Episode # 1      Roof Top Aliens

 

Day by day rooftops gave birth to television antennas all over town ,throughout the suburbs and slowly the entire country. The first hotel to install television sets in all their rooms was the Pierre Hotel in New York. The pioneering owners of television sets also found themselves doing a lot more entertaining. It became an event for friends and neighbors to see what this television was all about.

It was a time of transition in the entertainment industry with television as the catalyst emerging as a threat to the status quo of both radio and films. By 1948 the film industry pretended to ignore television; some felt it had potential but most were in denial, just like they did when silent films were forced to speak. All the film studios made it clear they were opposed to anyone in their employ doing television work. Again history repeats itself in the arts -- theatre producers during the birth of silent films threatened to blacklist you from stage work if you were caught making pictures for the nickelodeons.

Steve Allen, the legendary television host, said in an interview, “There were stores, mostly radio and appliance shops, selling television sets. They had them displayed in windows, and there were crowds that would gather on the sidewalks. It was as if somebody put a Martian in the window and everybody would say ‘Hey, get a load of this.’ The bright, the dumb, the rich, the poor, the left, the right, everybody was standing on the sidewalk watching these strange boxes with the moving pictures in the store windows.”

Most Americans in 1948 had never seen a live theatre production of any kind. The closest to a drama, musical or comedy was if they heard it on the radio, or watched it on a movie screen.

 

Now not only could you watch old movies starting to appear on television for the first time, but you had a chance to see first rate theatre productions being staged live. What made it so enticing was it was all free, and you were experiencing it all in the privacy of your home. Why pay to go to the theatre when you could watch dramas on Studio One or comedy with Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows with Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. A big hit on radio and making a move to television was newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, which had visiting celebrities and new talent performing. Late night was Broadway Open House, with vaudeville comedian Jerry Lester and his busty blonde sidekick Dagmar, forerunner of The Tonight Show.

 

No matter how excited you are about a new television show and want to watch its progress each week, you won’t find the city streets empty, storefronts locked up, restaurants closed and crime down because everyone was home watching. Welcome to “Mr. Television,” aka “Uncle Miltie” aka Milton Berle himself, one of the first pioneer entertainers of television. 

 

At first glance, it looks like there ten lenses on each camera, but there actually six rim lights on each camera. It shows the CBS technical developed a good idea for adding face lighting on close ups with these rim light clusters. Photo from the collection of a UK collector and television historian Dicky Howett.