‘Hour Glass’…A Television First
(Note: Pay attention to the third paragraph in regard to the NBC ND 8G camera questions. I think this settles it.)
This show was network television’s first rehearsed, non-reality program. It was a one hour variety/sketch comedy show hosted by Helen Parrish. Parrish had been a child film star and she became the first popular TV star. With the lessons learned and a new host and sponsor, NBC would bring this show back in 1948 in a tighter and more structured form as, ‘The Texaco Star Theater’ with Milton Berle. ‘Hour Glass’ debuted on NBC in television’s first ever “fall season” and ran from 8 till 9 PM on Thursday nights from May 8, 1946 till March 6, 1947. In 1946, NBC only had 10 shows on the network which covered NYC, Schenectady and Philadelphia but that was twice as many as the only other network offering television and that was Dumont. On Thursday nights, ‘Hour Glass’ was preceded on the network by the 10 minute ‘Esso News Reel’ at 7:50 and followed by local programs. ‘Hour Glass’ pioneered sketch/variety TV, and was the most ambitious and expensive production yet with big production numbers, chorus girls, a band, famous guest stars, and more with the show’s sponsor pouring in over $200,000 for the show’s nine month run.
The program was produced by the J. Walter Thompson agency on behalf of Standard Brands for their Chase and Sanborn and Tenderleaf Tea lines. ‘Hour Glass’ featured different performers every week, including Peggy Lee and, in one of the first examples of a top radio star appearing on network television…Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy in November 1946. The show also showcased filmed segments produced by Thompson’s Motion Picture Department; these ranged from short travelogues to advertisements. Every episode also included a ten minute drama, which proved one of the more popular portions of the show.
“Although Thompson and Standard Brands representatives occasionally disagreed over the quality of individual episodes, their association was placid compared to the constant sniping that was the hallmark of the agency’s relationship with NBC. It started with unhappiness over studio space, which Thompson regarded as woefully inadequate”*! OK, this says to me that the 8G cameras were actually used in 3H first and later moved to 8G.
The tension escalated when the network insisted that an NBC director manage the show from live rehearsals through actual broadcast. The network was similarly displeased that Thompson refused to clear their commercials with NBC before air time. Parrish left the show in November to return to Hollywood and was succeeded by a much less popular host, Eddie Mayehoff. In February 1947 Standard Brands canceled ‘Hour Glass’. They were pleased with the show’s performance in terms of beverage sales and its overall quality, yet were leery about continuing to pour money into a program that did not reach a large number of households. The strain between NBC and Thompson played a role as well. Still, Hour Glass did provide Thompson with a valuable blueprint for the agency’s celebrated and long-running production, Kraft Television Theater.
* quoted from The Museum Of Broadcast Communications, “Encyclopedia of Television”.