GOODYEAR TV PLAYHOUSE

U.S. Dramatic Anthology

Goodyear Playhouse, a highly prestigious American program of live, one-hour plays, appeared on NBC from 1951-57. Its original title, Goodyear TV Playhouse, was changed in 1955. The program shared its time slot in alternating weeks with The Philco Television Playhouse and later with The Alcoa Hour. The varying titles referred to specific corporate sponsorship from week to week, but all three series were produced by the same people, and at times all three series were referred to simply as NBC's "Television Playhouse."

Goodyear Playhouse was among several anthology dramas which many television critics associate with television's "golden age." Like other anthology programs, each show featured different actors and stories, many of which were developed from Broadway plays and short stories. New stories were also written especially for Goodyear Playhouse by writers who had little or no previous television experience. Because programs were produced live, on small sets, and for nine-inch television screens, they tended to rely upon close-ups and dialogue for dramatic impact. Stories necessarily took place indoors so that sets would seem more realistic. Partly because of such constraints, the plays usually had a strong psychological emphasis, concentrating upon characters rather than action.

During its brightest years (1951-55), Goodyear Playhouse was produced by Fred Coe who had made a name for himself in experimental television productions in the late 1940s. Coe encouraged several young authors to write for the series, allowing them an unusual amount of freedom in their scripts. The writers included Paddy Chayefsky, Tad Mosel, Robert Alan Arthur, Horton Foote, David Shaw, and Gore Vidal, each of whom continued to write for other media, the stage, the novel, or films as well as in television. Similarly, because the series was performed in New York, Coe made ample use of stage actors who later became well-known television and screen stars, Grace Kelly, Rod Steiger, and Leslie Nielsen among them. Though neither actors nor writers were paid much for performing on Goodyear Playhouse, many enjoyed the excitement of live television and the national exposure the series offered. Coe also trained many directors, including Delbert Mann, Arthur Penn, and Sidney Lumet, who would later make names for themselves in television and film.

Although Goodyear Playhouse and other anthology dramas received more critical praise than most television fare of the day, they--like all commercial television productions--were constrained in their content and production styles by desires of advertisers who were careful not to sponsor anything that might offend consumers. Hence, rather than suggest that the source of postwar problems was found in social inequities, television plays rooted problems within individual characters who usually managed to overcome their problems by the denouement. Furthermore, television plays were bound by temporal limitations inherent in commercial television. While Coe argued that two commercial breaks were beneficial in that they allowed actors to rest and also simulated stage theater's three-act structure, the sixty-minute format meant that the timing of productions was to a large extent predetermined.

Despite their limitations, Goodyear Playhouse often presented impressive stories, acting, and direction. The most famous of its plays was Paddy Chayefsky's Marty (24 May 1953) starring Rod Steiger as a middle-aged, lonely butcher and Nancy Marchand as an unattractive school teacher whom he meets at a dance. Marty was perfectly attuned to the limitations placed upon live television drama, subtly and sensitively exploring the emotions of a man torn between family commitments and his need for personal maturation. Marty was later made into a Oscar-winning film starring Ernest Borgnine. Besides Marty, other notable Goodyear Playhouse premiers include Chayefsky's The Bachelor Party (1955) and Gore Vidal's Visit to Small Planet (1955).

In 1954 and 1955, anthology sponsors began to demand more control of their programs. Gloomy personal problems faced by anthology characters did not seem to mesh with bright, optimistic commercials. Sponsors were increasingly turning to series television productions filmed in Hollywood. These factors signaled the demise of anthology programs including Goodyear Playhouse. Fred Coe left NBC when his ideas no longer generated sponsor interest.

When Coe left the series in 1955, ratings dropped, and Goodyear Playhouse was canceled two years later. The series was reprised somewhat from 1957-60 by a half-hour, taped program called the Goodyear Theater. Goodyear Theater was similar in content to its predecessor and again alternated with Alcoa Theater on NBC.

Goodyear Playhouse, along with other live anthology series such as Omnibus and Playhouse 90, set a standard for excellence in television production despite industrial limitations placed upon them. Just a few years after the end of Goodyear Playhouse, television writers, directors, and critics lamented the loss of the creative freedom that anthology dramas offered in contrast to series television. Today, complaints continue to made by television reformers who contrast present programming with television's "golden age."

-Warren Bareiss

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

NBC
October 1951-September 1957       Sunday 9:00-10:00 September 1957-September 1960  Monday 9:30-10:00

FURTHER READING

Barnouw, E. Tube of Plenty: The Evolution of American Television. New York: Oxford University Press, 1975; Revised edition, 1990.

Boddy, W. Fifties Television; The Industry and Its Critics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.

Bourjaily, V. "The Lost Art of Writing for Television." Harper's (New York), September 1959.

Brooks, T. and E. Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows; 1946-Present. New York: Ballantine Books, 1979; 4th edition, 1988.

Coe, F. "TV Drama's Declaration of Independence." Theatre Arts (New York), June 1954.

Gianakos, L.J. Television Drama Series Programming: A Comprehensive Chronicle, 1947-1959. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1980. "Grownups' Playhouse." Newsweek (New York), 20 April 1953.

Hey, K. "Marty: Aesthetics vs. Medium in Early Television Drama." In, O'Connor, J.E., editor. American History/American Television. New York: Ungar, 1983.

 

See also Anthology Drama; Chayefsky, Paddy; Coe, Fred; Golden Age of Television; Philco Television Playhouse