Monday, May 10, 2021

This Day (OK, yesterday) in TV History: NBC's "Hour Glass" premieres

We mentioned in the Top Ten yesterday that the first network hourlong entertainment program premiered 75 years ago. Unfortunately, Hour Glass is a lost show, so there aren't any clips to punctuate this follow-up post, but you can see a few pictures and a lot of other info here.

It's outside our time frame, but I think this is a cool piece of TV history worth noting. The program aired Thursday nights on NBC at 8:00 PM, so its premiere followed In Town Today and Your Esso Report. There wasn't a lot on TV in 1946!

Marsh and Brooks' The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows has a great entry about Hour Glass, which the book calls a forefather of big-time TV like Your Show of Shows, Berle's shows, and The Ed Sullivan Show. The authors point out how barren the prime time landscape was with New York "the only city with more than one station." Standard Brands sponsored the program and gave it budget enough to do things like...have actual sets.

The first episode led off with a song by Evelyn Knight, a sketch with Paul Douglas, and a 2 1/2-minute coffee commercial. The program continued with a Joe Besser sketch, ballroom dancing, an explanation of TV itself, a Doodles Weaver monologue, a film depicting dancing in South America, and another long coffee ad. What a lineup!

The show soon featured bigger stars, and Brooks and Marsh cite the first TV appearance of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy as a pivotal moment and a precursor to radio stars invading TV. The program's second host, Helen Parrish, became a star until leaving to have a baby!

Perhaps the most interesting bit of this entry in the book is the list of the influence of this experimental show: They learned, for example, not to let single commercials run 4 or 5 minutes; that money is better spent on obtaining "star" talent than on fancy, highly visual sets; that viewers liked the idea of a regular host (or hostess) providing continuity from week to week; and that TV in general was a medium which demanded staging and pacing far different from movies, the stage, or radio.

This particular program ended in 1947, and NBC returned to this kind of variety with Texaco Star Theater in 1948. Berle's breakout series is of course a well-known piece of TV history. Hour Glass remains one of the key lost programs that we may never see again!

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