Poster: Mr. Television
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The 1950s were the waning decade of the Golden Age of Radio, with Television the new darling of the masses, post-World War II prosperity bringing more television sets into homes, and Television competing head to head with Radio for advertising dollars on an exponential scale. From the 1930s through the mid-1940s, television receivers were predominantly a prestige symbol of affluent. The post-War retooling of hundreds of electronics giants put Television in the popular spotlight for the first time in its two-decade history.
The post-War years also ushered in a series of high-school and college themed situation comedies which held great appeal for the hundreds of thousands of male and female ex-G.I.s taking advantage of the G.I. Bill and its educational benefits. A few examples of this programming from the era were:
1946 The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy
1948 Our Miss Brooks
1950 The Halls of Ivy
1953 Meet Mr. McNutley
All four of the exemplars above were slated for spin offs into Television of the era, but it was only Our Miss Brooks, Meet Mr. McNutley, and The Halls of Ivy that successfully made the transition. Our Miss Brooks was by far the more successful of the three, but Meet Mr. McNutley--later renamed The Ray Milland Show and Meet Mr. McNulty for Season Two of the Television series--acquitted itself well over both Radio and Television, as did The Halls of Ivy.
The era of the early to mid-1950s also ushered in several 'simulcasts'--Radio and Television programming aired over both Radio and Television concurrently. Some examples were the long-running The Voice of Firestone and Meet the Press, Martin Kane Private Detective, and Meet Mr. McNutley, among several others. Even more Radio programming of the era found its way to both Radio and Television, airing simultaneously, while perhaps not on the same night, nor employing the same scripts or casts. Examples were Dragnet, Hopalong Cassidy, Hallmark Hall of Fame, Have Gun Will Travel, The Lone Ranger, The Life of Riley, Our Miss Brooks, Richard Diamond Private Detective and Dangerous Assignment, among many others. Indeed, in a few instances, an airing Television production subsequently moved to concurrent Radio broadcasts as well during the era.
In several instances the dual programming gambit worked very successfully. In most instances however, the appearance of a Television production of a running Radio program generally marked the beginning of the end of the Radio production.
G.E. debuts Meet Mr. McNutley over CBS Radio and Television
General Electric and CBS brought Meet Mr. McNutley to the air over both Radio and Television on September 17, 1953 as The General Electric Comedy Theater presents Meet Mr. McNutley. One might well surmise from the General Electric Comedy Theatre attribution that G.E. intended to mount other similar situation comedy productions under the same vehicle.
While initially promoted as a 'simulcast' production over both Radio and Television, the Radio and Television productions of Meet Mr. McNutley did indeed air on the same Thursday evenings. But the two, 30-minute productions usually aired an hour apart from each other, on the hour, depending on the market and geographic location. Nor is it currently apparent that the same scripts aired over both Radio and Television on any given Thursday evening. We can understand the original intent of mounting the production in this manner, but it would seem more logical for CBS to have aired differing scripts/productions on different weeks. Clearly if a household possessing both a Radio and Television was hearing or watching the same essential script over either their Radio or Television there'd be little incentive to hear or view the corresponding production on the same evening. The plots' respective denouements and gags would clearly lose their effect if heard and viewed back to back--even an hour apart. From this we can only conclude that any characterization of the productions as 'simulcast' is somewhat inaccurate.
It was also apparent that the scripts behind the respective Radio and Television plots for each production varied a great deal--by design. The contemporary reviews and critiques of the production tend to bear this out, as well as contemporaneous interviews with both Ray Milland and Phyllis Avery. The initial Television run was initially panned for the slapstick nature of many of the gags. Reviewers generally found the Radio rendition of the same plot less over the top, in their view. And indeed, some of the more 'visual' slapstick gags wouldn't have translated well over a Radio script in any case.
The productions over both Radio and Television were supported by some of the finest Radio, Film and Television talent of the era, including Verna Felton in the Radio role of Dean Josephine Bradley, Irene Tedrow, Elvia Allman, Harry Bartell, Herb Vigran, Frank Nelson, Barney Phillips, Joan Banks, Alan Reed and Mary Jane Croft. The chemistry between Ray Milland and Phyllis Avery, both Film stars in their own right, translated well over both Radio and Television.
The joint production was set at Lynnhaven College for Women. Oscar-winner Ray Milland appeared as Raymond McNutley, the somewhat absent-minded Professor of English at Lynnhaven. Phyllis Avery appeared as his long-suffering wife, Peggy. As mentioned above, Radio, Film and Television veteran Verna Felton appeared as Dean of Women, Josephine Bradley, in the Radio production [Minverva Urecal in the Television production]. Other recurring characters were 'Pop' Wallace, the college's Caretaker and Gordon Jones as Pete 'Petey' Thompson.
The first season of Meet Mr. McNutley proved to be its last over Radio. The second season of Meet Mr. McNutley, rebranded The Ray Milland Show and Meet Mr. McNulty, aired exclusively over Televsion. Production of the first season's episodes was completed in April 1954, allowing Ray Milland to depart for a much needed vacation in Europe. The remaining First Season productions aired through June 10, 1954 over Radio and June 17, 1954 over Television.