First episode date
3 October 1948
Number of episodes
Country of origin
No. of seasons
Final episode date
2 October 1955
Number of seasons
Fred Coe Vincent J. Donehue Gordon Duff Herbert Hirschman Delbert Mann Robert Mulligan Arthur Penn Ira Skutch
James Dean, Grace Kelly, Bert Lytell
Westinghouse Studio One, Suspense, Producers' Showcase, Alcoa Theatre, Letter to Loretta
The Philco Television Playhouse is an American television anthology series that was broadcast live on NBC from 1948 to 1955. (The reference book Encyclopedia of Television Shows, 1925 through 2010 lists the program as having been broadcast 1948-1956.) Produced by Fred Coe, the series was sponsored by Philco. It was one of the most respected dramatic shows of the Golden Age of Television, winning a 1954 Peabody Award and receiving eight Emmy nominations between 1951 and 1956.
The first season featured adaptations of popular Broadway plays and musicals. Ronald Wayne Rodman, in his book Tuning in: American Narrative Television Music, noted, "Despite ensuing complications over the legalities of broadcasting copyrighted plays on television and several legal battles that ensued, the show flourished."
The first episode was Dinner at Eight by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The second season consisted mostly of adaptations of popular novels from the Book of the Month Club. During later seasons, both original stories and adaptations were used. The title of the show was briefly changed to Repertory Theatre and Arena Theatre during part of the first season, but then reverted to The Philco Television Playhouse.
Bert Lytell was the program's host in 1948-1949.
The series launched the television writing careers of Robert Alan Aurthur, Paddy Chayefsky, Sumner Locke Elliott, Horton Foote, Tad Mosel, William Templeton, Arnold Schulman, and Gore Vidal. Its most famous drama was Chayefsky's Marty (May 24, 1953), which starred Rod Steiger and was later made into a movie that won an Academy Award for Ernest Borgnine.
Among the many performers on the Philco Television Playhouse were Dennis Cross, Lillian Gish, Janet De Gore, Melvyn Douglas, Grace Kelly, Jack Klugman, Cloris Leachman, Walter Matthau, Steve McQueen, Paul Muni, ZaSu Pitts, Eva Marie Saint, Everett Sloane, Kim Stanley, Eli Wallach and Joanne Woodward. Many of these actors were making their first television appearance; one was Jose Ferrer, who recreated his stage performance in a one-hour television condensation of Cyrano de Bergerac a full year before the 1950 film version, for which Ferrer won an Oscar, was released. Another was Paul Muni, who starred in the 1948 presentation Counsellor-at Law.
Beginning in 1951, Philco shared sponsorship of the program with Goodyear, with the title alternating between Philco Television Playhouse and Goodyear Television Playhouse to reflect that week's sponsor. In 1955, the show was retitled The Alcoa Hour. The three series were essentially the same, with the only real difference being the name of the sponsor.
In the sixth season, Cathleen Nesbitt and Maureen Stapleton starred in Chayefsky's The Mother (April 4, 1954). This is one of the rare teleplays from television's Golden Age to be restaged on TV decades later, a Great Performances production on October 24, 1994, with Anne Bancroft and Joan Cusack.
The seventh season began September 19, 1954, with E. G. Marshall and Eva Marie Saint in Chayefsky's Middle of the Night, a play which moved to Broadway 15 months later and was filmed by Columbia Pictures in 1959.
On August 7, 1955, John Cassavetes played an American artist expatriate in A Room in Paris. This adaptation of Peggy Mann's novel (her first novel for adults) was published March 3, 1955, by Doubleday, followed by Popular Library's paperback edition.
The final Philco production, on October 2, 1955, was Robert Alan Aurthur's A Man Is Ten Feet Tall, co-starring Don Murray and Sidney Poitier, which was adapted and expanded into the 1957 MGM feature film, Edge of the City, with Poitier recreating his original role and John Cassavetes in Murray's part.
U.S. television ratings
Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of The Philco Television Playhouse on NBC.
In popular culture
In 2006, the NBC series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip referenced The Philco Television Playhouse as The Philco Comedy Hour, a comedy show that aired on the fictional NBS network. Eli Wallach made a guest appearance on Studio 60, playing a former show writer who was blacklisted in the 1950s.