The Chicago School

With Special Emphasis on Dave Garroway

(According to Time Magazine)

Curator's note: This article and photo appeared in the September 11th, 1950 edition of Time Magazine, shortly after the beginning of the fall television season. Network television remained in its infancy. But the Chicago product clearly had clearly influenced the medium---or at least the critics. The curator has added emphasis to several of the passages that follow. (And make sure you visit the "Best of Garroway at Large" page where you can download video highlights of one of the most remarkable "Chicago Shool" productions).

Right: Dave Garroway, an NBC-Chicago cameraman and members of the 'Garroway at Large' cast. Dave Garroway

With its orchestra, singers and dancers, straight man and comedian, Garroway at Large (Sun. 10 p.m., NBC-TV) might be just another TV variety show. But on the TV screen, something surprising happens. Last week, back on the air after a summer vacation, Garroway again demonstrated an out-of-the-ordinary pace, outlook and quality that TV men have some to consider characteristic of the whole "Chicago school" of television. Partly the difference lies in a freshness and informality. Partly it lies in a brash approach that encourages visual puns (e.g., after a harmonica quartet, Garroway is shown eating his way through an ear of corn).

Big, 37-year-old Dave Garroway, an amateur mechanic, gem cutter, tile-setter, photographer, bird fancier, cabinetmaker and bibliophile, says his scriptless show is planned by "four guys sitting around a table." The other three, all under 35, are Writer Charlie Andrews, an ex-hobo; Producer Ted Mills, an expatriate New Yorker; and Director Bill Hobin, an ex-drummer. The Garroway show's top council, with Burr Tillstrom (Kukla, Fran & Ollie) and Documentary Expert Ben Park, make up the brain trust of the close-knit argumentative group that has developed the Chicago school. Explains NBC's Chicago Station manager Jules Herbuveaux: "New York thinks there's nothing wrong with TV that the stage can't cure, and Hollywood thinks there's nothing wrong with TV that movies can't cure. Chicago goes its own way." The Chicago group's imaginative approach has been born of necessity. Lacking big budgets, elaborate equipment and big-name talent, they are forced to shortcut the elaborate. They specialize in what they call "simplified realism" and "ad-lib" drama. By banning studio audiences they can use the four walls of every set; short on cameras, booms and overhead trolleys, they never switch from one camera to another without good reason.

Out of these techniques have come such shows as Ben Park's Saturday Square, and Hawkins Falls, based on nearby Woodstock, Ill.; Ted Mills's Portrait of America and Crisis; Charlie Andrews' Studs' Place, which drew 4,000 letters of protest (mostly from New York and Philadelphia) when it was dropped last month, and the Ransom Sherman Show, dedicated to the incurable inefficiency of the American male.

Of such shows, thus far only Garroway at Large, sponsored by Congoleum-Nairn Corp., has been a conspicuous commercial success, but their total impact on TV has been enormous. Fred Allen, due to make his own TV bow this month, says: "The Chicago shows are making an effort to do something. They're short on money, short on talent, but long on inventiveness." And NBC's Herbuveaux, who believes in a change of pace, adds: "After half an hour of being neat over the head by New York, people enjoy a half-hour of leaning back with Chicago."

Many radiomen think the Chicago school is doomed. They see a parallel between what is happening in TV and what happened in radio in the '30's, when Chicago pioneered in low-budget dramas, documentaries like The Empire Builders, and situation comedies like Amos 'n' Andy, Fibber McGee & Molly and Vic and Sade. By 1937, almost 400 network shows a month were originating in Chicago for NBC alone. Then New York money and Hollywood climate and opportunities began to siphon off Chicago's talented radiomen, and most of the remaining shows degenerated into a mishmash of successful but seedy soap operas.

Dave Garroway, one of the first of Chicago's TV successes, may be one of the first to leave. Headed for a $250,000 income this year, he is reported considering a move to New York in 1951. Says he: "We'll move anywhere if they pay us enough money and give us legal assurance this show won't be hurt."

Curator's Note: 'Garroway at Large' ended its run in June, 1951. On January 14th, 1952 Dave Garroway became the first host of the Today show---which, of course, originated in New York. Click here to read Dave's New York Times obituary.

Introduction and main index to this site
WMAQ radio history | "Amos 'n' Andy" | "Fibber McGee and Mollie" | "The Breakfast Club"
Dick Kay | Television at the Merchandise Mart | 1970 television facilities tour | Channel 5 turns 20
The "Chicago School" of television | "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" | Dave Garroway | Mary Hartline
"Lights Out" | Sound effects | 1930 studio tour | WLS | "Empire Builders" | Barry Bernson
Floyd Kalber | The Queen of Love and Beauty | "Today's Children" | Staff announcers | Carol Marin
Ron Magers | Studs Terkel l "Chicago Tonight" | Channel 5 News scrapbooks |Roger Miller recalls
Zoo Parade | Clifton and Frayne Utley | Val Press | Len O'Connor | Johnny Erp | Bill Ray | Daddy-O
Experimental Television: 1930-1933 | Bob Deservi | Kermit Slobb | Ding Dong School | Quiz Kids
Bob Lemon | The Korshak Chronicles | KYW: The Chicago Years | WENR | O.B. Hanson | Renzo
Jack Eigen | Ed Grennan | The World's Best Cup of Coffee | Glenn Webster | Mr. Piano | Hawkins Falls
Chicago Television for Kids |
Radio Hall of Fame |The NBC News Night Report: 23 February, 1967
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