Thursday, November 14, 2002
Ted Bergmann: No Good as a Salesman, He Was Made the Network President
By ROGER M. GRACE
Ted Bergmann was out of work.
He had been a staff announcer for NBC before World War II, went into the Army (serving as a captain in the Public Relations division, earning a Bronze Star for combat reporting), and was rehired by the network in 1946. He was fired three months later, on the day his first son was born. The obligation to him under the GI Bill of Rights had been satisfied.
He spotted an ad in the New York Times for a salesman, followed up on it, and was hired. His new employer was Du Mont. In an interview published in Jeff Kisselhoff’s book, “The Box: an Oral History of Television,” Bergmann recounted:
“I was hired for a $150-a-week drawing account. Instead of a salary, you got a commission of ten percent of any time you sold, and our commissions would be charged against $150 a week. At the end of the first year, I owed the company about six thousand dollars. That’s how much time I was able to sell.”
Yet, this inept salesman had other qualities that endeared him to Allen B. Du Mont, who in 1954 put him in charge of the Du Mont Television Network, with the title “managing director.”
Bergmann recounted Du Mont’s offer to promote him. He revealed, in a panel discussion memorialized in Kisselhoff’s book, how he advised against it.
Bergmann, who is Jewish, said he reminded Du Mont that most of the big advertising agencies and advertisers did not hire Jews and didn’t want to deal with them. He quoted Du Mont as saying:
“If anybody doesn’t want to give us their business because you’re Jewish, I don’t want their business.”
“From that day onward, I worked my a— off for him. He was very naïve in these areas. He was a scientist, but he was a very gentle man and a very kind man. He allowed me to do whatever I wanted to do, but the thing I hated the most was that I wasn’t able to pull it off for him. It just couldn’t work.”
Clarke Ingram, a radio program director/on-air personality who offers an outstanding website on Du Mont [http://members.aol.com/cingram/television/dumont.htm], put me in touch with Bergmann, who, in e-mail correspondence, filled in some of the informational gaps on Du Mont.
Were any of the Du Mont shows seen here live? Bergmann, 82, advises:
“The only programs that were carried live were sporting events, primarily pro football. Some of these games originated on the West Coast and were fed to the Network. The regularly scheduled programs such as Bishop Sheen were sent out on teletranscriptions (kinescopes).”
Color television was developed many years before it became available to viewers in the 1950s. That’s because the FCC insisted that programs broadcast in color also be viewable on black and white sets — that is, that programs be in “compatible color.” Competing in the post-World War II years for FCC approval were the systems developed by CBS (initially declared the victor) and by NBC’s owner, RCA. Du Mont repeatedly testified before the FCC against the CBS system. Bergmann tells why:
“Dr. DuMont opposed the CBS color system because it was mechanical scanning [utilizing a huge spinning wheel] as opposed to electronic scanning. Even CBS didn’t believe in their color system. It was designed to slow down the advancement of the medium.”
Du Mont developed his own compatible color system, naming it “Vitascan,” and there were closed-circuit experiments with it. However, Bergmann relates: “I don’t recall any programs broadcast in color.”
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that “Captain Video” was aired on KHJ, Channel 9, four months before that station became a Du Mont affiliate, and while KTTV, Channel 11, held the franchise. Bergmann explains:
“DuMont had multi affiliation agreements in many cities including Los Angeles. We had to go with any station willing to clear our programs.”
As noted in the “Captain Video” column, the L.A. Times — owned then by Times-Mirror, which also operated KTTV — reported in 1954 that KTTV was dumping Du Mont. Bergmann remembers it differently. He says that at the point where KTTV “was unable to clear for us, we took our programs to KHJ.”
Bergmann became an executive-in-charge of ABC’s “Three’s Company,” (1977-84), and the spin-offs, “The Ropers” (1979) and “Three’s a Crowd” (1984). Bergmann was connected with other network shows in the 1970s and 1980s.
He was a success in television in the post-“Golden Age” era. But so were many.
Bergmann, however, was in a class with a very few — the few who were television pioneers who influenced the course the new medium would take.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company
MetNews Main Page Reminiscing Columns