The high-voltage debate over the role of sponsor supported, product placement in broadcast entertainment and news programming rages in television newsrooms and corporate boardrooms across America, today.
But product placement was also , apparently, quite pervasive in the genesis of network, television programming. In the early 1950's, sponsors bought timeslots from the networks and selected the programs that aired in those positions.The sponsor's product was almost always evident in the body of the program.
On NBC-TV's Dragnet, the first primetime,crime procedural, when detective Joe Friday lit up a smoke after collaring the suspect, it was clearly pulled from a very visable pack of Chesterfields, the sponsoring brand of cigarettes.
But the promotional practice wasn't confied to drama and comedy content. Newscasts, apparently, were not immune.
Here is a You Tube flashback to NBC-TV's Plymouth News Caravan, which, in the early to mid 1950's, was the network's flagship news program. Anchored by the dapper, kinetic John Cameron Swayzye, it was the nation's most watched evening newscast, with CBS-TV's Douglas Edwards and the News, sponsored by GM's Oldsmobile Division, the next, closest competitor. The ABC Evening News with John Charles Daly, who went on to host CBS-TV's, erudite, panel program What's My Line for many years, was in third place.
Sponsorship of the Swayze newscast on NBC-TV alternated between Chrysler's Plymouth Motorcar Division and Camel cigarettes. Yes, Camel Cigarettes. It wouldn't be until almost seven years after U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry issued his scathing report on the dangers of smoking, in 1964, that television and radio commercials for cigarettes were banned by the F.C.C., in 1971.
On those nights that Camel picked-up the tab, the program was re-branded as The Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayzye. On those newscasts, an ash tray with a smoldering Camel was placed prominently on the anchor desk and, it has been reported by the late, David Brinkley, who served as the program's Washington correspondent, that at the sponsor's insistence, the only person who could be depicted with a cigar was Great Britain's Winston Churchill.
In the clip below, from a night in 1955 that Plymouth sponsored the network newsreel, you'll note a lengthy, filmed piece about a vaunted, design award bestowed upon the Detroit team responsible for conceiving and crafting, of all things, the 1955 Plymouth!
There is no real, editorial separation between the news content and the commercial film insert. For an average viewer, I suspect, it was hard to discern where the hard news stopped the hard sell started. Enjoy!!!!!
There are a few milestones to acknowledge about the newscast and its energetic anchorman, which distinguished The Plymouth/Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze on NBC-TV.
It pretty well lived up to its mission of presenting viewers with Today's News, Today, in a time of primitive television technology, when foreign, news film was shot and then shipped from various global locations, often taking days to arrive at NBC in New York.
On February 17, 1956, The Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze became the very first newscast ever broadcast in color, moving it's set to NBC-TV's legendary,Studio 8-H, now home of Saturday Night Live, for the occasion.
Swayze, who was referred to as an "eager beaver" in a 1951, Time Magazine article, brought a suave surety to the anchor desk and could all but memorize the script in pre-teleprompter times. He always wore a boutonnière in the lapel of his well-tailored suits, more in the manner of neighborly, Midwestern,bank manager, than an urbane, network news anchor.
Swayze acknowledged publicly that he wore copious,studio make-up and donned a toupee, to thicken his thinning mane, at the direction of his wife, Tuffie. On the occasion of this first, network newscast, she told him he "looked dead" and forevermore acted as his make-up consultant without portfolio.
He anchored the program, which aired at 7:45 Eastern Time, each weeknight, from 1948 until 1956, when was he replaced by the nascent news team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.
Swayze made a deft, career transition to become the commercial spokesperson for Timex Watches, and was at the forefront of the company's incredibly popular,visual and enduring advertising campaign. The clips , below, are just of few of his best commercials.Enjoy!!!!!