|Type||Broadcast television network|
|Founded||by Dr Allen B. DuMont|
Thomas T. Goldsmith, Jr. (Vice
president; Director of research)
Mortimer Loewi (Financial consultant)
Ted Bergmann (Director of sales, 1951–1953; General manager, 1953–1955)
Lawrence Phillips (Director of broadcasting)
Chris Witting (Director of broadcasting)
Tom Gallery (Director of sales)
Don McGannon (General manager of O&Os)
James Caddigan (Director of programming and production)
Paul Raibourn (Executive vice president, Paramount; Paramount liaison)
|Launch date||August 15, 1946|
|Dissolved||August 6, 1956|
The DuMont Television Network, also known as the DuMont Network, DuMont, Du Mont, or (incorrectly) Dumont[a] was one of the world's pioneer commercial television networks, rivalling NBC for the distinction of being first overall. It began operation in the United States in 1946. It was owned by DuMont Laboratories, a television equipment and set manufacturer. The network was hindered by the prohibitive cost of broadcasting, by Federal Communications Commission regulations which restricted the company's growth, and even by the company's partner, Paramount Pictures. Despite several innovations in broadcasting and the creation of one of television's biggest stars of the 1950s, the network never found itself on solid financial ground. Forced to expand on UHF channels during an era when UHF was not profitable, DuMont ceased broadcasting in 1956.
DuMont's latter-day obscurity has prompted at least one notable TV historian to refer to it as the "Forgotten Network". A few popular DuMont programs, such as Cavalcade of Stars and Emmy Award winner Life Is Worth Living, appear in TV retrospectives or are mentioned briefly in books about U.S. television history, but almost all the network's programming was destroyed in the 1970s.
DuMont Laboratories was founded in 1931 by Dr. Allen B. DuMont. He and his staff were responsible for many early technical innovations, including the first consumer all-electronic television set in 1938. The company's television sets soon became the gold standard of the industry.
A few months after selling his first television set, DuMont opened an experimental television station in New York City, W2XWV. Unlike CBS and NBC, he continued experimental broadcasts throughout World War II. In 1944, W2XWV became WABD (after DuMont's initials), the third commercial television station in New York. On May 19, 1945, DuMont opened experimental W3XWT in Washington, D.C. A minority shareholder in DuMont Laboratories was Paramount Pictures, which had advanced $400,000 in 1939 for a 40% share in the company. Paramount had television interests of its own, having launched experimental stations in Los Angeles in 1939 and Chicago in 1940, but DuMont's association with Paramount ultimately proved to be a mistake.
Soon after his experimental Washington station signed on, DuMont began experimental coaxial cable hookups between his laboratories in Passaic, New Jersey, and his two stations. One of those hookups carried the announcement that the U.S. had dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. This was later considered to be the official beginning of the DuMont Network by both Thomas T. Goldsmith, the network's chief engineer and DuMont's best friend, and Dr. DuMont himself. Regular network service began on August 15, 1946, on WABD and W3XWT. In 1947, W3XWT became WTTG, named after Goldsmith. The pair were joined in 1949 by WDTV in Pittsburgh.
Although NBC was known to have station-to-station links as early as 1941, DuMont received its station licenses before NBC resumed in the postwar era their previous, sporadic network broadcasts. ABC had just come into existence as a radio network in 1943 and would not enter network television until 1948, when it acquired a station in New York City. CBS would also wait until 1948 to begin network operations because it was waiting for the Federal Communications Commission to approve its color television system. Other companies — including Mutual, the Yankee Network, and Paramount itself — were interested in starting television networks, but would be prevented from successfully doing so by restrictive FCC regulations.
Despite no history of radio programming to draw on and perennial cash shortages, DuMont was an innovative and creative network. Without the radio revenues that supported mighty NBC and CBS, DuMont programmers had to rely on their wits and on connections in Broadway. Eventually, the network provided original programs which are still remembered fifty-plus years later.
The network also largely ignored the standard business model of 1950s television, in which one advertiser sponsored an entire show, enabling it to have complete control over its content. Instead, DuMont sold commercials to many different advertisers, freeing producers of its shows from the veto power held by sole sponsors. This eventually became the standard model for U.S. television.
DuMont also holds another important place in American television history. WDTV's sign-on made it possible for stations in the Midwest to receive live network programming from stations on the East Coast, and vice versa. Before then, the networks relied on separate regional networks in the two time zones for live programming, and the West Coast received network programming from kinescopes (films shot directly from live television screens) originating from the East Coast. On January 11, 1949, the coaxial cable linking East and Midwest (known in television circles as "the Golden Spike") was activated. The ceremony, hosted by DuMont and WDTV, was carried on all four networks. WGN in Chicago and WABD in New York were able to share programs though a live coaxial cable feed when WDTV in Pittsburgh signed on, because the station completed the East Coast-to-Midwest chain, allowing stations in both regions to air the same program at the same time, which is still the standard for U.S. television. It would be another two years before the West Coast could get live programming, but this was the beginning of the modern era of network television.
The first broadcasts came from DuMont's 515 Madison Avenue headquarters, but it soon found additional space, including a fully functioning theater, in the New York branch of Wanamaker's department store at Ninth Street and Broadway. Still later, a lease on the Adelphi Theatre on 54th Street and the Ambassador Theatre on West 49th Street gave the network a site for variety shows, and in 1954, the lavish DuMont Tele-Centre opened in the former Jacob Ruppert's Central Opera House at 205 East 67th Street.
DuMont aired the first television situation comedy, Mary Kay and Johnny, as well as the first network-televised soap opera, Faraway Hill. Cavalcade of Stars, a variety show hosted by Jackie Gleason, was the birthplace of The Honeymooners (Gleason took his variety show to CBS in 1952 but filmed the Classic 39 Honeymooners episodes at DuMont's Adelphi Theater studio in 1955-56). Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's devotional program Life Is Worth Living went up against Milton Berle in many cities, and was the first show to successfully compete in the ratings against "Mr. Television". In 1952, Sheen won an Emmy Award for "Most Outstanding Personality". The network's other notable programs include:
Although DuMont's programming pre-dated videotape, many DuMont offerings were caught on kinescopes. These kinescopes were said to be stored in a warehouse until the 1970s. Actress Edie Adams, the wife of comedian Ernie Kovacs (both regular performers on early television) testified in 1996 before a panel of the Library of Congress on the preservation of television and video. Adams claimed that so little value was given to these films that the stored kinescopes were loaded into three trucks and dumped into Upper New York Bay. Nevertheless, a number of DuMont programs survive at The Paley Center for Media in New York City, the UCLA Film and Television Archive in Los Angeles, in the Peabody Awards Collection at the University of Georgia, and the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago.
Although nearly the entire DuMont film archive was destroyed, several surviving DuMont shows have been released on DVD. A large number of episodes of Life Is Worth Living have been saved, and they are now aired weekly on the Eternal Word Television Network Catholic cable network, which also makes a collection of them available on DVD (In the biographical information about Fulton J. Sheen added to the end of many episodes, a still image of Bishop Sheen looking into a DuMont Television camera can be seen). Several companies which distribute DVDs over the Internet have released a small number of episodes of Cavalcade of Stars and The Morey Amsterdam Show. Two more DuMont programs, Captain Video and His Video Rangers and Rocky King, Inside Detective, have had a small amount of surviving episodes released commercially by at least one major distributor of public domain programming.
DuMont programs were by necessity low-budget affairs, and the network received relatively few awards from the television industry. Most awards during the 1950s went to NBC and CBS, who were able to out-spend other companies and draw on their extensive history of radio broadcasting in the relatively new television medium. DuMont, however, did win a number of awards during its years of operation.
During the 1952–1953 television season, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, host of Life is Worth Living, won an Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Personality. Sheen beat out CBS's Arthur Godfrey, Edward R. Murrow, and Lucille Ball who were also nominated for the same award. Sheen was also nominated for— but did not win— consecutive Public Service Emmys in 1952, 1953, and 1954.
DuMont received an Emmy nomination for Down You Go, a popular game show during the 1952–1953 television season (in the category Best Audience Participation, Quiz, or Panel Program). The network was nominated twice for its coverage of professional football during the 1953–1954 and 1954–1955 television seasons.
The Johns Hopkins Science Review, a DuMont public affairs program, was awarded a Peabody Award in 1952 in the Education category. Sheen's Emmy and the Science Review Peabody were the only national awards the DuMont Network received. Though DuMont series and performers would continue to win local television awards, by the mid-1950s the DuMont Network no longer had a national presence.
The earliest measurements of television audiences were performed by the C. E. Hooper company of New York. DuMont performed well in the Hooper ratings; DuMont's The Original Amateur Hour was the most popular series of the 1947–1948 television season. Variety ranked DuMont's Cavalcade of Stars as the tenth most popular television series during the 1949–1950 season.
In February 1950, Hooper's competitor A.C. Nielsen bought out the Hooperatings system. Few DuMont series ever performed well in the Nielsen Ratings; no DuMont series ever appeared in Nielsen's annual lists of the top 20 most popular series. One of the DuMont Network's most popular series during the 1950s, Life is Worth Living, received Nielsen ratings of up to 11.1, attracting more than 10 million viewers. Sheen's one-man program — in which he discussed philosophy, psychology, and other fields of thought from a Christian perspective and usually directly tied them in to Christianity by the end of the program — was the most widely viewed religious series in the history of television. 169 local television stations aired Life, and for three years the program was able to successfully compete against NBC's popular The Milton Berle Show. The ABC and CBS programs which aired in the same time slot were cancelled. Life is Worth Living wasn't the only DuMont program to achieve double-digit ratings. In 1952, Time magazine reported that popular game show Down You Go had attracted an audience estimated at 16 million. DuMont's summer 1954 replacement series, The Goldbergs, achieved audiences estimated at 10 million. Still, these series were only moderately popular compared to NBC's and CBS's highest-rated programs.
DuMont struggled to get its programs aired in many parts of the country, in part due to technical limitations at telephone company AT&T. During the 1940s and 50s, television signals were sent between stations via coaxial cable links which were owned by AT&T. The service provider didn't have enough cable lines to provide signal relay service from all four networks to their affiliates at the same time, so AT&T allocated times when each network could offer live programs to their affiliates. In 1950, AT&T allotted NBC and CBS each over 100 hours of live prime time network service, but gave ABC only 53 hours, and DuMont just 37. AT&T also required each television network to lease both radio and television lines. DuMont was the only television network without a radio network, but was forced to pay for a service it didn't use. DuMont protested AT&T's actions with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and eventually received a compromise.
DuMont's biggest corporate hurdle, however, may have been with the company's own partner, film corporation Paramount Pictures. Paramount had purchased an interest in DuMont Laboratories in 1938. Relations between the two companies were strained as early as 1940, when Paramount, without DuMont, opened Los Angeles television station KTLA and Chicago station WBKB. Dr. DuMont claimed that the original 1937 acquisition proposal required that Paramount would expand its television interests "through DuMont". Paramount representative Paul Raibourn, who also was a member of DuMont's board of directors, denied that any such restriction had ever been discussed (Dr. DuMont was vindicated on this point by a 1953 examination of the original draft document).
DuMont aspired to grow beyond its three stations, applying for new television station licenses in Cincinnati and Cleveland in 1947. This would have given the network five owned-and-operated stations (O&Os), the maximum allowed by the Federal Communications Commission at the time. However, DuMont was hampered by minority owner Paramount's two stations. Although these stations never carried DuMont programming (with the exception of one year on KTLA in 1947–48), and in fact competed against DuMont's affiliates in those cities, the FCC ruled that Paramount's two licenses were in theory DuMont O&Os, which effectively placed DuMont at the five-station cap. DuMont would not be able to open additional stations as long as Paramount owned stations or owned a portion of DuMont. Paramount refused to sell.
In 1949, Paramount Pictures launched the Paramount Television Network, a service which provided local television stations with filmed television programs; Paramount's network "undercut the company that it had invested in." Paramount didn't share its stars, big budgets, or filmed programs with DuMont; the company had stopped financially supporting DuMont in 1941. The acrimonious relationship between Paramount and DuMont came to a head during the 1953 FCC hearings regarding the ABC–United Paramount Theaters merger when Paul Raibourn, an executive at Paramount, publicly derided the quality of DuMont television sets in court testimony.
DuMont began with one basic disadvantage: unlike NBC and CBS, it did not have a radio network from which to draw revenue and big names. Also, most early television licenses were granted to established radio broadcasters, and many long-time relationships with radio networks carried over to the new medium. As CBS and NBC gained their footing, they began to offer programming that drew on their radio backgrounds, bringing over the most popular radio stars. Early television stations, when asked to choose between an affiliation with CBS offering Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, and Ed Sullivan, or DuMont with a then-unknown Jackie Gleason and Bishop Sheen, chose the well-travelled route. In smaller markets, with a limited number of stations, DuMont and ABC were often relegated to secondary status, so their programs got clearance only if the primary network was off the air or on a delayed basis via a kinescope recording (or "teletranscriptions" as they were referred to by DuMont).
Adding to DuMont's troubles was the FCC's 1948 "freeze" on television-license applications. This was done to sort out the thousands of applications that had come streaming in, but also to rethink the allocation and technical standards laid down prior to World War II. It became clear soon after the war that 12 channels ("channel 1" had been removed from television broadcasting use) were not nearly enough for national television service. What was to be a six-month freeze lasted until 1952, when the FCC opened the UHF spectrum. The FCC, however, did not require television manufacturers to include UHF capability. In order to see UHF stations, most people had to buy an expensive converter. Even then, the picture quality was marginal at best. Tied to this was a decision to restrict VHF allocations in medium- and smaller-sized markets. Television sets were not required to have all-channel tuning until 1964.
Forced to rely on UHF to expand, DuMont saw one station after another go dark due to dismal ratings. DuMont bought small, distressed UHF station KCTY in Kansas City in 1954, but ran it for just three months before shutting it down at a considerable loss after attempting to compete with three established VHF stations.
The FCC's Dr Hyman Goldin said in 1960, "If there had been four VHF outlets in the top markets, there's no question DuMont would have lived and would have eventually turned the corner in terms of profitability. I have no doubt in my mind of that at all."
During the early years of television, there was some measure of cooperation between the four major U.S. television networks. For example, the "golden spike" ceremony had been broadcast by all four networks. However, as the television medium grew into a profitable business, an intense rivalry between the networks developed just as it had in radio. NBC and CBS competed fiercely for viewers and advertising dollars, a contest neither underfunded DuMont nor ABC could hope to win. According to author Dennis Mazzocco, "NBC tried to make an arrangement with ABC and CBS to destroy the DuMont network." The plan was for NBC and CBS to exclusively offer ABC their most popular series after they had aired on the bigger networks. ABC would, in effect, become a network of re-runs, but DuMont would be shut out. ABC president Leonard Goldenson rejected NBC executive David Sarnoff's proposal, but "did not report it to the Justice Department".
DuMont survived the early 1950s only because of WDTV in Pittsburgh, the lone commercial VHF station in what was then the sixth-largest market. WDTV's only competition came from UHF stations and distant stations from Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; and Wheeling, West Virginia. No other commercial VHF station signed on in Pittsburgh until 1957, giving WDTV a de facto monopoly on television in the area. Since WDTV carried secondary affiliations with the other three networks, DuMont used this as a bargaining chip to get its programs cleared in other large markets.
Despite its severe financial straits, by 1953 DuMont appeared to be on its way to establishing itself as the third national network. DuMont programs aired live on 16 stations, but it could count on only six primary stations (its three owned-and-operated stations ["O&Os"] plus WGN-TV in Chicago, KTTV in Los Angeles and WTVN-TV [now WSYX] in Columbus, Ohio). In contrast, ABC had a full complement of five O&Os augmented by nine primary affiliates. ABC also had a radio network (it was descended from NBC's Blue Network) on which to draw revenue and affiliate loyalty. However, ABC had only 14 primary stations, compared to CBS and NBC, which had over 40 primary stations each. By 1953, ABC was badly overextended and on the verge of bankruptcy.
By this time DuMont had begun to differentiate itself from NBC and CBS. DuMont allowed its advertisers to pick and choose the locations where their advertising ran, potentially saving them millions of dollars. In contrast, ABC operated in a similar manner to CBS and NBC, forcing advertisers to purchase a large "must-buy" list of stations.
ABC's fortunes were dramatically altered in February 1953, when the network was bought by United Paramount Theatres (recently spun off from Paramount Pictures). The merger provided ABC with a badly-needed cash infusion, which gave it the resources to provide a national television service on a scale approaching that of CBS and NBC. Also, through UPT president Leonard Goldenson, ABC gained ties with the Hollywood studios that more than matched the ties DuMont's producers had with Broadway.
Realizing that the ABC-UPT deal put the company on life support, the staff at DuMont was receptive to a merger offer from ABC. Goldenson quickly brokered a deal with Ted Bergmann, DuMont's managing director, under which the merged network would have been called "ABC-DuMont" until at least 1958 and would have honored all of DuMont's network commitments. In return, DuMont would get $5 million in cash, guaranteed advertising time for DuMont sets, and a secure future for its staff. A merged ABC-DuMont would have had to sell a New York station — either DuMont's WABD or ABC's WJZ-TV (now WABC-TV) — as well as two other stations. It still would have been a colossus rivaling CBS and NBC, because it would have owned stations in five of the six largest U.S. television markets (excluding only Philadelphia). It also would have inherited DuMont's de facto monopoly in Pittsburgh, and would have been one of two networks to wholly own a station in the nation's capital (the other being NBC).
However, Paramount vetoed the plan almost out of hand due to antitrust concerns. A few months earlier, the FCC had ruled that Paramount controlled DuMont, and there were still some questions about whether UPT had really separated from Paramount.
With no other way to readily obtain cash, DuMont sold WDTV to Westinghouse Electric Corporation for $9.75 million in late 1954. While this gave DuMont a short-term cash infusion, it eliminated the leverage DuMont had to get program clearances in other markets. Without its de facto monopoly in Pittsburgh, the company's advertising revenue shrank to less than half that of 1953. By February 1955, DuMont executives realized the company could not continue as a television network. It was decided to shut down network operations and operate WABD and WTTG as independents. On April 1, 1955, most of DuMont's entertainment programs were dropped. Bishop Sheen aired his last program on DuMont on April 26 and later moved to ABC. By May, just eight programs were left on the network, with only inexpensive shows and sporting events keeping what was left of the network going through the summer. The network also largely abandoned the use of the intercity network coaxial cable, on which it had spent $3 million in 1954 to transmit shows that mostly lacked station clearance.
In August, Paramount, with the help of other stockholders, seized full control of DuMont Laboratories. The last non-sports program on DuMont aired on September 23, 1955. After that, DuMont's network feed was used only for occasional sporting events. DuMont's last broadcast, a boxing match, occurred on August 6, 1956.
DuMont spun off WABD and WTTG as the "DuMont Broadcasting Corporation". The name was later changed to "Metropolitan Broadcasting Company" to distance the company from what was seen as a complete all-around failure. John Kluge bought Paramount's shares for $4 million in 1958, changing the company's name to Metromedia in 1960. WABD became WNEW-TV and later WNYW; WTTG still broadcasts under its original call letters.
All three DuMont-owned stations are still operating and coincidentally, all three are owned-and-operated stations of their respective networks, just as when they were part of DuMont. Of the three, only Washington's WTTG still has its original call letters.
WTTG and New York's WABD (later WNEW-TV, and now WNYW) survived as Metromedia-owned independents until 1986, when Metromedia was purchased by the News Corporation to form the nucleus of the new Fox Broadcasting Company. Clarke Ingram, who maintained a DuMont memorial site, has suggested that Fox can be considered a revival, or at least a linear descendant, of DuMont. Indeed, WNYW is still headquartered in the former DuMont Tele-Centre, now known as the Fox Broadcasting Center.
Westinghouse changed WDTV's calls to KDKA-TV after the pioneering radio station of the same name, and switched its primary affiliation to CBS immediately after the sale. Westinghouse's acquisition of CBS in 1995 made KDKA-TV a CBS owned-and-operated station.
At its peak in 1954, DuMont was affiliated with around 200 TV stations. In those days, TV stations were free to "cherry-pick" which programs they would air, and many stations affiliated with multiple networks. Many of DuMont's "affiliates" carried very little DuMont programming, choosing to air one or two more popular programs (such as Life is Worth Living) and/or sports programming on the weekends. Few stations carried the full DuMont program line-up.
In its later years, DuMont was carried mostly on poorly-watched UHF channels or had only secondary affiliations on VHF stations. DuMont ended most operations on April 1, 1955, but honored network commitments until August 1956.