I’ve just returned from New York where I’ve been on a promotional tour for Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book. While there I made the rounds of television studios and the visits brought back memories from my youth.
It was the fifties and the new media of television had suddenly burst onto the scene. Los Angeles and Hollywood was an entertainment mecca and kids like myself, eager to get into media were having a field day. My brother and I roamed Hollywood where television shows were on the air practically every day. You didn’t even need tickets. You simply showed up at the station’s gates and waited in line. That meant if you were lucky, you could score seats in the audience of one of Hollywood’s popular television shows.
Back in the fifties, television was entertainment’s hot new medium. It was a combination of theater and motion pictures. Unlike today’s preprocessed packaged entertainment, television was the hot new medium and all the rules had not yet been set in place. The fifties shows had an energy, zest and creativity that would eventually be replaced by corporate, packaged pablum. But for now, the medium was fresh and new. On camera performers, as well as the technicals crews were pretty much making it up as they went along. It was a brave new world and an exciting new medium.
While visiting ABC’s The View in New York City recently, I was reminded of those wild, and woolly days of live-television. It was a thrill being backstage with Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Sherrie Sheppard, Jenni McCarthy and the amazing women who do that incredible live show every day. It brought back memories of my old buddy, Steve Allen who was the original host of the Tonight Show. I remembered being on set at Playhouse 90 over at CBS Television City in Hollywood, and wandering the studio floor stepping over cables and dodging workmen moving sets. Back in the fifties, I was backstage on the Jack Benny Program as Jack and his pals, Mary Livingston, Don Wilson, Phil Harris, Dennis Day and Rochester prepared to go on the air live. Television is polished and slicker today. However, it sure comes up short when you consider sheer energy, freshness and creativity. Back in the old days, the cameras were the size of refrigerators and an actor under the hot lights could leave a show with a pretty good looking tan. Everything about delivering a live television show was impossible and performers and the crew often made it up as they went along. Television was a scrappy new medium that had not yet been polished to death.
While doing The View this past Tuesday, I remembered television’s early days. I remembered when television was black & white and the reception was terrible. I remember the vitality and creativity of this amazing new medium. I said to my host, Whoppi Goldberg that I’ve learned to embrace the chaos. That’s what doing live television is all about. It’s creative chaos that totally terrifies and excites at the same time. And, it energizes all those taking part in the process. I loved live television back in the fifties and I still love it today.