Country of origin
No. of seasons
Final episode date
3 June 1962
Number of seasons
No. of episodes
First episode date
1 February 1953
Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, Lux Video Theatre, Ford Theatre, Letter to Loretta, Alfred Hitchcock Presents
General Electric Theater was an American anthology series hosted by Ronald Reagan that was broadcast on CBS radio and television. The series was sponsored by General Electric's Department of Public Relations.
After an audition show on January 18, 1953, entitled The Token, with Dana Andrews, the radio series, a summer replacement for The Bing Crosby Program, debuted on CBS on July 9, 1953, with Ronald Colman in Random Harvest. With such guest stars as Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Van Johnson, Jane Wyman, William Holden, Alan Young, Dorothy McGuire, John Hodiak, Ann Blyth, James Mason, Joan Fontaine, and Judy Garland, the series continued until October 1, 1953. Jaime del Valle produced and directed the show. Ken Carpenter was the host and announcer. Wilbur Hatch supplied the music.
Also known as G.E. Stereo Theater, the program "was the first network radio series to be broadcast on FM in stereo."
The television version of the program, produced by MCA-TV/Revue, was broadcast every Sunday evening at 9:00 pm EST, beginning February 1 1953, and ending May 27 1962. Each of the estimated 209 television episodes was an adaptation of a novel, short story, play, film, or magazine fiction. An exception was the 1954 episode "Music for Christmas", which featured choral director Fred Waring and his group The Pennsylvanians performing Christmas music.
On September 26, 1954, Ronald Reagan debuted as the only host of the program. GE added a host to provide continuity in the anthology format. The show's Nielsen ratings improved from #27 in the 1953-1954 season to #17 in 1954-1955, followed #11 in 1955-1956, #3 in 1956-1957, #7 in 1957-1958, #26 in 1958-1959, #23 in 1959-1960, and #20 in 1960-1961.
General Electric Theater made the already well-known Reagan, who had appeared in many films as a "second lead" throughout his career, wealthy, due to his part ownership of the show. After eight years as host, Reagan estimated he had visited 135 GE research and manufacturing facilities, and met over a quarter-million people. During that time, he would also speak at other forums such as Rotary clubs and Moose lodges, presenting views on economic progress that in form and content were often similar to what he said in introductions, segues, and closing comments on the show as a spokesman for GE. Reagan, who would later be known as "The Great Communicator" because of his oratorical prowess, often credited these engagements as helping him develop his public-speaking abilities.
Television guest stars
Among the guest stars on the anthology were:
Reagan fired by General Electric
Reagan was fired by General Electric in 1962 in response to his reference to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) as one of the problems of "big government". Reagan would subsequently reiterate his points in his famous 1964 televised speech for Republican presidential nominee Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona entitled, "A Time for Choosing":
One such considered above criticism, sacred as motherhood, is TVA. This program started as a flood control project; the Tennessee Valley was periodically ravaged by destructive floods. The Army Engineers set out to solve this problem. They said that it was possible that once in 500 years there could be a total capacity flood that would inundate some 600,000 acres (2,400 km2). Well, the engineers fixed that. They made a permanent lake which inundated a million acres (4,000 km²). This solved the problem of floods, but the annual interest on the TVA debt is five times as great as the annual flood damage they sought to correct. Of course, you will point out that TVA gets electric power from the impounded waters, and this is true, but today 85 percent of TVA's electricity is generated in coal burning steam plants. Now perhaps you'll charge that I'm overlooking the navigable waterway that was created, providing cheap barge traffic, but the bulk of the freight barged on that waterway is coal being shipped to the TVA steam plants, and the cost of maintaining that channel each year would pay for shipping all of the coal by rail, and there would be money left over.
The publicity Reagan gained in part from this speech paved the way for his election as governor of California in 1966, when he unseated the two-term Democrat Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Sr. Brown was the father of Reagan's Successor, Governor Jerry Brown.
Michael Reagan, adopted son of Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, contends that Attorney General of the United States Robert F. Kennedy pressured GE to cancel The General Electric Theater or at least to fire Reagan as the host if the program were to continue. The series was not dropped because of low ratings but political intervention, the younger Reagan still maintains. Michael claimed that Robert Kennedy told GE officials that the company would receive no federal contracts so long as Reagan was host of the series. Michael noted the irony that his father's dismissal propelled Reagan into the political arena, and eighteen years afterwards, Reagan would take the oath of office as the oldest person thus far in history to become U.S. President. According to Michael Reagan, Kennedy's directive is another example of the "law of unintended consequences." Had Kennedy stayed out of GE contract matters, there would have been no Governor or President Reagan, speculates Michael Reagan.
In fact, the primary reason Reagan was fired by General Electric for his comments regarding the TVA was that the TVA was one of General Electric's biggest customers. General Electric was and remains the largest supplier of equipment to the TVA and most other electricity producers in the United States.
Don Herbert, a television personality well known as the host of Watch Mr. Wizard, appeared as the "General Electric Progress Reporter," adding a scientific touch to the institutional advertising pitch. The show was produced by Revue Studios, whose successor-in-interest, NBC Universal Television, was co-owned by GE.
On April 20, 2010, a "lost" live episode of General Electric Theater – "The Dark, Dark Hours", which originally aired on December 12, 1954) – was uncovered by NBC writer Wayne Federman who was working on a television retrospective for the Reagan Centennial Celebration. The episode was noteworthy because it teamed Ronald Reagan with James Dean. Highlights were broadcast on the CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and Good Morning America.