Fireside Theatre
Fireside Theatre Logo
Also known as
  • Jane Wyman Presents
  • The Jane Wyman Show
GenreAnthology drama
Written by
Directed by
Presented by
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons7
No. of episodes268 (list of episodes)
Production
Producers
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time48 mins
Production companies
  • General Television Enterprises
  • Hal Roach Studios
  • Lewman Productions/Revue Studios (1955–58)
Release
Original networkNBC
Picture formatBlack-and-white
Audio formatMonaural
Original releaseApril 5, 1949 (1949-04-05) –
May 22, 1958 (1958-05-22)[citation needed]

Fireside Theatre, a.k.a. Jane Wyman Presents, is an American anthology drama series that ran on NBC from 1949 to 1958, and was the first successful filmed series on American television. Productions were low budget and often based on public domain stories or written by freelance writers such as Rod Serling. While it was panned by critics, it remained in the top ten most popular shows for most of its run. It predated the other major pioneer of filmed TV in America, I Love Lucy, by two years. Jacques Tourneur has directed in 1956 three episodes, A Hero Return, Kirsti, and The Mirror.

Overview

Director Sidney Lanfield and Jane Wyman on the set of Fireside Theatre (1955)
Director Sidney Lanfield and Jane Wyman on the set of Fireside Theatre (1955)

Fireside Theatre was created by Frank Wisbar, who also wrote and directed many episodes.[1] From 1952 to 1958, the program was presented by a host. This role was first filled by Wisbar (1952–1953), then by Gene Raymond (1953–1955), and finally by the person most associated with the series in the public mind, Jane Wyman (1955–1958). When episodes of this program were rerun on ABC during the summer of 1963, it was under the title Jane Wyman Presents; during the period first-run episodes were hosted by Wyman it was sometimes known as The Jane Wyman Show.

One of Fireside Theatre's most notable offerings was a 1951 condensed version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, featuring Ralph Richardson as Ebenezer Scrooge for the only time on American television.[citation needed] He later recreated the role on a spoken word Caedmon Records LP album, with Paul Scofield as narrator. It has since been released on CD.[2]

The Doubleday Book Club also ran a playscripts club called The Fireside Theatre.[citation needed]

Episodes

Main article: List of Fireside Theatre episodes

Season Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
1 12 April 5, 1949 June 28, 1949
2 41 September 6, 1949 June 27, 1950
3 46 August 29, 1950 August 21, 1951
4 44 August 28, 1951 June 24, 1952
5 39 September 30, 1952 June 30, 1953
6 44 September 1, 1953 June 29, 1954
7 43 September 7, 1954 June 28, 1955

Cast

As an anthology series, Fireside Theatre had no regular cast, just a series of guest stars:

Reception

Critical response

Billboard magazine praised an episode titled "The Lottery", saying that the cast "all turned in taut, exciting performances to make Lottery a real winner".[3] Unlike most episodes of the series, this episode aired live.

In 1954, Billboard voted it fourth-best filmed network drama series, ahead of the more fondly remembered General Electric Theater; however, Billboard's list excluded "mystery" shows (which was a separate list topped by Dragnet).[4]

Ratings

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Fireside Theatre became a hit for NBC, always in the Top 30 shows at the end of each TV season, until the 1956–1957 season, when its ratings slumped. After this, it never again regained its top spot.

Seasonal rankings (based on average total viewers per episode) of Fireside Theatre on NBC. (Note: In the United States, each network television season starts in late September and ends in late May, which coincides with the completion of May sweeps.)

Season TV season Ranking Viewers (in millions)
2nd 1950–1951 #2 5.365
3rd 1951–1952 #7 6.594
4th 1952–1953 #10 8.282
5th 1953–1954 #9 9.464
6th 1954–1955 #20 9.547
7th 1955–1956 #24 10.121

References

  1. ^ Dick, Bernard F. (2014). The President's Ladies: Jane Wyman and Nancy Davis. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 222–226. ISBN 978-1-61703-980-5. Retrieved February 12, 2020.
  2. ^ Amazon: Fireside Theater.
  3. ^ The Billboard, 1 Sep 1951. Page 3.
  4. ^ The Billboard, 31 Jul 1954. Page 14.

Further reading