasting day on Saturdays at 4:15 p.m. with a religious program.
Captain Video was the head of the Video Rangers, the good guys who combated 23rd-century villains. Two of the actors who portrayed evildoers were Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, later to be paired in the original TV version of the “Odd Couple.”
This early predecessor of Captains Kirk, Janeway, and Picard had a mechanical buddy named “Tobor” — which is “robot” spelled backward. The captain had his secret headquarters on Earth in the cave of a mountain.
Hopefully, it was not near the San Andreas Fault.
In an ad in TV Guide, in the April 16-22, 1954 issue, KHJ displayed the Du Mont logo (which KTTV had not done when it was the affiliate) and heralded the Du Mont shows it was carrying. In addition to “Captain Video” and “Marge and Jeff,” it was airing “Rocky King, Detective” and “The Plainclothesman” on Sundays, “Life Begins at 80” (with Jack Barry) on Mondays, and Colonel Humphrey Flack” (a comedy starring Alan Mowbray as a con artist) on Tuesdays.
It announced that “The Goldbergs” would join the line-up on April 27, and that advised readers to “[w]atch for starting times” for “Chance of a Lifetime,” “Dollar a Second” and “Down You Go.”
“The Goldbergs,” a situation comedy starring Gertrude Berg, had previously been aired on CBS (dropped because of the alleged Communist ties of the male lead), and then on NBC. It was to remain on Du Mont only until Oct. 19, 1954.
“Chance of a Lifetime” was a talent contest hosted by Dennis James; “Dollar a Second” was a fast-moving quiz show presided over by Jan Murray; “Down You Go” was a quiz program hosted by Dr. Bergen Evans with a panel that included Fran Allison, Boris Karloff and baseball great Phil Rizzuto.
As it happened, “Dollar a Second” moved to NBC in July, where it became a summer replacement, and then bobbed between NBC and ABC until it went off the air in 1957.
Du Mont’s most popular program was “Life Is Worth Living” with Bishop (later Archbishop) Fulton J. Sheen. For whatever reason, Channel 9 did not begin airing it until November, 1954. On the east coast, the half-hour show was seen live on Tuesday nights, opposite the first half hour of Milton Berle’s 60-minute “Texaco Star Theater.” The bishop’s show — featuring one man, philosophizing without a script (except for the last two minutes of the show) — pulled higher ratings in some markets than Berle’s extravaganza. This produced two gag lines from the comic: that his rival “had better writers” and that “We both have the same sponsor — Sky Chief.”
The Du Mont network, ailing financially, cancelled most of its shows on April 1, 1955. Can you imagine what it must have been like for the network executive who had to tell a Catholic bishop that he’d been canned?
Bishop Sheen’s show was picked up by ABC. In fact, several of the Du Mont shows moved to other networks either after Du Mont cancelled them or when it became clear that the network would not last.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company
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