Archive for March, 2011

The DuMont Television Network

March 18, 2011

I recently read the book THE FORGOTTEN NETWORK DuMont and the Birth of American Television by David Weinstein. I started reading it because I was interested in the last section (on Ernie Kovacs at DuMont).  It was all a bit before my time, yet I found it quite interesting.
From 1946 to 1955, DuMont aired around 200 regular series plus specials.
They started off in a small studio at 515 Madison Avenue in New York.  They’d aim the camera out of  the window, so people could see what the weather was like for themselves.  They soon opened a second, larger studio in a department store auditorium. They also had a mid-day Man on the Street program where they’d interview passers-by.
Two interesting series started in 1949.  The Plainclothes Man tried to everything out of the main character’s eyes (i.e. subjective camera).  Just reading about it, it sounds like an experimental film noir TV show.
Captain Video also sounds quite strange.  It was an early sci-fi themed show, aimed toward the kids.  There were sometimes positive or “inspirational” messages included.  The Captain had an optican scillometer, which let him see through walls.
Jackie Gleason got his start at DuMont.  They broadcast the early Honeymooners shows.
The Ernie Kovacs Show (for DuMont) was a late night talk show.  It was broadcast for about a year, from April to April of 1954/1955.  It was pretty loose and experimental.  Toward the end of the run, he even changed the name of the show to The Ernie Kovacs Rehearsal.
Kovacs devised some of his key characters at DuMont including Howard, the World’s Strongest Ant and the Nairobi Trio.
DuMont was also probably  the most jazz-friendly network in the United States.  Birdland, the famous jazz club, was just a few blocks away.  A lot of the people who worked at DuMont would hang out there.  This lead to the classic film of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie performing the tune  Hot House for DuMont.
Allen Du Mont was an engineer who ended up running a TV network.  He became disillusioned with television.  In June 1961, he remarked “How can 47 million television sets be tuned to this kind of production five hours and more a day?  My reaction has been that of the creator of Frankenstein.  Yet I am here today, honored by you, because I helped to make this possible… perhaps I should instead be censured.”

Captain Video:

Scroll Down to February 24, 1952 for information on Charlie Parker’s appearance on the Dumont Network:

Some Video:

Bird and Dizzy on Dumont: