Today, we have a vast array of choices to watch on television. Beyond the network programming, there are a multitude of choices and types of original shows on HBO, Showtime, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and countless other services that are constantly being created.
There was a time at the beginning of Television that there was only the big Three networks. Videotape was in its infancy and much of the non-filmed television were Live using the new concepts of coaxial cable. Prior to that scratchy kinescopes were made to show on the West Coast.
Live Dramas abounded. Actors flocked to New York City to gain recognition and learn their craft. Likewise, great writers were commissioned to write new ” Live Plays” every week. The writers included Rod Serling, Paddy Chayefsky, Horton Foote, Tad Mosel, Reginald Rose, William Templeton, Gore Vidal and others. Shows such as The Philco Television Playhouse, Kraft Television Theatre and Playhouse 90 and others became the showcases for these great works.
Brilliant dramas including Marty, Requiem for a Hevyweight, Patterns, The Comedian and hundreds more were produced. Spectaculars such as telecasts of Mary Martin in Peter Pan, MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella were produced. Even The first screen adaptation of a James Bond story was a teleplay that aired in 1954.
In writing our upcoming biography on Peter Falk, we did a lot of research on this period, as this was where the great young performers (like Falk) cut their teeth. Many of the new generation of actors such as Jack Lemmon, Marlon Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Paul Newman, Walter Matthau and hundreds of others were first seen on Live Television.
Actor Joe Mantegna (Criminal Minds) who wrote the forward to the upcoming Peter Falk biography told us a great story joe loved watching the live drama and came up with the concept for a new version of doing Live Drama for television. He would produce the classic works that were originally written for television along with fresh young playwrights. His fellow actor friends would work for scale to keep costs down. Joining him were friends Dan Laurie and Peter Falk. Joe set up a meeting with Showtime. The Executives at Showtime were mostly under 40 and really had no concept of the Golden Age of Television. During the meeting, Joe mentioned producing some of the classic teleplays of Paddy Chayefsky like Marty, Rod Serling’s Patterns, Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men. Just then, the top young Executive jumped up and said he lived Chayefsky saying “She is such a great writer. Can we get her?” At that point, Peter Falk was fed up. He asked the young man to repeat himself, which he did. Falk threw up his arms and said, ” That’s it. That’s it. I f**cking give up I’m done” and left the meeting. The project, despite the lower costs and great actors involved, never transpired.
Thus, with all the new outlets , it is quite surprising that we have not seen the return of Live televised productions ( except the NBC holiday musicals. ).