With its orchestra, singers and dancers, straight man and comedian, Garroway
at Large (Sun. 10 p.m., NBC-TV) might be just another TV variety show.
But on the TV screen, something surprising happens. Last week, back on the air
after a summer vacation, Garroway again demonstrated an out-of-the-ordinary pace,
outlook and quality that TV men have some to consider characteristic of the whole
"Chicago school" of
television. Partly the difference lies in a freshness and informality. Partly
it lies in a brash approach that encourages visual puns (e.g., after a harmonica
quartet, Garroway is shown eating his way through an ear of corn).
Big, 37-year-old Dave
Garroway, an amateur mechanic, gem cutter, tile-setter, photographer, bird fancier,
cabinetmaker and bibliophile, says his scriptless show is planned by "four
guys sitting around a table." The other three, all under 35, are Writer Charlie
Andrews, an ex-hobo; Producer Ted Mills, an expatriate New Yorker; and Director
Bill Hobin, an ex-drummer. The Garroway show's top council, with Burr
Tillstrom (Kukla, Fran & Ollie) and Documentary Expert Ben Park, make
up the brain trust of the close-knit argumentative group that has developed the
Chicago school. Explains NBC's Chicago Station manager Jules Herbuveaux: "New
York thinks there's nothing wrong with TV that the stage can't cure, and Hollywood
thinks there's nothing wrong with TV that movies can't cure. Chicago goes its
own way." The Chicago group's imaginative approach has been born of necessity.
Lacking big budgets, elaborate equipment and big-name talent, they are forced
to shortcut the elaborate. They specialize in what they call "simplified
realism" and "ad-lib" drama. By banning studio audiences they can
use the four walls of every set; short on cameras, booms and overhead trolleys,
they never switch from one camera to another without good reason.
Out of these techniques
have come such shows as Ben Park's Saturday Square, and Hawkins
Falls, based on nearby Woodstock, Ill.; Ted Mills's Portrait of America
and Crisis; Charlie Andrews' Studs'
Place, which drew 4,000 letters of protest (mostly from New York and Philadelphia)
when it was dropped last month, and the Ransom Sherman Show, dedicated to the
incurable inefficiency of the American male.
Of such shows, thus
far only Garroway at Large, sponsored by Congoleum-Nairn Corp., has been
a conspicuous commercial success, but their total impact on TV has been enormous.
Fred Allen, due to make his own TV bow this month, says: "The Chicago shows
are making an effort to do something. They're short on money, short on talent,
but long on inventiveness." And NBC's Herbuveaux, who believes in a change
of pace, adds: "After half an hour of being neat over the head by New York,
people enjoy a half-hour of leaning back with Chicago."
Many radiomen think
the Chicago school is doomed. They see a parallel between what is happening in
TV and what happened in radio in the '30's, when Chicago pioneered in low-budget
dramas, documentaries like The Empire
Builders, and situation comedies like Amos
'n' Andy, Fibber McGee &
Molly and Vic and Sade. By 1937, almost 400
network shows a month were originating in Chicago for NBC alone. Then New
York money and Hollywood climate and opportunities began to siphon off Chicago's
talented radiomen, and most of the remaining shows degenerated into a mishmash
of successful but seedy soap operas.
Dave Garroway, one of the first of Chicago's TV successes, may be one of the first
to leave. Headed for a $250,000 income this year, he is reported considering a
move to New York in 1951. Says he: "We'll move anywhere if they pay us enough
money and give us legal assurance this show won't be hurt."
Note: 'Garroway at Large' ended its run in June, 1951. On January 14th,
1952 Dave Garroway became the first host of the Today show---which, of
course, originated in New York. Click
here to read Dave's New York Times obituary.