Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

DuMont, the forgotten TV network, finally gave up 60 years ago

Decades TV Network (Screenshot: YouTube)
Decades TV Network (Screenshot: YouTube)

Engineer Allen B. DuMont (1901-1965) was one of the true pioneers of television technology in the 1930s, and the sets manufactured by his company, DuMont Laboratories, in Passaic, New Jersey, were considered among the finest in the industry. The problem was, nobody was buying the darned things. TV sets were very expensive—about $5,000 in today’s money—and there were hardly any regularly scheduled broadcasts back then. Undaunted and despite not having any kind of show-business background, the engineer decided to produce his very own television broadcasts, including game shows, dramas, comedies, and sports. This led to the mid-August 1946 debut of the upstart DuMont Network, the first television network to challenge the supremacy of CBS and NBC.

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It’s not exactly fair to call DuMont “the fourth network,” since it actually beat ABC to the TV airwaves by a couple of years. Among the network’s major discoveries was a comic dynamo named Jackie Gleason, who headlined a variety program called Cavalcade Of Stars. It was this show that introduced the world to the character of bellicose bus driver Ralph Kramden of The Honeymooners. Gleason’s sidekick, Art Carney, is present here, too, as dim bulb Ed Norton. Gleason and Carney would eventually jump ship to CBS, but this sketch is from their DuMont days.

DuMont can also boast that it aired what is arguably the first science-fiction series in the history of television, namely a cheapskate children’s show called Captain Video And His Video Rangers. Fans of The Honeymooners will remember that Norton’s love of Captain Video remained a running gag for years to come.

One of the weirdest DuMont offerings was a comedy series called School House, in which comedian Kenny Delmar (best known for his “Senator Claghorn” character) donned a robe and presided over a rambunctious classroom full of comedians and musicians, including Wally Cox (voice of Underdog), Arnold Stang (voice of Top Cat), and Buddy Hackett.

Such popular franchises as Ellery Queen and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet also put in time on the upstart network. But DuMont found the going rough in the early days of the idiot box. The network only managed to scrape together three owned-and-operated stations, and there were very few spaces open on the VHF channels. CBS and NBC had already claimed all the good real estate, so to speak. Most DuMont programming wound up being broadcast on little-watched UHF stations. The network never had the money to compete, so it was largely unable to attract major stars. After years of struggle, DuMont ceased original programming in 1955. But it continued to broadcast sporting events into the next year. The end came with a televised boxing match on August 6, 1956. A nice capsule history of DuMont is offered here:

And a more sardonic but thorough take is available here, complete with a wide selection of DuMont clips:

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