Leonard Bernstein's debut appearance, 1954
Developed byRobert Saudek and the Ford Foundation
Directed byAndrew McCullough (44 eps), Seymour Robbie (24), Charles S. Dubin (22), Bob Banner (16), Tad Danielewski (12), Elliot Silverstein (12), William A. Graham (10)
Presented byAlistair Cooke
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons8[1] or 9[2]
No. of episodes152
Running time90 min in first five seasons or 60–90 min in later seasons
Production companiesFord Foundation
Robert Saudek Associates
Original release
NetworkCBS (4 seasons, 1952–1956)
ABC (1 season, 1956–1957)
NBC (3[1] seasons, 1957–1961) or 4[2])
ReleaseNovember 9, 1952 (1952-11-09) –
April 16, 1961 (1961-04-16)

Omnibus was an American, commercially sponsored, educational variety television series.


Omnibus was created by the Ford Foundation, which sought to increase the education level of the American public. The show was conceived by James Webb Young who hired Robert Saudek as producer. Saudek believed that Omnibus could "raise the level of American taste" with educational entertainment.[1][3][4]

The show was broadcast live, primarily on Sunday afternoons at 4:00pm EST, from November 9, 1952, until April 16, 1961. Omnibus originally aired on CBS, and later on Sunday evenings on ABC. The show was never commercially viable on its own, and sources of funding dwindled after the Ford Foundation ended its sponsorship in 1957.[1] That year, the program moved to NBC, where it was irregularly scheduled until 1961. The show's first season had an audience of 4 million, which grew to 5.7 million at its peak in 1957.[1] ABC aired a brief revival of the series in 1980-1981.[5]

The series won more than 65 awards, including eight Emmy Awards (it was nominated for thirteen)[6] and two Peabody Awards.[7] The series is held at the Library of Congress and Global ImageWorks, among other archives. The Bernstein Omnibus programs were released in a 4-DVD set for Region 1[8] and Region 2 in 2010.


The show, hosted by Alistair Cooke in his American television debut, featured diverse programming about science, the arts, and the humanities. The program featured original works by playwrights such as William Saroyan, interviews with public figures such as architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and performances by many of the most prominent entertainers of the day such as Jack Benny and Orson Welles. A heavily abridged version of Shakespeare's King Lear starring Orson Welles, staged by Peter Brook and directed by Andrew McCullough , was telecast on 18 October 1953 on CBS. Leonard Bernstein and Jonathan Winters made their first television appearances in the series. Bernstein gave his first televised music lectures on the program, and conducted one of the earliest telecasts of excerpts from Handel's Messiah on it. The best remembered episode featuring Bernstein was his first, transmitted on November 14, 1954: an analysis of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in which the conductor demonstrated what the music might have been like if Beethoven had left some of his discarded music sketches in the symphony.

Hans Conried was featured in the 1958 episode "What Makes Opera Grand?", an analysis by Leonard Bernstein showing the powerful effect of music in opera.[9] Conried played Marcello in a spoken dramatization of act 3 of Puccini's La bohème. The program demonstrated the effect of the music in La bohème by having actors speak portions of the libretto in English, followed by opera singers singing the same lines in the original Italian.[10] Author Stuart Kallen, in his 2012 work, ' The History of American Pop ', (Greenhaven Publishing), claims that the show, in 1953, was the first American television programme to play a rock and roll record, '(Crazy Man Crazy)', by Bill Haley and His Comets. It was used in the soundtrack of ' Glory in the Flower ', starring James Dean.


  1. ^ a b c d e William M. Jones; Andrew Walworth (13 December 1999). "Saudek's Omnibus: ambitious forerunner of public TV". Current. Retrieved 18 February 2019. During its eight-season run, Omnibus aired on all three commercial networks – four seasons on CBS, one on ABC and the last three on NBC.
  2. ^ a b Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time, Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946 to 2007. Ballantine. p. 1014.[need quotation to verify][ISBN missing]
  3. ^ Robert Saudek, "Experiment in Video Programming", The New York Times, 9 November 1952, 13(X).
  4. ^ Anna McCarthy, The Citizen Machine: Governing by Television in 1950s America, New York: The New Press, 2010, p. 18. "In statements such as this, Cold War liberals diagnosed the potential contradictions emerging from the postwar economy's emphasis on mass consumption in terms of the inadequate moral education of the populace; the cure was the administration of culture by an elite class immune to the seductions of the mass. Hence television programs such as Omnibus, sponsored by the Ford Foundation."
  5. ^ Shales, Tom (1980-06-15). "TV's 'Omnibus' Returns -- Daring To Be Great?". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-07-12.
  6. ^ "Omnibus (NBC) – Awards & Nomintions". The Emmys. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  7. ^ "Search results: Omnibus". The Peabody Awards. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  8. ^ Bernstein, Leonard. Omnibus: The Historic TV Broadcasts on 4 DVDs. E1 Entertainment, 2010. ISBN 1-4172-3265-X.
  9. ^ "What Makes Opera Grand? in Omnibus (script)". Leonard Bernstein. 23 March 1958. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  10. ^ What Makes Opera Grand? at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
RSA Venture, LLC: Omnibus footage library, Global ImageWorks