Archive for the 'early television' Category

Behind the Scenes of tv’s Life of Riley

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

While we usually feature radio shows on the blog, this week let's look in on that young upstrart in broadcasting, television.  In this mp3, I've assembled working materials for an episode from the first season of the tv version of the radio classic "The Life of Riley".

"The Life of Riley" ran on NBC television from October 4, 1949 through March 28, 1950.  The show wasn't a success and is probably more famous as a footnote in tv history for being the first major break for Jackie Gleason who took over the part of Riley when film commitments wouldn't allow Willliam Bendix to appear on the new medium.

Recently, I obtained three unlabled Audiodisc acetates that were apparently used on the production of the show and give a brief glimpse into some of the work that went into the series.  The first disc mostly contains test tones, which I've left out of this file.  Our mp3 starts off with a couple of minutes of audio as the cast runs through a scene from the show - you hear the voices of Jackie Gleason, Rosemary DeCamp who played Peg, Sid Tomack as Jim Gillis and probably the show's director as they discuss the setup for a scene.  Then, also from the first disc, is a sound effect that may have been used on the series and a take of the commercial jingle probably used on the show.

The second disc in the set that consists of multiple takes of the sponsor's jingle by an acapella group that has some trouble singing the tune.  Finally, on the third disc, we hear the show's announcer, Jimmy Wallington, running through the announcements for the show's opening, closing and commercials - I bet you had no idea there were so many ways to say "Best beer served....anywhere."

The discs have no labels, but the sleeve for the Wallington disc includes pencil notations for the numbers of the announcements, his name, and the date "10-17-49".  Using that clue, I looked through some episodes of "The Life of Riley" at archive.org and believe that the rehearsal excerpt is from "Nervous Breakdown", originally broadcast November 1, 1949.  (The brief scene where Digby O'Dell enters the room that they're rehearsing on the disc is the 17:00 mark when we see Riley sick on the couch in the living room.)  The factory sound effect was probably used on the episode "Assistant Manager", broadcast on November 8, 1949.  (The factory scene starts at about 5:45.)

Watching one of the episodes again reminds me too of how much Jackie Gleason doesn't seem right for the role of Chester Riley.  The first incarnation of the program only ran a few months.  It didn't didn't take off in the ratings until it went back on the air in January 1953 with William Bendix finally taking over the part.  This site has an interesting article that goes into the court battle about syndication of the Gleason run of the show and notes that each program was shot in one day - Gleason got $500 for each episode.

It's curious to hear the commercials and announcements for the show since this material isn't included in the versions circulating today which are just the filmed program used for syndication later with an added laugh-track.  The announcements and jingles you're hearing would have been played under the filmed segments of the show.  "The Life of Riley", by the way, won the first Emmy for "Best Film Made For and Shown on Television".

The file was digitized and edited directly from three original unlabeled lacquer 16" discs; the first and third discs run at 33.3 rpm and the second, with the multiple takes of the sponsor jingle, runs at 78 rpm.

I'm wondering what to do with these discs - they're a rather ephemeral piece of tv history.  Do you think some archives would be interested in them?

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Early Television clips

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

We don't talk much about that young upstart - television - on the blog, but I thought you might be interested in what the boys in the research and development department have been up to.

The Paley Center has online a very early attempt at creating a kinescope.  It's a silent reel of clips from a 1939 live drama, "The Streets of New York, broadcast by WNBT.  A very young Lloyd Nolan is featured in the cast.

This is probably one of NBC's tests of how to record a broadcast for later viewing.  Someone posted a curious film from NBC demonstrating how kinescope technology had advanced by 1939 - that film includes a clip from a 1938 television broadcast, comparing it to kinescopes created in 1946 and the present day.

Think anything will come of this television business?

You might also want to check out a clip I found on YouTube of a color lenticular kinescope excerpt from Ernie Kovac's 1956 "Silent Show" and the 1958 dedication of a Washington, DC television station, the earliest color videotape to survive, streaming in it's full original 30 minute running time on Veoh.


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