Captain Video and His Video Rangers, which premiered 27 June 1949 on the DuMont Network, was the first science fiction, space adventure program on television and was to inspire a spate of similar offerings. Although it combined many of the early staples of children's programming, such as the inclusion of inexpensive film clips and pointed moral lessons, Captain Video capitalized upon the public fascination with science and space and the technical elements of the new television medium to create the longest running science fiction show in early television.
Captain Video was the creation of James L. Caddigan, a DuMont Vice President. Set in the year 2254, the show was an ambitious undertaking--it was live, technically demanding, and programmed as a continuing serial appearing every evening from 7:00 to 7:30 P.M. The show was designed to take advantage of the new technology; dissolves, superimpositions, and crude luminance key effects were utilized to place Captain Video in fanciful surroundings and allow him to travel through space and time. Without the luxury of video tape and editing, however, scripts, written by Maurice C. Brock (a veteran radio scriptwriter for Dick Tracy and Gangbusters), had to contain a great deal of exposition to allow time to set-up for short bursts of action.
The lack of sustained action was the reason given by creator Caddigan for using clips from the DuMont film library. In a typical program, as the conflict subsided for a moment, Captain Video (played by Richard Coogan, who later portrayed U.S. Marshal Matt Wayne on The Californians) would turn to his Remote Tele-Carrier, or inexplicably the show would switch to Ranger Headquarters, to show the exploits of other rangers (often cowboys such as Bob Steele and Sunset Carson in Western films). These clips always involved action-oriented sequences and helped to pick up the pace of the show and as well as allow time for the production crew to change sets and set up special effects.
Other breaks between scenes were filled with Ranger Messages. While messages on other children's programs would focus on children's issues such as safely crossing the street, Ranger Messages dealt with more global issues such as freedom, the Golden Rule, and nondiscrimination. The sophistication of these messages seemed to anticipate an adult audience, but the shifts between space and Western adventures were incomprehensible to many adults. The show was most popular with children and by 1951 was carried by 24 stations and seen by 3.5 million viewers, outdrawing its nearest competitor Kukla, Fran and Ollie.
As the "Master of Science," Captain Video was a technological genius, who invented a variety of devices including the Opticon Scillometer, a long-range, X-ray machine used to see through walls; the Discatron, a portable television screen which served as an intercom; and the Radio Scillograph, a palm-sized, two-way radio. With public concerns about violence in television programming, Captain Video's weapons were never lethal but were designed to capture his opponents (a Cosmic Ray Vibrator, a static beam of electricity able to paralyze its target; an Atomic Disintegrator Rifle; and the Electronic Strait Jacket, which placed captives in invisible restraints). In testimony before Senator Estes Kefauver's subcommittee probing the connection between television violence and juvenile delinquency, Al Hodge, who had previously starred in radio's Green Hornet and became Captain Video in 1951, noted that he did not even use the word "kill" on the show.
In addition to the futuristic inventions, the plots featured sharply drawn distinctions between good and bad science. Although Captain Video, with the fifteen-year-old Video Ranger (played by Don Hastings, who later appeared in The Edge of Night and As the World Turns), battled a wide array of enemies, the most clever and persistent was the deranged scientist Dr. Pauli (originally portrayed by Bram Nossem who could not sustain the grueling live schedule and was replaced by Hal Conklin). The battles were originally earthbound with Captain Video circling the globe in his X-9 jet to thwart the plans of Dr. Pauli who joined forces with other villains, such as the evil Heng Foo Sueeng. However, in response to other newly created science fiction competitors, in 1951 Captain Video began to patrol the universe and battle aliens in the spaceship Galaxy under the auspices of the Solar Council of the Interplanetary Alliance. He encountered such notable villains as clumsy McGee, (played by Arnold Stang) an inept Martian, Norgola (played by Ernest Borgnine) who turned the sun's energy into magnetic forces, and television's first robot, Tobor ("robot" spelled backwards) played by Dave Ballard.
The audience was exceptionally involved in the show, often writing to oppose plot developments or to suggest new inventions. For example, Tobor and Dr. Pauli were destroyed when their schemes backfired; however, the opposition of the viewers was great enough to bring them back in later episodes. Young viewers were also encouraged to join the Video Rangers Club and to buy Captain Video merchandise, including helmets, toy rockets, games, and records although the show not as extensively merchandised as some of its competitors. The show was supported, however, by large sponsors such as Skippy Peanut Butter and Post Cereals. Fawcett also published six issues of Captain Video Comics in 1951. A fifteen-chapter movie serial, Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere (released by Columbia Pictures in 1951, starring Judd Holdren and Larry Stewart), was the first attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on a television program. DuMont also attempted to build on the popularity of the show by developing The Secret Files of Captain Video, a thirty-minute, weekly adventure complete within itself which ran concurrently with the serial from September 1953 until May 1954.
However, although Captain Video was "The Guardian of the Safety of the World," he was not able to escape the economic necessities of the industry nor prevent the demise of the DuMont network. When Miles Laboratories, Inc., canceled its sponsorship of the Morgan Beatty news program, Captain Video remained as DuMont's only sponsored program between 7:00 and 8:00 P.M. Unfortunately the income was not large enough to justify the rental of the coaxial cable, and Captain Video left the air 1 April 1955, with DuMont folding that same year.
Captain Video (1949-50)..................... Richard Coogan
Captain Video (1951-55)............................... Al Hodge
The Ranger........................................... Don Hastings
Dr Pauli (1949)...................................... Bran Mossen
Dr. Pauli (later)......................................... Hal Conklin
Olga Druce, Frank Telford, James L. Caddigan, Al Hodge
June-August 1949 Tuesday/Thursday/Friday 7:00-7:30
August 1949-September 1953 Monday-Friday 7:00-7:30
September 1953-April 1955 Monday-Friday 7:00-7:15
February 1950-September 1950 Saturday 7:30-8:00
September 1950-November 1950 Saturday 7:00-7:30
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"Captain Video!" TeleVision Guide (Radnor, Pennsylvania) 6-12 August 1949.
"'Captain Video' Doomed." New York Times, 16 March 1955.
"Captain Video." Variety (Los Angeles), 13 July 1955.
Fischer, Stuart. Kids TV: The First Twenty-Five Years. New York: Facts on File Publications, 1983.
Gould, Jack. "Captain Video." New York Times, 20 November 1949.
Grossman, Gary H. Saturday Morning TV. New York: Dell, 1981.
Hamburger, Philip. "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep." The New Yorker (New York), 22 December 1951.
Houston, David. "The 50s Golden Age of Science Fiction Television." Starlog (New York), December 1980.
"7 M.P.S; Zero 3." Time (New York), 25 December 1950.
"Speaking of Pictures." Life (New York), 13 September 1954.
Van Horne, Harriet. "Space Rocket Kick." Theatre Arts (New York), December 1951.