Thursday, November 21, 2002
Du Mont Network Crumbles
By ROGER M. GRACE
Aug. 6, 1956. The Du Mont network broadcast a boxing match. Then the plug was pulled; the network perished.
That was the official date of the network’s death. But by then, Du Mont was a near corpse. In Los Angeles, KTTV had dropped its affiliation with the network in 1954; KHJ signed up as an affiliate, but was disengaged from the network the following year.
It was on April 1, 1955, that most of Du Mont’s programs were hacked from the schedule, though some kinescopes of axed shows, making the rounds, trickled here over the next few weeks. The network put on token summer programming, and aired its last program, other than sports specials, on Sept. 23, 1955. It was a panel show (not aired here) called “What’s the Story?”
And, so, what is the story? Why did the spunky and once promising Du Mont network — which had been the sole network to broadcast the Army-McCarthy hearings, introduced Jackie Gleason’s “Honeymooners” skits, brought the “Amateur Hour” to television, and pioneered in staging TV quiz shows — disintegrate?
It’s partly because of bureaucratic folly which thwarted free enterprise, and partly because a competitor (ABC) gained advantage through infusion of capital from an investor.
Growth of Du Mont had been stymied by the FCC’s Sept. 30, 1948 freeze on the allocations of new stations. Once the moratorium was lifted on April 14, 1952, Du Mont faced a new obstacle: most cities were now limited by the FCC to three VHF stations. (L.A. and New York were allowed to keep their seven stations; a few major cities could have four; smaller burghs were restricted to two.)
With the merger of the American Broadcasting Company in 1953 with United Paramount Theaters, ABC now had the money — $30 million — to develop its operations. Local stations, faced with the choice of affiliating with ABC or Du Mont, tended to pick ABC.
Yes, Du Mont was free to add UHF stations to its network, but most sets back then could not pull in those stations; it was not until 1964 that the FCC mandated that new sets be capable of accessing UHF channels.
Another impediment to Du Mont’s growth was that CBS, NBC, and ABC were each allowed to own and operate five stations, while Du Mont was limited to three. That’s because company founder Alfred Du Mont had sold a 26 percent interest in his company to Paramount Pictures in 1939 and Paramount’s two wholly owned stations —KTLA, Channel 5, in Los Angeles, and WBKB, Channel 4 in Chicago—were treated by the FCC as if they were Du Mont stations. In truth, they were competitors of the Du Mont affiliates.
To avoid confusion, let me interject that Paramount Pictures, which had a major interest in Du Mont, was, since 1948, a separate entity from Paramount Theaters, which in 1953 merged with ABC.
ABC and Du Mont worked out a deal to merge, forming the ABC-Du Mont network, but Paramount Theaters torpedoed it.
In light of the turn of events — as Jeff Kisseloff put it in his book, “The Box”—“The little network that could, could no more.”
While Allen B. Du Mont’s network died, the individual stations owned by it were still in business. Remnants of the Du Mont network in 1958 became Metropolitan Broadcasting Corporation, which evolved into Metromedia, Inc. In 1963, Metromedia purchased KTTV from Times-Mirror. The lot on which KTTV’s studios were located, at 5746 Sunset Blvd., became known as “Metromedia Square.”
Metromedia, which owned five stations in addition to KTTV, was purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 1986 for $2 billion. He used it as the foundation for the Fox network, launched on April 5, 1987 with the airing two comedy shows—“Married…With Children” and “The Tracey Ullman Show”—on KTTV and 109 other stations across the United States.
KTTV is now dubbed “Fox 11.”
Fox is known as “the fourth network”—which had once described a television network of the 1940s and ’50s which was, well, sort of an ancestor of Fox.
Clarke Ingram, on his Du Mont website, reflects:
“All that remains of DuMont today are the fading childhood memories of watching DuMont shows on DuMont TV sets; a sadly declining number of network pioneers and employees who are still alive; some advertisements and articles in print media of the time; and a handful of kinescopes—dim and blurry, but highly cherished today—of the ‘live’ programs from a very innovative fourth network.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company
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