Thursday, October 22, 2009


In the Genesis of American television , even broadcast behemoths like NBC and CBS weren't true, national networks. While the coaxial cable and microwave relay stations for tv transmission linked the east and west coasts in 1948, there were vast parts of the country that had no access to live video feeds.

As the nascent television industry moved into the 1950's,and into millions of homes, bars and schools, Americans embraced the new medium and made instantstars of pioneering performers like Milton Berle, Lucille Ball and Arthur Godfrey. Manufacturers like RCA, Philco and Admiral struggled to keep up with the public demand for Black and White, TV sets with a 12 inch, diagonally measured screen.

LIVE,television production was centered in New York City,and that created a dearth of studio space. As NBC, CBS, ABC & DuMont rapidly converted radio facilities, Broadway theaters and hotel ballrooms into video stages, local television stations in Philadelphia, Washington DC and Chicago produced programs that filled network schedules.

Philadelphia was a leading center for network production in this era. NBC's antic, Ernie Kovacs Show and the sci-fi adventure, Atom Squad, were produced in the crowded, hot, basement studios of WPTZ-TV's (now KYW-TV) center city facilities.

Paul Whiteman's Teen Dance Party and , later , American Bandstand were beamed live to the ABC Network from WFIL-TV's (now WPVI-TV) new, but austere, production center in West Philadelphia. That building is now home to a non-profit, community, educational agency and is on the national historic register, thanks, largely, to Dick Clark's, daily, rock and roll rally.

At the sprawling WCAU-TV (still WCAU-TV) broadcast facility in suburban Bala Cynwyd Pennsylvania, television pioneers produced over 20 hours per week of LIVE programming for the CBS Television Network.This included Ed McMahon playing a clown on a weekly, circus spectacular called BIG TOP.

WCAU-TV also mounted an ambitious LIVE, western adventure show called ACTION IN THE AFTERNOON, that aired 5 days a week. Often runaway cattle or horses would bolt from the backlot into busy City Avenue. Just as frequently, a bus or truck could be seen rolling through a scene that was supposed to be set in the Old West. The occasional airplane made appearances in wide, closing shots.

One of the most fascinating and intellectually stimulating, network entries from WCAU-TV was a quiz show produced in association with the University of Pennsylvania, called WHAT IN THE WORLD?. Each Sunday from the early 1950's to 1960, a panel of distinguished anthropologists and archaeologists would be shown rare and ancient artifacts from the University of Pennsylvania's renowned University Museum by host and museum director,Dr. Froelich Rainey.The panel had to identify the object, and explain it's scientific and/or historical significance.

The quiz, itself, was challenging, straightforward and, obviously, smart. For it's entire run, WHAT IN THE WORLD? was consigned to television's , so-called, Sunday intellectual ghetto.

You may wonder why a commercial network,like CBS-TV, which was determined to dominate this mass appeal medium, offered a show that was so cerebral and arcane?

In TV's tender years,when a new television set could cost as much as a used car, most set owners were affluent. Many viewers, who were early adopters of this costly and vibrant video technology, were also well educated and erudite.

The opening titles were a bit ominous, but the production values were formidable for the time.Below , from the PENNMUSEUM YOU TUBE SITE,are posted three, full episodes of WHAT IN THE WORLD? ENJOY!!!!!

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