Fireside Theatre

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NBC (ended 1955)

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5.7
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Fireside Theatre

Show Summary

Fireside Theatre was the first successful filmed drama series on television at a time when everything else on the networks was being produced live. The first brief "season" was one of experimentation, with shows of every type being tried, from brief filmed and live dramas to ballet to Broadway reviews. By the second season (the first full season), the series had settled on filmed episodes, generally fifteen minutes in length, that were paired together to fill a half-hour program. The subjects were primarily dramas, with mysteries and a few comedies thrown in. By the next season, the series was concentrating on full half-hour dramas. Since the West Coast was not yet connected to the national coaxial cables, Fireside Theatre was one of the networks' first series to originate from Hollywood. Many episodes were filmed at the Hal Roach Studios in California. The driving force behind the program was a one-man-band named Frank Wisbar. His "Frank Wisbar Productions" produced most of the series and was able to keep costs down because Wisbar often produced, wrote, directed and hosted the episodes himself. Whenever possible, he adapted public domain stories as scripts. Through mid-1951, the weekly cost of producing the series was a paltry $17,000. During the series' final two seasons, actor Gene Raymond was hired as host and starred as a performer in numerous episodes. Fireside was a top ten ratings hit for most of its run, airing in the cushy time slot following TV's biggest hit, Texaco Star Theater starring Milton Berle. By 1955, the ratings had begun to sag and the sponsor, Proctor & Gamble, decided to overhaul the program to such a degree that it became a totally new series. Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre is the program it became. Beginning in 1951, the 50-plus segments produced for the 1949-1950 season were repackaged as Royal Playhouse and sold into syndication. Other later episodes were syndicated under various titles including TV Theater and Theatre Time. They also turned up on the networks during the 1950s packaged together with reruns of other programs to air as a summer filler series with new titles.moreless