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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
October 1951-September 1957
Sunday 9:00-10:00 September 1957-September 1960 Monday 9:30-10:00
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Paddy; Coe, Fred;
Golden Age of Television;