Here’s an ad for the first ever episode of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and goes a long way in clearing up some confusion in the comments section from last week.
As I wrote then, Tom Snyder did a special 90 minute Saturday version of ‘Tomorrow’ with Jerry Lewis to cover the one week pushback of the SNL debut. Some had posted that Billy Crystal was to host the first show and the pushback gave George Carlin the honor of being the first guest host, but that was never the case. It was always Carlin, BUT…Crystal was scheduled to appear. Unfortunately, the show went long and Billy’s segment had to be cut.
It would be interesting to know if Billy made it to the stage in the dress rehearsal or if the cut came that afternoon. Anyone know? Thanks to Doug Gerbino for this classic ad. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Dumont was first with this video/film hybrid system which they called the Electronicam, and it debuted just before it was used on ‘The Honeymooners’ Classic 39 film episodes in 1954.
This Gemini System from UK optics company Rank (as in Rank, Taylor, Hobson) came out around 1957, and as the Broadcasting Magazine article states, would eliminate the need for Kinescopes. The problem for Rank was that videotape had just debuted too, but there was a need and use for this…especially when it came to commercial production.
Soon after videotape went into service at the networks, national sponsors began asking for their spots on tape. In order to avoid having to shoot the spots twice, once of film cameras and once for television cameras – or to avoid having a kine print, the Gemini came in handy for shooting both at the same time.
Even into the early 60s, many local stations only had one or two of the expensive video tape machines and still had to run spot from film via telecine chains. Thanks to John Schipp for the article. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Ding, Dong The Witch Is Dead! GE Sign Finally Coming Down…
Most will be glad to know that work began a few days back to take down the GE sign at 30 Rock…soon NBC’s proud peacock will take it’s rightful place here. Thanks to Anthony Quintero for this shot of the work in progress. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
The Heart Of The Magnetic Field Problems For CBS Studio 50
In one of today’s earlier post about CBS ordering the Maconi Mark VII color cameras, I mentioned the the legendary magnetic field problems they had in Studio 50 and also, Studio 52.
Circled in red is the heart of the problem. That’s where the massive transformers for the subway were located. This is on 53rd Street with Broadway being just up at the corner on your right. The dark building to the right of the transformer building is the stage of The Ed Sullivan Theater (Studio 50) where David Letterman is done.
The building on the left is the rear of what was once CBS Studio 52, with the front entrance on 54th Street. After CBS sold it, it became the famous nightclub “Studio 54”.
Even in the Black and White days, cameras had to have special mumetal shielding inside to block the interference. Jackie Gleason once hired an RCA color truck with TK41s for a test of the show in color in the early 60s, but no matter what they did or where they parked the truck, they could not get a good picture. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Geeky, But Interesting Camera History…CBS And Marconi Color
Being born on Halloween, things in history that happen on that day intrigue me and here are two biggies. On October 31, 1965, CBS Studio 50 made is debut color broadcast of ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ with 5 Norelco PC60s.
The very next year, on October 31, 1966, this article appeared in Broadcasting Magazine. It announces the CBS purchase of 39 Marconi Mark VII color cameras, with the first 5 scheduled to arrive in the summer of 1967 at Studio 50.
It has always been my opinion that the Mark VIIs replaced the Norelcos there 18 month after they were first installed. Finally, we have the confirmation. The magnetic field problems at Studio 50 are legendary, and although Norelco modified the 5 cameras they installed to negate that interference, this makes it pretty obvious the CBS was never really happy with the Norelco picture quality from 50.
Somehow when CBS field tested the Mark VII at Studio 50 in 1966, with no modifications to the camera, it worked fine and the magnetic field problems had no effect on it. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
In Case You Missed It…Color Video Tape Comparison To Kinescope
Obviously color makes a big difference, but so does the quality of videotape over kine. This is the “laughing cameraman” sketch that I posted yesterday in a side by side comparison with some neat special effects inserts.
Thanks to Joao Antônio Franz dos Santos for sharing this, but most importantly, thanks to David Crosthwait at DC Video in Los Angeles for making this after transferring the show from a 2″ quad, low band videotape to a digital format for the Lewis family archives. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
In 1953, WNBT, the local NBC station in New York and its late night movie program was getting clobbered by a better package of films being broadcast every night on the CBS affiliate, WCBS.
Knickerbocker Beer, which was then a major brand, decided it wanted to sponsor something other than late movies on WNBT…say, a variety show. Ted Cott, a successful radio executive who had recently moved into television at the NBC affiliate, suggested Steve Allen as host for the venture.
At the end of August of 1953, a 40 minute weeknight program called ‘The Knickerbocker Beer Show’ debuted. Steve Allen was the host and the legendary Dwight Hemion was directing one of his first shows which originated from Studio A of the WOR 67th Street Studios. At the time, the studio was still owned by WOR and NBC was leasing space, but that changed the next year when the ‘Home’ show with Arline Francis came to the air…NBC took over the whole complex then.
A few weeks after the debut, the show’s name was changed to ‘The Steve Allen Show’ but Knickerbocker was still the sponsor. In the comment section, I’ll show you ticket from the September 16th show.
Done at first without writers and always without much of a budget, Allen’s local show was an immediate success, garnering both critical acclaim and the desired higher ratings. On the show, Allen would play the piano, chat with audience members or guests, bring on Steve Lawrence and/or Eydie Gorme to sing a song (as in this clip) and have fun with the bandleader Bobby Byrne. Allen was basically laying the foundation for all TV talk shows to come. Less than a year later, most of the operation would be moving over to do a network show called ‘Tonight’ which debuted 60 years ago today! Enjoy and Share! -Bobby Ellerbee
September 27, 1954…’Tonight’ Debuts From The Hudson Theater
Happy 60th Birthday To ‘Tonight’! May you have 60 more!
At the link are the opening minutes of the very first ‘Tonight’ show with Steve Allen. I’m not going to go into great detail on this as we have spotlighted this show’s history many times here, BUT…in the next post, I will give you something Ultra Rare!
As Steve jokes in the last few seconds on this debut video, “if ‘Tonight’ is successful, NBC will have a new show called Son Of Tonight”…actually, this show is the “son of” NBC’s local New York show which we will look at in today’s next post. The original name of that show was ‘The Knickerbocker Beer Show With Steve Allen’.
Speaking Of Jerry Lewis…Here’s The Laughing Cameraman Sketch
In the last post about the delayed SNL debut, I mentioned that Tom Snyder and his guest Jerry Lewis filled the hole left by the one week push back. Lewis and NBC have a long history going back to ‘The Colgate Comedy Hour’ days of the early 50s, and here is a clip from his show from Burbank in 1960.
The laughing cameraman is comedian Joey Faye who was in a lot of Sinatra and Lewis movies. We get to see the RCA TK41s around 2:33 but the intro to “Witchcraft” include a typical Lewis bit about the time delay of this live show.
By the way, he did this bit again in 1967 and I’ll post that clip in Comments. Enjoy and Share! -Bobby Ellerbee
The Television Debut Of The SNL Original Cast…Rare & Surprising!
As it turns out, “The Not Ready For Prime Time Players” were not even ready for late night television! Really! Here’s the story…
NBC’s new 90 minute, live comedy show ‘Saturday Night Live’ was scheduled to debut at 11:30 on October 4, 1975. The plane truth is, they just could not get the show ready in time for a number of reasons, with timing and blocking among the biggest hurdles to overcome.
Although Tom Snyder’s ‘Tomorrow’ show was a one hour, Monday – Friday production, NBC called on him at the last minute to do special 90 minute Saturday show to cover the SNL hole in their schedule. Fortunately, Jerry Lewis was in town and agreed to do the show. For the first 85 minutes, he was the single guest. The last five minutes were reserved for the introduction of the SNL cast and it’s producer Lorne Michaels.
In this clip, you will see the first ever network appearance of the original cast of ‘Saturday Night Live’. Break a leg tonight SNL and happy 40th Anniversary! Enjoy and SHARE! -Bobby Ellerbee
http://youtu.be/2xQP_Kdt2gEBefore the first show had aired, a bunch of nobodies went on the Tomorrow Show to talk about this weird little show they were starting up – SNL.
The Brilliant Backstage Ballet Of ‘Saturday Night Live’…My Eye Witness Story
Tonight is the debut of Season 40 of SNL, and in honor of that huge milestone, I am reposting this story for those that missed it. I wrote this Sunday morning, May 4th. The night before, I was in Studio 8H for the 8 o’clock SNL dress rehearsal. If you have ever wondered who the people behind the camera are, read on as I have listed them all…they are truly the kings of live variety television. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
LIVE FROM NEW YORK, IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!
Last night, I was an eyewitness to live television entertainment’s only living legacy…’Saturday Night Live’.
I sat on the front row of the floor seats. Looking at the stage, I was on the left side in the corner seat…only three seats on the front row and to my left was the other half of the 8H floor space…the perfect place to see everything.
I’m going into some detail this morning, but believe me…there will me much more on this! Before I go anywhere though, I must first thank the SNL crew for their incredible hospitality, especially John Pinto and Phil Pernice.
These are the pros that do the work: On Camera 1, our friend John Pinto. This is the Chapman Electra crane camera and his long time driver is Phil Pernice, with Louis Delli Paoli and Robert Mancari handling the boom arm duties.
On Camera 2, Paul Cangialisoi. On Camera 3, Len Weshlel. On Camera 4, Carl Eckert. On Camera 5, our old friend Eric Eisenstein. These are pedestal cameras, but when a portable is needed, one of them will handle that.
I know you will want to join me in wishing Barry Frisher a speedy recovery and return. Barry is a long time crew member and is usually on Camera 4, but the until he returns, another long time SNL cameraman, Carl Ecker, has returned from retirement to fill in.
These are two more men that need to be acknowledged…Ed Ruotolo and Pete Phrane. In a way, these two are “the last of the Mohicans”. Ed and Pete are the only two sound boom operators in live network television!
Knowing what I know now, we really have to thank Lorne Michaels too for keeping the show true to the way it would have been done when live entertainment television was in it’s heyday. Max Liebman and Lorne have a lot in common and it seems that Mr. Michels goes the extra mile to acknowledge that in a way.
Liebman produced NBC’s first ninety minute Saturday night hit… ‘Your Show Of Shows’ with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. That show was done the same way, with ped cameras, a studio crane, two sound booms and a live audience.
To his credit, Michaels has taken this a step further. Like last night, I and forty or so others get to sit in the floor seats each week. This adds intimacy to the presentation, but also a few more degrees of difficulty.
Sketches take place everywhere, on both ends of the studio and in the middle too which means four ped cameras, the Chapman and two sound booms have to move there, set up and be ready three minutes after the last sketch. But remember…there’s scenery too and lots of it! Sage hands are constantly in motion setting up the next scene and striking the last and some of the set pieces are quite large and elaborate, but everything has to move at the same time while staying quiet and out of each others way. This is a huge 3D chess game that is beyond fascinating to watch. On top of all this is the Q card team which has to be in place with the cards over the lens of the correct camera and are all in synch in three or four different places at once. More on them soon.
There are kings, and then there are Kings of Kings. The crews at ‘Saturday Night Live’ are Kings of Kings, and then some! In each one of them, from the floor to the control room to the dressing rooms and beyond, both talent and technical…all of them are living legacies. The art of live variety show production, in all of the world, has only one true home; NBC Studio 8H!
With all due respect to all the other live network crews, especially the brilliant New York video artists behind the cameras at Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman and Seth Meyers, you are also Kings of Kings, but you have to admit that SNL is in a class by itself as the format and conditions are very different from any other show. It’s apples and oranges. There will be more on all these great crews later this week.
Before I talk about “dancing” I want to remind you to take a close look at the photos below. I have some very interesting new photos, but in these rehearsal shots, notice the equipment and the people…there is a lot of both. No robotics, no wireless microphones…no skimping. This is full blown, 100% manpower.
Now…to the dance. There is a magical coordination and flow of choreography that goes largely unseen that is absolutely stunning to watch in person. The great shots you see on screen are the product of the dance, but the dance itself is a true sight to behold!
One level of this dance is exclusive to SNL. All live shows have floor traffic but SNL has overhead traffic too, and lots of it! Here, we have Louis and Robert swinging John Pinto’s camera over head AND two sound booms! It was very interesting in Friday’s camera blocking rehearsal to hear a discussion of boom shadows. This is one of the elements exclusive to SNL that the pros there have to deal with, and they do it well. Another part of this “level one” dance is the move…the migration of men and machines from one end of 8H to the other, or somewhere in between. There are utility men and women with each camera to handle the cable which is absolutely necessary, and when they move, it’s done with care, calm and efficiency and is a thing of beauty to behold in itself.
The second level of the dance is most pronounced during the musical guest performances. Frankly, I can not begin to express the art of this dance any more than I can describe the art of this kid in the clip dancing to “Happy” on SNL a few weeks back. He has the music “in him” and it is joyous to watch him turn it loose! It’s not overdone…just tasty and cool! You can see it in him through out the clip. I’m going to find out who he is while I’m here. This is qued to his part. Take a look.
What does this have to do with the SNL camera crew? Every one of them “have the music in them” and express it visually with a ballet of moves that will bring tears to your eyes should you be lucky enough to see it done. All four ped cameramen are peding up and peding down, trucking left and right, in and out, back and forth…all constantly in fluid motion. They trade places with each other on the in and outs and in the center, Pinto and company is booming up and down, and over the heads of the others the whole time. This is true art and these are video artist at work!
Speaking of art…watching Phil, Louis and Robert handle the Chapman Electra is a thrill! World wide, this is the only true studio crane in operation in live television. Everything else that flies is a jib, and with all due respect to the jib operators…there is no comparison. The Electra boom is in perfect balance on the up and down and should Louis and Robert turn loose of the boom arm, it will not move and is rock steady. Seeing Phil back the whole thing into the tunnel under the seats is a sight to behold.
If you think this is all, it’s not. There is more and that will come soon but I’m off now for a full tour of NBC, much of which I have yet to see. In closing, my sincere thanks to everyone at SNL that have made me feel so welcome this week. I am deeply touched and truly honored to have been able to see all of you, and be a witness to the extraordinary work you do.
8H IS the home of the Kings of Kings! Thank you all for continuing the legacy of live television at it’s best! Bobby Ellerbee
I Wonder What Mel Allen Would Have Said About Jeter Last Night?
In one of the most surreal and remarkable farewells in Yankee history, leave it to Derek Jeter to deliver the dramatic game-winning hit in the Yankees’ 6-5 triumph over the Baltimore Orioles, just minutes after the Yankees had blown a 3-run lead.
As the longtime voice of the Yankees, it would be interesting to know what Mel Allen would have had to say, but here is a little known story about a conversation he once had with Lou Gehrig that may give us some insight. This will put a lump in your throat.
Allen once recounted an event that occurred during his first full season as the announcer of the Yankees. Lou Gehrig had been forced to retire the previous year due to what would be a fatal illness. Speaking with Allen in the team’s dugout, Gehrig told him “Mel, I never got a chance to listen to your games before, because I was playing every day. But I want you to know they’re the only thing that keeps me going.” Allen waited until Gehrig left, then broke into tears. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
In live television, a lot of things happened just on the other side of the set walls. Here at Television City, a door opens to a quick change space where actors could make a change on the set. More often than not, there was no time to make it to a dressing room and back before they had to hit their marks.
This photo is from a ‘Playhouse 90’ production…one of television’s most cherished and respected anthology series. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
A Rare Color Photo of CBS Television City Studio 33
Perhaps the most famous of the TVC studios is 33. This is the only one left that has the side wings and the built in theater seating. Here is a shot from behind the lighting directors console from around 1953.
As mentioned in the post just before this, the dynamics of production changed as with this much space, you could have horizontal production with the cameras and crew moving from side to side on stage instead of operating in a maze of set walls as was necessary in most NYC productions. I think this set is either ‘My Friend Irma’ or ‘My Favorite Husband’.
You can’t see the wings, but you can see how far the center ramp comes out into the audience. Studio 31 was originally a mirror image of 33…the only difference was that in 31, the lighting board was on the other side of the control room which we see the corner of at the far right in this photo. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
This NYC shot is a stark contrast to the way live production changed once bigger studios, like the ones at Television City, allowed horizontal staging…sets, all in a row that allowed crews and cameras to move side to side on the stage.
This photo could possibly be from the newly converted CBS Studio 50, which is now home to David Letterman. It was converted from radio to television in 1950 and this shot from the catwalk shows three RCA TK10s within 6 feet of each other ready to shoot three different scenes on this maze like set. The production is the 1950 “Studio One’ presentation of ‘The Scarlet Letter’. In 1950, ‘Studio One’ won an Emmy for Best Kinescope.
Notice the low camera in the top left is shooting into the rear of a fireplace opening and soon, will give us an image of one of the characters putting wood on the fire from inside the fireplace, but first the camera on the other side of the wall has to move. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Before there was video tape, tele transcription was done via the kinescope process. Inside the cabinet, behind the panel door there is a cathode ray, or picture tube pointing up so the image can be seen via the mirror box. The image is then recorded by a small film camera as seen here with the film magazine above it. The operator can adjust the picture quality and audio with the oscilloscope and control panels shown here.
Don Hewitt, who created ’60 Minutes’ produced and directed this event and even though other debates were broadcast on NBC and ABC, Hewitt was hired to help produce them all and brought along some of the hardware as well. Click on the link and you’ll see some of what he came up with…things that we still use. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Short But Sweet…NBC NY & Burbank Quick Shots, Early 70s
Thanks to our friend John Schipp, we are able to see a little over a minute’s worth of rare footage inside 30 Rock and Burbank.
This is from a behind the scenes episode of NBC’s ‘The Go Show’ which aired briefly around 1973. It was a unique show, shot mostly in the field with RCA TK 76 ENG cameras and recorded on Ampex VR-3000 VTRs, a portable 2-inch quad machine.
With a little help from NBC’s Dennis Degan, here’s what we are seeing. “The first two shots look like Studio 5H Control Room, originally built in 1954. The TCR-100 (tape cartridge machine) shown in the clip was Machine #31, the one furthest to the left in a line of six TCR-100’s at NBC-NY. My maintenance shop was on the other side of the wall seen in the shot. The clip jumps to Burbank and Studio 4’s elephant doors, then home to ‘The Flip WIlson Show’ and ‘Midnight Special’. You can also get a glimpse of the set for ‘Sanford & Son’ which I think was in Studio 3. Then we flip back to NY for a shot of Frank Blair at his news desk, most likely Studio 3K and I think the closing moments are in Studio 4 again. I believe the clip was probably made in 1973. The TCR’s were first brought to market no earlier than 1972.” Comment, enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
September 23, 1962…’The Jetsons’ Debuts As First Color For ABC
This video clip is quite good as Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera reminisce about the show.
Here’s a little known fact…at the time ABC did not have any color equipment, but NBC did, and that’s how ‘The Jetsons’ got on the air. Each week, ABC took a 35 and 16MM copy (master and safety) to NBC Burbank on Sunday afternoons. NBC would rack both and play them simultaneously (in case the film broke) down two AT&T lines to ABC New York for the east coast and do the same four hours later when the fed the signal to ABC Hollywood.
‘The Flintstones’ was produced in color and preceded this show by two years, but those first couple of years were broadcast in black and white. Even if they had been broadcast in color, most ABC affiliates were not equipped to handle color yet and only about 30% of the ABC stations were able to broadcast ‘The Jetsons’ in color.
I think ABC’s first color ability came in 1963 when they installed an RCA color film chain in Hollywood at the Prospect lot. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
Forty six years ago, television history was made when CBS debuted ’60 Minutes’. Below, we see the slate for that first broadcast and at the link above, we have a great farewell to Mike Wallace.
At the two minute mark, we enter the ’60 Minutes’ studio which looks almost the same now as is did back in 2006. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
CLASSIC! RCA TK41s In Action…NBC Brooklyn Studios…1967
I never get tired of seeing this…one of the only video clips of the RCA TK41 color cameras in action. The date was March 13, 1966 and the production was ‘The Bell Telephone Hour’. That episode was ‘The Music Of The Movies’ and in the clip you’ll see (Oz scarecrow) Ray Bolger and a young Peter Marshall.
I think that’s Don Mulvaney on the crane camera. We get about three minutes in the studio and control room, but come back for the broadcast at 23:35. I’m pretty sure the show was on tape, so this AT&T presentation is taking a little artistic license, but that’s OK as long as they give us a little more of the studio action. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
http://youtu.be/ZAJpionUxJ8?t=12m56s For more from the AT&T Archives, visit http://techchannel.att.com/archives This film focuses on the integrity and reliability of the entire Bell System netwo…
This topic came up in one of the posts yesterday, so here’s the very odd story of Arthur Jones and his 35 RCA cameras and 95 video tape machines.
This will start at the 4:56 mark where the television facility is described. As the creator of the line of Nautilus Fitness Equipment, Jones is a multi millionaire, but a very opinionated and cantankerous character. This all happened in the early 80s in a tiny town in Florida and it all went away almost as quickly as it was created. By the way, the studio cameras are RCA TK46s. I think they also had some RCA TKP 45 and 46 portable cameras. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
‘Price Is Right’…Best Ever Behind The Scenes…1 Hour In Studio 33
This is a fantastic trip behind the scenes of this legendary show and covers everything! Notice the cameras are wireless! Yes, there is a cable from the camera head to the yellow and white car batteries on the pedestals, but no floor cables. You can see the transmitters and antenna on top of the lens and mounted on the right side of the cameras.
The Steadicam operator is Hector Ramirez…the most nominated Emmy winner ever. With these multi screens, we get to see more than you could even if you were there. Thanks to Howie Zeidman for the clip. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
In the video post just before this, we saw Bob on TPIR set, but this is him in 1970 on the ‘Truth Or Consequences’ set at Metromedia Studios with a Norelco PC70. I would love to have one of these old “captains wheel” Zoom demand controls (that Bob has his hand on) for one of my Norelcos. This style demand was original equipment. Anyone happen to have one? If so, please let me know…these are hard to find. Thanks, enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
This is 10 years into Bob Barker’s reign as host and 3 years before the passing of Johnny Olson. Before seeing this, I had never thought of Johnny as a disco dancer…after seeing it, I still don’t but you have to give him an A for effort.
Interestingly, there is a stop tape occurrence in this piece as one of the game board displays peters out. The cameras in Studio 33 look to be the single cabled Norelco PC70s. Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee
http://youtu.be/TYaHPm4fZx0This is from a talk show “2 On The Town,” in 1982. Includes an interview with Johnny Olson and his audience warm ups, contestant selection, and pricing games.
ABC’s Circle 7 Logo…Which Came First, Chicken Or Egg?
ABC’s first corporate phone number was Circle 7 – 5700 and their first offices were at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Remember, ABC came into existence when NBC was forced to sell off the Blue Network, which was more than just radio.
1944, Edward Nobles bought the entire NBC Blue Network for a price of $8 million. This package included leases on land lines, three pending television licenses (WJZ-TV in New York, KGO-TV in San Francisco and WENR-TV in Chicago, all eventually established on Channel 7), sixty affiliates, four facilities (in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.), contracts with actors, and the brand associated with the Blue Network.
Thanks to Steve Finkelmeyer (for the rare letterhead), and to John Schipp (for the 1962 San Francisco Chronicle article on the KGO Circle 7 logo), we have a conundrum. Was the circle around the 7 just a cool looking visual flourish with no relationship to the company history? Could be, but it’s an interesting coincidence isn’t it? Anyone know more? Enjoy and share! -Bobby Ellerbee