Robinson was active in American broadcasting as a writer, producer,
and network programming executive for over 40 years. As the CBS
executive who championed the 1950s anthology drama Playhouse
90, his efforts to develop high-quality programming that he
described as "mass with class" contributed to CBS' long-lived reputation
as the "Tiffany" network.
broadcasting career began in 1930, when he became the first head
of the new radio department at the advertising agency Young & Rubicam.
In the era of early commercial broadcasting, when corporate clients
sought new radio programs to sponsor, many advertising agencies
helped develop program genres, such as the soap opera, that encouraged
habitual listening. At Young & Rubicam, Robinson created and wrote
scripts for the General Foods' soap opera The Second Mrs. Burton.
The program's success was based, according to Robinson, on "four
cornerstones": simple characterizations, understandable predicaments,
the centrality of the female characters, and the soap opera's philosophical
the late 1930s and early 1940s, Young & Rubicam became an important
radio program provider, simultaneously producing The Jack Benny
Show, Fred Allen's Town Hall Tonight, and The Kate Smith
Hour, among others. As did other radio executives at Young &
Rubicam, Robinson wrote many scripts and commercials, in addition
to producing programs.
By the time Robinson joined CBS Television in 1947, his extensive
background in radio programming had prepared him well for the new
medium. Indeed, in his autobiography, As It Happened, then-CBS
chairman William Paley referred to Robinson as "the all-around man
in our programming department." As executive vice president in charge
of television programming at CBS, Robinson championed and oversaw
the development of such popular programs as I Love Lucy, You'll
Never Get Rich (with Phil Silvers as Sergeant Bilko), and Gunsmoke.
However, according to Paley, "Culturally, [Robinson's] interests
were levels above many of his colleagues.... His special flair was
for high-quality programming." Robinson organized and championed
the 90-minute dramatic anthology series, Playhouse 90, which
featured serious dramas written by Paddy Chayevsky, Reginald Rose,
and Rod Serling, among others. During its run from 1956 to 1961,
Playhouse 90's plays included Requiem for a Heavyweight, A Sound
of Different Drummers, The Miracle Worker, and Judgment at
Nuremberg. Robinson was credited with bringing serious television
drama to its peak with Playhouse 90.
Paley and others at CBS, however, the anthology drama format was
a drawback: its lack of continuity from week to week did not seem
to encourage regular television viewing habits. But the networks'
increasing reliance on filmed episodic programs was disparaged by
many admirers of live anthology drama. Referring to critics' concern
that network programming quality was declining, Robinson openly
criticized the television industry's "willingness to settle for
drama whose synonym is pap." Paley, on the other hand, expressed
concern that as a network executive Robinson "may have lacked the
common touch." Still, it was Robinson's stance that helped CBS deal
with federal regulators when questions were raised about whether
or not CBS programs served the(loosely defined) public interest.
returned to CBS briefly in 1962-63, and joined ABC as executive
producer of the Stage 67 series and the on-location series Crisis!
from 1966 to 1969. In the early 1960s, he was credited with helping
erode stereotyping of African-Americans on television by distributing
a memorandum calling for producers to cast African-Americans in
a greater variety of roles. Robinson's contributions as a producer
and programmer spanned the crucial decades of radio's maturity and
television's early growth. As the executive responsible for the
programming of both popular and innovative television programs in
the 1950s, he helped CBS establish and maintain its reputation as
the network with the highest ratings and best programming, a reputation
that endured for several decades.
Photo courtesy of Broadcasting and Cable
ROBINSON. Born in Schenectady, New York, 16 October 1905. Educated
at Phillips Exeter Academy, graduated 1923; Brown University, B.A.,
1927. Married 1) Therese Lewis, 1940 (divorced, 1948); 2) Margaret
Whiting (divorced); 3) Vivienne Segal (legally separated, 1962).
Worked as a drama critic for the Exhibitors Herald, 1927;
reporter for Schenectady Union Star, Albany Knickerbocker
Press, 1929; radio producer for Young and Rubicam, 1928; vice president
and radio director, 1942; vice president and program director for
ABC radio in New York City, 1944-45; vice president Foote, Cone,
and Belding advertising agency, 1946; vice president and program
director, CBS, 1947-56; executive vice president, CBS-TV, 1956-59;
organized Hubbell Robinson Productions, 1959; senior vice president
television programs, CBS, 1962-63; executive in charge of various
productions, ABC TV 1966-69; contributing critic to Films in Review,
1971-74; film critic on CATV Channel 8 in New York City, 1969-72.
Recipient: Television Academy award for distinguished service, 1958;
Television Academy's Emmy Award, 1959; two TV Digest Awards, 1960;
Producers Guild Award, 1962; Fame Award, 1967; TV Academy's Salute
Award, 1972. Died in New York City, New York, U.S., 4 September
1956-60 Playhouse 90 (executive producer)
1967 Stage 67 (executive producer)
1969 Crisis! (executive producer)
The Second Mrs. Burton, The Jack Benny Show, Fred Allen's Town
Hall Tonight, The Kate Smith Hour.
William. Fifties Television: The Industry and Its Critics.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Metz, Robert. CBS: Reflections in a Bloodshot Eye. Chicago:
Paley, William S. As It Happened. Garden City, New York:
Age" of Television; Playhouse