9 October: The high price of Oscar on the air

Blyth and Bracken with tomorrow's news today . . .

Blyth and Bracken with tomorrow’s news today . . .

Academy Award was only slightly deceptive as the title of this short-lived dramatic anthology. The hook was that at least one of each week’s players, or the film itself that was condensed for the radio performance, had either won or was nominated for an Oscar. Somehow, merely having been nominated didn’t seem quite enough for such a ballyhooing series name.

That aside, Academy Award was at least as classy a production as Lux Radio Theater, its obvious sort-of model, and about three times as expansive—and expensive. The House of Squibb, the pharmaceutical concern, paid considerably to put Academy Award on the air: They paid $4,000 a week for the stars who appeared on the show, and $1,600 a week for the use of the Academy Award name, and who knew how much they paid for the four sound experts—including Suspense mainstay Berne Surrey—often used for each installment.

Academy Award premiered 30 March 1946 on CBS. It would die 18 December 1946. Numerous old-time radio reviewers and analysts suggest the show simply priced itself off the air, the expense proving too much for Squibb with no other sponsor willing to pick up the show’s considerable tabs.

But the show also provided an inadvertent but costly precedent. Its producer-director is Dee Engelbach. Four years later, Engelbach will mastermind maybe the splashiest and priciest attempt to resurrect classic network radio variety, when he moves to NBC and develops The Big Show. Which will live exactly one full season longer than Academy Award.

 

TUNE IN TONIGHT:

Academy Award: It Happened Tomorrow (CBS, 1946)

From 1996 through 2000, CBS television will enjoy success and a solid cult favourite with Early Edition. This warm and often understated fantasy will hook around a disillusioned young stockbroker, Gary Hobson (played coolly by Kyle Chandler), dumped unexpectedly by his wife, moving into a modest hotel, and upon moving receiving a daily copy of the following day’s Chicago Sun-Times . . . a gift he receives ambivalently but uses to try thwarting predicted crimes and tragedies.

Early Edition‘s likely antecedent could be the 1944 Oscar nominee (best music and sound) It Happened Tomorrow, though the later show’s creators and producers insist that wasn’t the case.

But in It Happened Tomorrow turn-of-the-century newspaper reporter Lawrence Stevens (Eddie Bracken, in the Dick Powell film role) gets tomorrow’s paper today, too. Not by way of a tabby cat as the future Gary Hobson will, but from the ghost of a dead newsman. Stevens, however, uses this gift to scoop rival reporters, bet the horses profitably, and secure his standing with his girl (Ann Blyth, in the Linda Darnell film role) . . . until the edition arrived predicting his own death.

Now, Academy Award isn’t exactly Lux Radio Theater; for one thing, a thirty-minute spot doesn’t lend for as much depth as an hour’s Lux spot does, and at times Academy Award does feel like a bum’s rush. But it’s still a classy production and tonight’s installment is enjoyable in its way.

Additional cast: Unidentified. Announcer: Hugh Grundy. Music: Leith Stevens. Director: Dee Engelbach. Sound: Berne Surrey, Gene Twombly, Jay Roth, Clark Casey. Writer: Frank Wilson, adapting the screenplay by Rene Clair and Dudley Nichols.

 

Further Channel Surfing . ..

Lux Radio Theater: The Sisters (Dramatic anthology; CBS, 1939)
The Whistler: Finders, Weepers (Crime drama; CBS, 1944)
Our Miss Brooks: M. LeBlanche Needs $50 (Comedy; CBS, 1949)
The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show: Beauty Shop (Comedy; NBC, 1949)
Bob & Ray Present the CBS Radio Network: Wrap-up Time Detectives (Improvisational comedy; You’ll find it, 1959)

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