relative latecomer to the group of live anthology dramas, Playhouse
90 was broadcast on CBS between the fall of 1956 and 1961. Its
status as a "live" drama was short lived in any case, since the
difficulties in mounting a ninety-minute production on a weekly
basis required the adoption of the recently developed videotape
technology, which was used to pre-record entire shows from 1957
onward. Both the pressures and the costs of this ambitious production
eventually resulted in Playhouse 90 being cut back to alternate
weeks, sharing its time slot with The Big Party between 1959
and 1960. The last eight shows were aired irregularly between February
and May of 1960, with repeats broadcast during the summer weeks
its late entry into the field of anthology dramas, many considered--and
still consider--Playhouse 90 as the standard against which
all other drama anthology programs are to be judged. Although its
debut show, a Rod Serling adaptation of the novel Forbidden Area,
failed to garner much critical interest, the following week's presentation
of an original teleplay by Serling, Requiem for a Heavyweight,
was an enormous success, both in this initial television broadcast
and later as a feature film. Requiem swept the 1956 Emmys, winning
awards in all six categories in which it was nominated, including
best direction, best teleplay, and best actor. Playhouse 90 established
its reputation with this show and continued to maintain it throughout
the remainder of its run.
The success of Playhouse 90 continued into the 1957-58 season
with productions of The Miracle Worker, The Comedian, and
The Helen Morgan Story. Although these shows, along with Requiem
and Judgment at Nuremberg were enough to ensure the historical
importance of Playhouse 90, the program also stood out because
of its emergence in the "film era" of television broadcasting evolution.
By 1956, much of television production had moved from the east to
the west coast, and from live performances to filmed series. Most
of the drama anthologies, a staple of the evening schedule to this
point, fell victim to the newer types of programs being developed.
Playhouse 90 stands in contrast to the prevailing trend,
and its reputation benefited from both the growing nostalgia for
the waning live period and a universal distaste for Hollywood on
the part of New York television critics. It is also probable that
since the use of videotape (not widespread at the time) preserved
a "live" feel, discussion of the programs could be easily adapted
to the standards introduced by the New York television critics.
has been argued that Playhouse 90 in fact contributed to
the demise of live television drama by making it too expensive to
produce. Its lavish budget was undoubtedly a factor in the quality
of its productions, but its cost--as reflected in the newly-introduced
ratings system--was enormous when compared with filmed series, against
which it could not compete. Playhouse 90 stood out as an
anomaly in its time, and its short run of under four seasons demonstrated
that a program of its kind could not survive in a changing production
environment, regardless of its acclaim. If Playhouse 90 was
an outstanding program, and representative of the best that drama
anthology programs could offer, it was also the last of its genre
to be shown as part of a regular network schedule.
Playhouse 90: Requiem for a Heavyweight
Martin Manulis, John Houseman, Russell Stoneman, Fred Coe, Arthur
Penn, Hubbell Robinson
HISTORY 133 Episodes
October 1956-January 1960 Thursday
9:30-11:00 July 1961-September 1961 Tuesday
Hawes, William. The American Television Drama: The Experimental
Years. University, Alabama : University of Alabama Press, 1986.
Gorham, editor. The Live Television Generation of Hollywood Film
Directors: Interviews with Seven Directors. Jefferson, North
Carolina: McFarland, 1994.
J. Fred. One Nation Under Television: The Rise and Decline of
Network TV. New York: Pantheon, 1990.
Ira. Ira Skutch: I Remember Television: A Memoir. Metuchen,
New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1989.
Tom. Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television
Writing. New York: Continuum, 1992.
Frank. Live Television: The Golden Age of 1946-1958 in New York.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1990.
Christopher, and Tise Vahimagi. The American Vein: Directors
and Directions in Television. New York: Dutton, 1979.
Max. The Golden Age of Television: Notes From the Survivors.
New York: Dell, 1977.
Drama; Coe, Fred;
Golden Age of