DuMont

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DuMont network logo.jpg
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"Your TV's so old, I bet you get the DuMont network on it!"
Death, Family Guy (episode "Death Is A Bitch").
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The fourth network from the early days of television (1946-1956) in the United States, though actually the third to come to the air. It eventually failed, as its problems included No Budget; an FCC ruling restricting the number of stations it could own (because of part-ownership by Paramount, which itself owned two VHF TV stations); not having an associated radio network to bring over affiliates, programs and performers (and absorb costs); and a forced over-dependence on UHF stations in an era when the tuners weren't standard equipment. (The All Channel Receiver Act required UHF from 1964 onward, but by then eighty of the first 100 UHF TV stations launched in 1953-54 had gone bankrupt, most in their first year of operation). As the majority of established VHF TV stations were owned by affiliates (mostly existing local radio and newspaper operators), the lack of a radio network left DuMont at a disadvantage as existing NBC and CBS AM radio network affiliates usually chose to remain with NBC and CBS, the dominant networks of the era, for their primary television affiliation.

Ironically, Paramount's former theater division purchased ABC in 1953, and the steady revenue stream from movie theaters helped ABC survive, quickly leapfrogging DuMont to become the third network.

DuMont is, in more recent years, more of a footnote than anything else. The best-known series associated with the network are Captain Video and Cavalcade of Stars, the latter of which had a regular skit that evolved into The Honeymooners. Two of the most popular programs during the network's heyday were the Game Show Down You Go and the religious program Life Is Worth Living, the latter of which won both an Emmy for host Fulton Sheen and respect from direct competitor Milton Berle.

Most, if not all, of DuMont's programs were produced on small budgets, but made up for this shortcoming by use of good writing and very energetic crews. The result was a bunch of wobbly sets filled with people (typically from Broadway shows) who come across as genuinely putting 110% into what they're doing.

DuMont was also unique in that it employed a potentially-money-saving advertising tactic of letting advertisers choose where their commercials ran, rather than do what the other three networks did and force a large number of stations on them.

In 1954, the network sold its de facto monopoly station in Pittsburgh (WDTV), which it used to get clearances in other markets, to Westinghouse [1] for $9.75 Million. Although the sale gave DuMont some much-needed cash, it also set off its downfall. Most of the lineup was dropped beginning in April 1955, and on September 23 the network's last regular series (a game show, What's The Story) aired for the last time. The only things left were sporting events, which continued to air sporadically over the next ten months.

Following the broadcast of Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena on August 6, 1956 (one retrospective claims it was only seen on five stations), DuMont went bust with the remaining network-owned stations (WABD, New York and WTTG, Washington) going independent and spun off into the company that eventually became Metromedia. 30 years later, Rupert Murdoch bought Metromedia's television operations from company creator John Kluge and established the FOX network, with the Fox Broadcasting Center right where WABD (now WNYW) sits — the former DuMont Tele-Centre. So in a way, DuMont became FOX...and proceeded to earn itself a different set of problems.

The network's founder, Allen B. DuMont, seemed to realize the benefits of keeping the network's programming as intact as possible, and admirably did so despite the general wipe-and-reuse practices of the era and the network's own ever-increasing money problems. That was for naught, however, as many kinescopes were trashed around 1958 for their silver content and the rest were dumped by three trucks into Upper New York Bay during the 1970s. As such, very little of the network's programming survives today; The Other Wiki has a list if you're so inclined.

Even with DuMont out of the picture by 1956, third-place ABC struggled through much of the 1950s and 1960s. It often landed on outlying stations (their Tusla-market station was in Muskogee, while their San Diego-market station was in Tijuana) or underpowered UHF stations. ABC finally turned the corner to being powerful enough to make a grab for the top spot in the 1970s.

Has no relation (that we're aware of) to DuPont, despite the rather similar logo.

While the network was mostly forgotten, there were a few later references of note:

Film

  • In Tron (released July 9, 1982), the crucial turning point is facilitated by an aged, near-abandoned information guardian named DuMont.

Live-Action TV

  • “You know, next year, we're on the DuMont network.” – Jay Leno on the first Emmy Awards to be broadcast on fledgling FOX TV, in 1987.
  • The Grand Finale [2] of Ellen (May 13, 1998) was presented as a Serious Business documentary by Linda Ellerbee about the fictional DeGeneres' long career. Clips were shown of Ellen hosting DuMont's 1954 game Who's The Commie? (with announcer John O'Hurley), apparent proof that the network was desperate to get some sort of ratings; Orson Bean recalled that he was skeptical about a woman hosting a game show, "But then the camera went on, and there she was — Bill Cullen with a rack". It apparently continued on WABD until about 1958 or so, as it was among those present in the quiz show scandal investigations... although Ellen was eventually cleared of said charges due to the "Commies" being generous people who liked jazz.

Magazines

  • There's the occasional cheap shot, such as the Mad Magazine parody of "Captain TVideo" (Issue 15, September 1954) which made it into one of the MAD books long after the original network was gone.

Web Original

  • A pair of historical websites, created by DJ Clarke Ingram at www.dumontnetwork.com and www.uhftelevision.com, document much of the "trail of bleached bones" of the third- and fourth-ranked Struggling Broadcasters of that era.
  1. (already the owner of radio station KDKA, which also became the new name for WDTV the next year)
  2. (by production order)