The Edsel Show
starring Bing Crosby
with Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney,
Louis Armstrong

and Lindsay Crosby and The Four Preps
Broadcast LIVE from CBS Television City in Hollywood
October 13, 1957

Read an article about the 50th anniversary of the Edsel in the Los Angeles Times (August 25, 2007)


What was the most infamous flop ever created by an American auto manufacturer? Ford Motor Company's 1958 EDSEL of course! Launched September 4, 1957 after years of hype and hoopla, the Edsel enjoyed a short-lived success, generating more showroom traffic on introduction day ("E" Day) than any other vehicle in history. Huge lines formed at spanking new Edsel dealerships across North America as the soaped-up windows were wiped clean to unveil "The Newest Thing On Wheels!"

Ford authorized a massive, star-studded network television spectacular to give their new Edsel maximum exposure. Bing Crosby was hired to host a LIVE jazz music extravaganza on CBS Television shortly after the Edsel's introduction. Crosby convinced pals Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, and Louis Armstrong to join him, with a "surprise" visit by Bob Hope. These well known and loved entertainers were at the peak of their careers at the time, and their presence virtually assured a massive audience. Indeed, "The Edsel Show" telecast was one of the highest rated and well regarded programs of the year.

But in spite of the popularity of "The Edsel Show" and the unprecedented publicity preceding the launch, the Edsel quickly lost favor as the new model failed to live up to the hype. The styling, while unique and interesting, was not widely accepted by the masses, and the car quickly became the butt of jokes. The top comedians of the day seized every opportunity to throw barbs at the Edsel's unique front grille. Roy Brown, Ford's head stylist in charge of the Edsel program, had designed a grille harkening back to the glory days of luxury cars of the 1930's to create a car "that could be instantly recognized from a block away." But the "horsecollar" shape was derided frequently on national television by comedian Bob Hope and others, relating the style to an "Olds sucking a lemon" and even worse as a very discreet part of the female anatomy! Ford attempted in vain to give the Edsel a fresh look over the next two model years, but the damage was irreparable. In November 1959, Ford Motor Company discontinued the Edsel and all remaining Edsel dealerships were either shuttered or converted to sell Ford's other brands. The unloved Edsel was history.


MORE ABOUT "THE EDSEL SHOW"

In order to appreciate the VERY SPECIAL nature of "The Edsel Show," you need to understand some television history. I'll do my best to make it understandable for the less technically inclined.

The "Kinescope" process

In the early days of television in the 1940's and 50's, TV broadcasts were either performed live in front of electronic television cameras or photographed on film with motion picture cameras. Before the introduction of videotape in the late 1950's, the only way to preserve a live broadcast was a crude process called "kinescope." The process was fairly simple: a film motion picture camera was placed in front of a studio television monitor and the "live" image and sound were archived on film.

Several things conspired to lower the quality of kinescopes, but the main culprit was the television monitors that were used for the kinescope filming. Those early monitors didn't compare to even the cheapest TV sets of today. They required frequent adjustments and were not very sharp. So the films recorded from these monitors were only as good as the image on the monitor, not to mention other degradation occuring from shooting a film off of a TV screen.

Unfortunately, most kinescope recordings are vastly inferior to the "live" original broadcasts. Many other television programs such as "I Love Lucy" were originally FILMED with motion picture film cameras rather than performed "live" in front of electronic television cameras. Those filmed programs look and sound superior to kinescopes even to the untrained eye.


The Time Zone dilemma

Because of the different time zones in the U.S., TV viewers in the Eastern zone watch most programs 3 hours earlier than viewers watching the same programs on the West Coast. For instance, a primetime program watched in New York or Detroit at 8pm would be rebroadcast on the West Coast 3 hours later so that viewers in the Pacific zone could also watch the program at 8pm.

In TV's early days, the only method for delaying "live" broadcasts was the "kinescope" process discussed earlier. The "live" broadcast was filmed off a television monitor at the network studio, then the film was quickly processed in time for projection and rebroadcast to the Pacific Time Zone 3 hours later. The dilemma was more easily dealt with on programs originally photographed on motion picture film: TV networks could broadcast identical film prints of those programs from their studios in New York and Los Angeles.

Unfortunately, West Coast viewers of delayed "live" programs saw vastly inferior 'kinescope" images on their television screen than everyone else in the nation. And of course, reruns of the original "live" broadcasts were seen only on kinescopes nationwide. Today, these kinescopes are the only surviving record of early television broadcasts.


The invention of Videotape

Research engineers at numerous companies including Ampex and RCA searched for a way of electronically recording images from television cameras so that the quality of the recording would be almost as good as the original "live" broadcast. Ampex Corporation of Redwood City, California successfully developed a process it called "Video Tape," and in fact actually held a copyright to that name for several years. Using 2" wide plastic film coated with a magnetic oxide, a massive Video Tape recorder (VTR) sucked the tape through the machine at 15" per second and electronically recorded the picture and sound with excellent quality. And unlike film, the reel of Video Tape could be erased and re-used.


VideoTape at CBS Television City and
"THE EDSEL SHOW"

"The Edsel Show" was chosen to be the very first CBS entertainment program to be broadcast live to the nation from Hollywood, then "tape-delayed" for re-broadcast in the Pacific Time Zone. The show was performed at CBS Television City in Hollywood from 4pm-5pm Pacific Time for live viewing from 7pm-8pm Eastern Time. The show was simultaneously recorded on Video Tape at Television City, then the tape was played back 3 hours later for West Coast viewers at 7pm Pacific Time. After the live broadcast, The Ford Motor Company hosted a lavish party at a Hollywood restaurant, where the cast and CBS and Ford execs wined and dined and watched the Video Tape playback of "The Edsel Show" to the West Coast. The evolution from kinescopes to VideoTape recording was underway!

Not wanting to risk a high profile failure of the new technology, CBS also created a kinescope "backup"of "The Edsel Show" which the engineers at Television City played simultaneously with the Video Tape. The plan was that if the Video Tape failed, CBS engineers could quickly switch to the kinescope "protection copy" of the show. Video Tape was a new technology and there was much to risk if it failed during such an important broadcast!

The Edsel car may have been a failure, but with the successful "tape delay" of "The Edsel Show," videotape was on its way to revolutionize broadcasting. And of course it has evolved into the video cassette machines and camcorders that have become part of our lives.

To find out how I discovered the master VideoTape of "The Edsel Show" click here
A link will be available to view a Quicktime movie clip from "The Edsel Show"


To visit my King of the Road home page, click here
Discover the first
COLOR videotape recording, and see my classic car collection.

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