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The Start of Television Through Kinescope

Kinescope and the start of television.

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Along with many others of my generation I grew up watching television programs now lost, or missing episodes. Several television historians and industry insiders place the blame for this on the deterioration of the film stock over the decades. A majority of these nitrate films having turned into a reddish dust within the cans holding an individual show. A can that had laid buried and forgotten in a corner of an unused building, or even in the basements and attics within the private homes of people associated with the production. That is if a specific program was ever recorded to the Kinescope process in the first place, because during the 1950's a large amount of the television programming was simply "Live" as a means of creating "intimacy" with the television audiences and somebody decided there was no need to make a copy as no reruns were planned and syndication was still a future concept.

Please take a look at the picture above titled "The Kinescope". It shows a drawing of a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) that was the means of transferring a live broadcast onto a monitor. The CRT was actually called a "Kinescope" and hence provided the name the process would be forever known by.

Either a camera man, or an automated camera would film the live images sent to the CRT monitor and those images would be transferred to 16 mm film stock creating the "Kinescope" program. The purpose of this 16 mm transfer was to permit television stations not on the network that received the live feeds to be able to run the program on a different night at a different time. Think Time Zones, territories such as  Alaska and Hawaii, an independent TV Station who contracts for a specific show in an area where the major network had no station, or even an actual  network owned station which could not receive live broadcasts at that time.

In this day and age many of my readers understandably have no idea of CRT's, or even television sets which depended upon tubes of all sizes to work and not micro chips. Back when I was a child should the television screen go blank. A person would open the back of their set and locate the burnt out tube, if that was the problem which it generally was approximately 80 percent of the time. Next they would simply remove the tube, read its number and like with an electric light bulb buy and install a replacement.

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The above image of a football game is from the Kinescope of the first "Superbowl" that was seen in 1968. It was thought lost until a nearly complete copy was discovered in 2005. Portions of all the color "Superbowl" telecasts through the fifth one in 1971 are also missing, or only exist as inferior 16 mm black and white Kinescope images.

This CRT type process of pointing either a 16 mm, or 35 mm camera at a monitor goes back to the middle of the 1930's in Nazi Germany. Near the end of that decade the U,K, suspended such recordings, because of their involvement in  the Second World War .While in the United States General Electric was experimenting with the process.This Kinescope technology would still be in use by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in 1977 as a means to send its programming to Alaska, Hawaii and other territories even though magnetic video tape was now being used.

Magnetic video taping was first attempted by Singer/Actor Bing Crosby's company "Bing Crosby Enterprises" in 1951. The picture quality wasn't even equivalent to a Kinescope recording and the tape speed was impractical for use, but it was the first real experiment in "Taping" a television program. In 1956 the AMPEX Electronics Company, named for its founder as an acronym for Alexander M, Poniatoff Excellence, solved the problem. They created the first commercially successful "Quadruplex" videotape recorder. In 1958 AMPEX would create the first Color commercially used magnetic videotape recorder.

The first color television had been created by Scottish engineer and inventor John Logie Baird in 1928.

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During the late 1940's the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) attempted a Kinescope system to televise their programming, but it was considered impractical. Although Admiral had manufactured television sets for the CBS process. As the CBS experiment progressed the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was developing their own system which in 1953 was adopted by the Federal Communication Commission.

In September 1947 the Eastman Kodak Company revealed its "Eastman Television Recording Camera". The camera was developed with the assistance of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and DuMont Laboratories. The camera recorded images from a television monitor and was called "Kinephoto". DuMont had a nationwide television broadcast network and this system was used on both the NBC and "Dumont" television networks until DuMont closed their struggling network down.

Below are two examples of color television sets from 1954. Almost every family in the United States was getting a television set by that year, but could only afford black and white. The simple reason being the cost for color and the extremely limited color television programming.


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A color television set with a "BIG" 15 inch screen sold by Westinghouse had a price tag of $1,295. Sylvania's sold a set at the slightly lower price of $1,150. While both RCA and GE sold their 15 inch color televisions for the "reasonable" price of  $1,000 each. Emerson was ahead in its thinking by renting a color television set for $200 down for the first month and $75 a month afterwards until it was paid off. Remember in 1954 the average yearly income was $4,700. So a color set was equal to one fourth of a person's total income, but at a time when most wives did not work that amount was also the average American family's total income.

To be clear there were many television programs be filmed directly onto 16 mm film stock instead of using the Kinescope process, but the quality of the images were lower. "The Lone Ranger" started black and white filming for ABC in 1949 and would turn to color film stock in 1956. Another classic western was "The Cisco Kid" from  ZIV TV which also started filming in 1949, but for syndication. "The Cisco Kid" has the distinction of being one of the first programs totally shot in color. However, it wouldn't be until 1960 that the "Cisco Kid" still in syndication would be televised in color and not black and white. In 1951 Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made the decision to shoot what would become 188 episodes of "I Love Lucy" directly onto 35 mm film stock instead of 16 mm, becoming the first television program to use the more expensive film for the higher image quality associated with motion pictures.

As a matter of perspective. I would point out that Broadcast television as most of you know it started around 1948 in the United States, but there had been programming that the average American never knew about long before that year. NBC started broadcasting television in 1939, CBS went into television broadcasting in 1941 and ABC started in 1948,

One of the first color television shows was a favorite of American kids once it went national, but at first "Howdy Doody" was only in the local New York markets. The show with its "Peanut Gallery" full of live children premiered on December 24, 1947.

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The first national color telecast was on January 1, 1954 and as you probably guessed already from the date was "The Tournament of Roses Parade". The problem here as I mentioned above was that very few American's could afford a color TV set to enjoy it. In fact during the next ten years the majority of all programming on television would remain in black and white. As it would take until 1964 for color television sets to become affordable. Between the years 1953 and 1957 a total of only 150,000 color television sets had been sold in the United States.

The image below shows typical TV sets with their 1964 prices and the prices conversion to 2010 dollars. Ours looked like the middle one.

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According to NBC who was the leader in color broadcasting as was their parent company RCA was  the leading manufacture of those TV sets. Coincidence?

This is a list NBC prepared by year starting in 1967 through mid 1971 of the percentage of actual television viewing households in the United States with color sets. Taken from the website "Television Obscurities".


DATECOLOR HOUSEHOLDS% OF ALL HOUSEHOLDS
January 1st, 1967 9,510,000
January 1st, 1968 14,130,000Roughly 25%
January 1st, 1969 19,200,000Roughly 33%
April 1st, 1969 20,560,000
October 1st, 1970 26,200,000
July 1st, 1971 29,700,000Roughly 48%


I mentioned the Dumont Television Network and DuMont's contribution to television broadcasting in general. The network was on the air from 1946 through 1956. At some time in the early 1970's it was decided that there was "no value" for preserving the hundreds of Kinescope recordings that existed in the networks archives. A decision was made by someone and all the film cans in Dumont's archives were loaded upon trucks and dumped into the Upper New York City Bay. Today only 175 miscellaneous episodes remain within "The Library of Congress".

Some of the titles that were dumped included:

The complete June 27, 1949 through April 1, 1955 early science fiction series "Captain Video and His video Rangers".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCSeMlSv3E0

The entire work of comedian Ernie Kovacks on his weekly show from the 1950's prior to his move to CBS.

The TV shows "Man Against Crime" starring Ralph Bellamy and "Front Page Detective".

A program called "The John Hopkins Review" created by that University.

 "The Morey Amsterdam  Show" starring the comedian who would co-star on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" from 1961 to 1966.

A detective show "Rocky King Detective" ran on the Dumont Network from January 15, 1950 through December 26, 1954. What makes the lost Kinescopes so important is that this series was performed live and week making it the only such detective show of the period.

Rocky King Detective DuMont Television Network.JPG

Here are some other examples not associated with Dumont which are lost to you my reader:

Ten years of "The Tonight Show" starring Johnny Carlson from 1961 through 1972 were erased by NBC. a few episodes remain.Along with all the original programs starring Jack Paar.

Only five episodes of  the critically acclaimed "The Pinky Lee Show" remain. Lee inspired comedian Paul Reubens to create his character of "Pee Wee". Note the similarity.

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One of the first prize give-a-way shows was "Queen for a Day" that started on radio in 1945 with the tag line "Would you like to be Queen for a Day". The program went to television in 1956 and ran daily through 1964 and was brought back from 1969 through 1970. The lady contestants would be interviewed and the studio audience using "The Applause Meter" voted on the winner who was given major prizes. The show was so popular that it ran up the rates for commercials to the premium rate of $4,000 a minute and the program was extended from 30 minutes to 45 minutes allowing for 15 minutes of commercial time. Almost every episode was ordered destroyed.

I want to mention a live weekly television series called "Climax" which was on CBS from October 7, 1954 through June 28, 1958. All the live programs with their mistakes were recorded to Kinescopes, but most are no longer with us. The 47 to 50 minute program used excellent casts in their productions. "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" starred Michael Rennie and Sir Cedric Hardwicke, but as I said this was live TV and mistakes happened. During Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" actor Triston Coffin

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had been killed. He thought the camera had moved from his shot. So he got up with the camera still on him and walked off stage. The program is one those saved from destruction and Coffin's action became an "Urban Legend" associated with actor Peter Lorre by mistake.

Speaking of Lorre on October 21, 1954 he appeared as Le Chiffre in the live, with boom mike shadows and off the set coughing, "Climax" production of Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale". In this show, available of DVD, MI-6 Agent James Bond becomes CIA Operative James "Jimmy" Bond played by Barry Nelson and MI-6 Operative Felix Leiter became CIA Agent Clarence Leiter played by Michael Pate.

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After "Howdy Doody" went off the air. NBC replaced it in the same time slot was "The Shari Lewis Show". From 1960 through 1963 children and their parents were entertained by Puppeteer Lewis and her friends "Lamb Chop" and "Charlie Horse".


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In 1964 NBC recorded over all the tapes of "The Shari Lewis Show" to be able to record both the Democratic and Republican National Presidential conventions. Almost the entire three years of programming was lost to us.

I originally mentioned that the BBC was making Kinescope type recordings before and after the Second World War. A similar lack of respect for their early television productions existed in the U,K, as well.

Two major examples known to readers in the United States that were erased, or destroyed for no apparent reason are:

Only the first episode of "The Adventures of Twizzie" November 13, 1957 through June 10, 1959 remains. This was the first program made by "AP Productions" which eventually would become Century 21 Productions" owned by Gerry Anderson ("Thunderbirds").

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On November 23, 1963 the BBC ran the first episode of what is still the longest running television science fiction program "Dr. Who". For unknown reasons 97 episodes mainly of the first and second doctors were erased, before somebody stopped it.

For some unknown reason the first four episodes of the original BBC production "The Quatermass Experiment" were never recorded. Yet the final two were, becoming the oldest known recordings of any BBC fictional series made.


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Every country in the world has similar experiences were somebody made a decision that effected the history of their television industry. As I said this was a short look at mainly the history of this country's television.

I remember many of the shows now lost and unfortunately over the years they are removed from current memory, or as with the mistake with Peter Lorre over his live appearance on "Climax" they become "Urban Legends".



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