As the most prolific producer of programming
for the first-run syndication market during the 1950s, Ziv Television
Programs occupies a unique niche in the history of U.S. television.
Bypassing the networks and major national sponsors, Ziv rose to
prominence by marketing its series to local and regional sponsors,
who placed them on local stations, generally in time slots outside
of prime time. Using this strategy, Ziv produced several popular
and long-lived series, including The Cisco Kid (1949-56),
Highway Patrol (1955-59), and Sea Hunt (1957-61).
Frederick W. Ziv, the company's founder,
was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1905. The son of immigrant parents,
he attended the University of Michigan, where he graduated with
a degree in law. Returning to his native Cincinnati, Ziv chose not
to practice the legal profession, but instead opened his own advertising
agency. His corporate strategies and his vision of the broadcasting
business developed from this early experience in the Midwest.
During the radio era, Cincinnati was
a surprisingly active regional center for radio production. Clear-channel
station WLW, owned by the local Crosley electronics firm, broadcast
a powerful signal that could be heard over much of the Midwest.
Due to its regional influence, WLW became a major source of radio
programming that offered local stations an alternative to network-originated
programming. Cincinnati was also home to Procter and Gamble, the
most influential advertiser in the radio industry at a time when
most radio programming was produced by sponsors. Consequently, Procter
and Gamble was directly responsible for developing many of radio's
most lasting genres, including the soap opera.
Ziv's small advertising agency gained
valuable experience in this fertile regional market. Ziv produced
several programs for WLW, where he met John L. Sinn, a writer who
would become his right-hand man. In 1937, the two men launched the
Frederick W. Ziv Company into the business of program syndication.
From his experience in a regional market, Ziv recognized that local
and regional advertisers could not compete with national-brand sponsors
because they could not afford the budget to produce network-quality
programs. In an era dominated by live broadcasts, Ziv produced pre-recorded
programs, "transcriptions" recorded onto acetate discs,
bypassing the networks and selling his programs directly to local
advertisers on a market-by-market basis. Programs were priced according
to the size of each market; this gave local sponsors a chance to
break into radio with affordable quality programming that could
be scheduled in any available slot on a station's schedule.
Ziv produced a wide range of programming
for radio, including sports, music, talk shows, soap operas, anthology
dramas, and action-adventure series such as Boston Blackie, Philo
Vance, and The Cisco Kid. By 1948, he was the largest
packager and syndicator of radio programs-the primary source of
programming outside the networks.
In 1948, Ziv branched into the television
market by creating the subsidiary, Ziv Television Programs. His
fortunes in television were entirely tied to the market for first-run
syndication, which grew enormously during the first half of the
1950s before going into a steep decline by the end of the decade.
In the early years of U.S. television, local stations needed programming
to fill the time slots outside of prime time that were not supplied
by the networks. More importantly, local and regional sponsors needed
opportunities to advertise their products on television. As in radio,
Ziv supplied this market with inexpensive, pre-recorded programs
that could be scheduled on a flexible basis. In 1948, the first
Ziv series, Yesterday's Newsreel and Sports Album, featured
15-minute episodes of repackaged film footage.
In 1949, Ziv branched into original
programming with his first dramatic series, The Cisco Kid, starring
Duncan Renaldo as the Cisco Kid and Leo Carillo as his sidekick,
Pancho. Ziv's awareness of the long-term value of filmed programming
was signaled by his decision to shoot The Cisco Kid in color
several years before color television sets were even available.
The Cisco Kid remained in production until 1956, but its
156 episodes had an extraordinarily long life span in syndication
thanks to the decision to shoot in color. In its first decade of
syndication, the series grossed $11 million.
Ziv produced more than 25 different
series during the 1950s, all of which were half-hour dramas based
on familiar male-oriented, action-adventure genres. His output included
science-fiction series such as Science Fiction Theater (1955-57),
Men into Space (1959-60), and The Man and the Challenge
(1959-60), westerns such as Tombstone Territory (1957-60),
Rough Riders (1958-59), and Bat Masterson (1958-61),
and courtroom dramas such as Mr. District Attorney (1954-55)
and Lockup (1959-61).
In order to carve out a unique market
niche, Ziv tried to spin variations on these familiar genres. In
the crime genre, for instance, he produced few series that could
be considered typical cop shows. His most notorious crime series,
I Led Three Lives (1953-56), featured Richard Carlson as
Herbert Philbrick, an undercover FBI agent sent to infiltrate Communist
organizations throughout the United States. While the major networks
generally avoided the subject of the Red Scare, preferring to blacklist
writers and performers while barely alluding to the perceived Communist
threat in their programming, Ziv attacked the issue with an ultra-conservative
zeal. By organizing the series around Philbrick's fight against
the menace of Communism, the series implied that Communism was every
bit as threatening and ubiquitous as urban crime.
Another crime series, Highway Patrol
starring Broderick Crawford, moved the police out of the familiar
urban landscape, placing them instead on an endless highway-an important
symbolic shift in a postwar America obsessed with automobile travel
as a symbol of social mobility. Sea Hunt which was produced
for Ziv by Ivan Tors (who would go on to produce Flipper and
Daktari), took the crime series onto the sea, where star
Lloyd Bridges as Mike Nelson solved crimes and found adventure under
the ocean's surface. The underseas footage added a touch of low-budget
spectacle to the crime genre.
W. Ziv (right)
Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theatre Research
The market for first-run
syndication swelled through the mid-1950s, and Ziv rode the wave
with great success. The watchword for Ziv productions was economy,
and the company even formed a subsidiary called Economee TV in 1954.
Production budgets were held to $20,000 to $40,000 per episode,
which were generally shot in two to three days. As the demand
for syndicated programming grew, Ziv expanded rapidly. In 1953,
Ziv opened an international division to sell its series overseas.
The operation proved to be such a success in England that Ziv found
itself with revenues frozen by protectionist British legislation
designed to forceAmerican companies to spend their profits in Great
Britain. In order to make use of these frozen funds, in 1956-57,
Ziv produced two series in England: The New Adventures of Martin
Kane and Dial 999.
With production at the
studio booming, Ziv stopped leasing space from other studios, and
purchased its own Hollywood studio in 1954. By 1955, the company's
annual revenues were nearly doubling every year. Ziv was then producing
more than 250 half-hour TV episodes annually, with a production
budget that exceeded $6 million-a figure that surpassed virtually
every other television producer in Hollywood.
But the tide was turning
in the market for first-run syndication. By 1956, the networks bad
begun to syndicate reruns of their older prime-time programs. Since
these off-network reruns-with their established audience appeal-had
already earned money during the initial run in prime time, networks
were able to sell them to local markets at deep discounts. As a
consequence, the market for first-run syndication began to shrink
dramatically. In 1956, there were still 29 first-run syndicated
series on television, with the number dropping to ten by 1960. By
1964, there was only one such series left on the air.
As the networks extended
their influence beyond prime time and the market for first-run syndication
dwindled, Ziv began to produce series specifically for network use-a
decision that the company had actively avoided for over two decades.
Ziv's first network series was West Point (1956-57) for CBS,
followed by four other network programs: Tombstone Territory,
Bat Masterson, Men into Space, and The Man and the Challenge.
In 1959, Ziv elected to
sell 80% of his company to an alliance of Wall Street investment
firms for $14 million. "I sold my business," he explained,
"because I recognized the networks were taking command of everything
and were permitting independent producers no room at all. The networks
demanded a percentage of your profits, they demanded script approval
and cast approval. You were just doing whatever the networks asked
you to do. And that was not my type of operation. I didn't care
to become an employee of the networks."
In 1960, United Artists
purchased Ziv Television Programs, including the 20% share still
held by chair of the board, Frederick Ziv, and president, John L.
Sinn, for $20 million. The newly merged production company was renamed
Ziv-United Artists. United Artists had never been very successful
in television, having placed only two series in prime time, The
Troubleshooters (1959-60) and The Dennis O'Keefe Show (1959-60).
This pattern continued after the merger. Ziv-UA produced 12 pilots
during the first year and failed to sell any of them. In 1962, the
company phased out Ziv Television operations and changed its name
to United Artists Television. Frederick Ziv left the board of directors
at this time to return to Cincinnati, where he spent his retirement
Tino. United Artists: The Company that Changed the Film Industry.
Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.
William. Fifties Television: The Industry and Its Critics.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Barbara. "The Cisco Kid and Friends: The Syndication of Television
Series from 1948-1952." The Journal of Popular Film and
Television (Washington, D.C.), Spring 1980.
Morleen Getz. A History of the F.W. Ziv Radio and Television
Syndication Copmanies, 1930-1960. Ph.D. dissertation, University
of Michigan, 1976).