Armstrong Circle Theatre


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About

Armstrong Circle Theatre, which premiered in the summer of 1950, joined thirteen other anthology programs already on the air, but went on to become one of the longest-running anthology series in television history. It aired for fourteen seasons, first in a one-half hour format and later expanding to one-hour. Armstrong Circle Theatre was produced by Talent Associates, Ltd., the agency formed by David Susskind and Alfred Levy, which also produced the Kaiser Aluminum Hour and individual productions for the DuPont Show of the Month, Kraft Television Theatre, and the Philco Television Playhouse.

What differentiated the Armstrong Circle Theatre from other anthology series was the show's change in focus after its first few seasons. Initially, Armstrong Circle Theatre presented typical, formula dramas, with little to distinguish it from other anthologies. In 1952, producers decided to change their approach. With the aid of an advertising agency that gathered scripts from all sources, including first-time writers, producers opted for "quality dramas" that emphasized characterization over pure plot devices. The new stories presented on Armstrong Circle attempted a continuity of mood, theme, and style from production to production without presenting the same type of protagonist in varying situations. Some critics described the stories as sentimental with a "pleasantly related moral" as their thematic approach. One example of this "family type" dramatic style was "The Rocking Horse," a tender story about a reunion between mother and son.

In 1955, when Armstrong Circle Theatre expanded to one hour, the series continued its emphasis on the story and presented the earliest form of the docudrama (fact-based dramatizations). Executive Producer David Susskind and producer Robert Costello de-emphasized the role of actors and made the story the "star". According to Costello, their aim was "to combine fact and drama--to arouse interest, even controversy, on important and topical subjects." Using a news story or idea was not enough: the series also had to "be able to present some potential solution, some hope for your citizens to consider, to think about." Examples of these fact-based dramas include S.O.S. from the Andrea Doria and Lost: $2,000,000, a drama about the effect of Hurricane Diane on a small town in Connecticut.

The docudrama format was enhanced by having a news anchor serve as the host/narrator for the program, and, for this task, NBC hired news anchorman John Cameron Swayze. When the series switched from NBC to CBS in 1957, Swayze was replaced by CBS news anchor Douglas Edwards. Edwards was subsequently removed by CBS when network executives felt his credibility as a news anchor would be diminished by hosting a non-news program. He was replaced by reporter Ron Cochran, formerly of ABC.

At the time its format was lengthened to one-hour, Armstrong Circle Theatre alternated with Playwrights '56. Problems arose between the two series because each was sponsored by a different company with different advertising aims. Pontiac, sponsor of Playwrights '56, wanted a very distinct sales message aimed at a large audience. Armstrong Circle desired strong sponsor identification with its special type of programming. Although Playwrights '56 produced a number of distinctive dramas, they were not as critically successful as other anthologies. Pontiac considered the ratings for the show too low and withdrew its sponsorship at the end of the season. The next season, Armstrong Circle alternated with The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, also produced by David Susskind's Talent Associates, Ltd. In 1957, Armstrong Circle Theatre switched to CBS and alternated with The U. S. Steel Hour until the end of its television run.

-Susan Gibberman

HOST/NARRATOR

Nelson Case (1950-1951)

Joe Ripley (1952-1953)

Bob Sherry (1953-1954)

Sandy Becker (1954-1955)

John Cameron Swayze (1955-1957)

Douglas Edwards (1957-1961)

Ron Cochran (1961-1962)

Henry Hamilton (1962-1963)

PRODUCERS

Robert Costello, Jacqueline Babbin, George Simpson, Selig Alkon, Ralph Nelson

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

NBC

June 1950-June 1955   Tuesday 9:30-10:00

September 1955-June 1957   Tuesday 9:30-10:30

CBS

October 1957-August 1963   Wednesday 10:00-11:00

FURTHER READING

Adams, Val. "An Original Approach to TV Drama." New York Times, 16 November 1952.

Gast, Harold. Full Disclosure, As Presented on the Armstrong Circle Theatre. Larchmont, New York: Argonaut, 1961.

Gianakos, Larry James. Television Drama Series Programming: A Comprehensive Chronicle, 1947-1959. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1980.

___________________. Television Drama Series Programming: A Comprehensive Chronicle, 1959-1975. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1978.

Settel, Trudy S., and Irving Settel. The Best of Armstrong Circle Theatre. New York: Citadel, 1959.

Shaw, Myron Berkley. A Descriptive Analysis of the Documentary Drama Television Program, 'The Armstrong Circle Theatre' 1955-1961 (Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan, 1962.)

Highlights
Paul Bogart on directing Armstrong Circle Theatre and U.S. Steel Hour
01:04
James Sheldon on not being allowed to cast Eddie Albert on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre because of the Blacklist
01:26
Gene Reynolds on mishaps during live television
01:15
Carroll O'Connor on the topicality of the material used on Armstrong Circle Theatre
00:57
Garry Simpson on working on Armstrong Circle Theatre
03:37
Who talked about this show

Paul Bogart

View Interview
Paul Bogart on directing Armstrong Circle Theatre and U.S. Steel Hour
01:04
Paul Bogart on the Hollywood Blacklist and learning of behind-the-scenes goings-on at Armstrong Circle Theatre
01:53

Bob Costello

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Bob Costello on producing Armstrong Circle Theatre; on the Armstrong Cirlcle Theatre production of "Nightmare in Red" about Communism; on his dealings with McCarthyism and the Blacklist
25:25
Bob Costello on working on Armstrong Circle Theatre and becoming producer when the show went to an hour format
07:53

Stewart MacGregory

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Stewart MacGregory on being stage coordinator for Armstrong Circle Theatre
01:27
Stewart MacGregory on acting as stage coordinator for Armstrong Circle Theatre  and Martin Kane, Private Eye
05:30

Carroll O'Connor

View Interview
Carroll O'Connor on the topicality of the material used on Armstrong Circle Theatre
00:57

Gene Reynolds

View Interview
Gene Reynolds on mishaps during live television
01:15

James Sheldon

View Interview
James Sheldon on not being allowed to cast Eddie Albert on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre because of the Blacklist
01:26
James Sheldon on James Dean's behavior on an episode of Armstrong Circle Theatre: "The Bells of Cockaigne"
01:15

Garry Simpson

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Garry Simpson on working on Armstrong Circle Theatre
03:37

Ethel Winant

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Ethel Winant on the first television show she cast, Justice, and on casting Armstrong Circle Theatre
02:11
Ethel Winant on dealing with the Hollywood Blacklist on shows like Armstrong Circle Theatre

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