General Electric Theater

CBS (ended 1962)




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General Electric Theater

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General Electric Theater featured a mix of romance, comedy, adventure, tragedy, and fantasy. Occupying the cushy Sunday evening spot on CBS following the Toast of the Town/Ed Sullivan Show from 2/1/1953 to 5/27/1962, General Electric Theater presented top Hollywood and Broadway stars in dramatic roles. The first two seasons established the half-hour anthology format of adaptations of popular plays, short stories, novels, magazine fiction and motion pictures. The Eye of the Beholder, for example, a Hitchcock-like telefilm thriller starring Richard Conte and Martha Vickers, dramatized an artist's relationship with his model from differing, sometimes disturbing psychological perspectives. The addition of Ronald Reagan as program host commencing the third season (9/26/1954) reflected GE's decision to pursue a campaign of continuous, consistent company advertising. The Reagan role of program host and occasional actor brought continuity to disparate anthology offerings. The casting of Don Herbert of TV's "Mr. Wizard" fame in the role of "General Electric Progress Reporter" established a clear-cut company identity for commercials. Reagan, in the employ of the BBDO advertising agency, helped merchandise the concept within the company itself. The first of many promotional tours orchestrated by BBDO and the GE Department of Public Relations Services sent Reagan to twelve GE plant cities in November 1954 to promote the program idea, further his identity as spokesman, and become familiar with company people and products. By the time General Electric Theater concluded its eight-year run in 1962, Reagan claimed to have visited GE's 135 research and manufacturing facilities, and met some 250,000 individuals. In later years, Reagan's biographers would look back upon the tour and the platform it provided for the future President of the United States to sharpen his already considerable skill as a communicator. General Electric Theater left the air in 1962 in a welter of controversy surrounding the U.S. Justice Department's anti-trust investigation of MCA and the Screen Actors Guild talent waivers granted to MCA-Revue. The hint of scandal discounted Reagan's value as company spokesman and program host. As SAG president in the 1950s Reagan had, after all, signed the waivers, and later benefited from the arrangement as a General Electric Theater program producer himself. The suggestion of impropriety fueled Reagan's increasingly anti-government demeanor on tour, and his insistence upon producing and starring in episodes combating Communist subversion in the final season of General Electric Theater.moreless