Monday, May 25, 2015

overlooked US television networks: NTA Film Network (flourished 1956-61)

Old VHF Channel 13 in New York City has been the or an anchor station for no fewer than three national television networks in the US so 1962, it was among the later startups for public television in larger cities when, as WNDT (then, later, WNET), it became one of the key stations in the National Educational Television (NET) network, and, when PBS was initiated in 1970 (in part so that the Nixon Administration could "tame" NET), became a key station for that similarly decentralized network. But before the sale of the station in late 1961 to a public broadcasting nonprofit corporation, it had for some years served as WNTA, the launching point for a small national network, the NTA (National Telefilm Associates) Film Network. Some online references, at least, rather sloppily credit the NTA programs to NET or even PBS, others somewhat more understandably cited them as syndicated (the NTA network at its height had 128 affiliates, apparently, and most were primary affiliates of one of the three bigger commercial networks...the DuMont Network and the Paramount Television Network both having just ceased most operations earlier in 1956). However, the Wikipedia article on the network is pretty impressive.

As was some of the programming, most memorably The Play of the Week (1959-1961); John Houseman was among the regular participants behind the cameras. From their production of The Iceman Cometh (1960, starring Jason Robards and featuring Robert Redford): 

From the pilot episode, "Medea" with Judith Anderson (1959)
 Many episodes of this series are available on home video...some in the same package as NET Playhouse episodes produced later for NET and, briefly after, PBS, perhaps furthering confusion for the easily confused between WNTA and its network and its public successor and its networks.

Not every series was as notable, but the network got some licks in, even given that the most durable series associated with it were network co-owner David Susskind's talk show Open End (soon retitled The David Susskind Show, as the WNTA original would simply run on Sunday nights into Monday morning till Susskind and his guests tired of the conversation they were having, and the show and WNTA would sign off) and the Los Angeles affiliate KTTV's first contribution to the network, the first version of Divorce Court (which would continue in syndication till 1969).

As would the Fox/FBC network and the WB much later, NTA tried an initial national in-pattern primetime slate on one night only, on Fridays in 1958:

7:30pm ET/PT: Man Without a Gun
8pm This is Alice
8:30p How to Marry a Millionaire
9-11p Premiere Performance (first-run. if pre-1949, films from 20th Century Fox, who was a partner in the network)
to see as well how the other commercial networks programmed Fridays in '58-'59, click here.

Man Without a Gun opening

This is Alice opening (Desilu production)

How to Marry a Millionaire (first of three parts of a full episode)

Another NTA series, this one in partnership with the BBC (another tradition carried on by NET and PBS): The Third Man (a full episode)--a reasonably clever one written by (Ms.) Hagar Wilde, directed by Arthur Hiller, and featuring Suzanne Pleshette along with series star Michael Rennie as Harry Lime; "Listen for the Sound of a Witch":

From a David Susskind Show episode from not too long after the network's end, with Jerry Lewis blathering about his variety/talkshow failure:


Phillyradiogeek said...

I'm surprised I'm not familiar with this network. I'll definitely be looking into this further. Thanks!

Oh, if you're compiling a Tuesday's Overlooked this week, here's my entry:

Phillyradiogeek said...

Wow, that interview pretty much demonstrates everything that's wrong with Lewis--and I like him!

Todd Mason said...

Thanks! I'd not heard of the Paramount Television Network till not too long before I first wrote about it, but NTA's THE PLAY OF THE WEEK first tipped me to this one's existence some years ago, along with Susskind's participation (before his Talent Associates would go on to produce the likes of GET SMART! and NYPD for hardier commercial networks). Thanks, Brian. (And I'd definitely like to see some more THE THIRD MAN episodes...apparently, only two are in the public domain, and perhaps no one has released the others on any sort of home video yet...probably aside from the gray market.)

Yup. It's probably just coincidence that I've been watching some SCTV again (fictional overlooked networks), but haven't yet gotten to any of Martin Short's devastating takes on Lewis.