The show began in 1956 broadcasting all live 90-minute plays, with only a sub-par kinescope film (film camera aimed at the live broadcast on the TV monitor) as an archive. The second year they began to film maybe every second or third episode (as a "made-for-TV-movie"), then in the last two years began videotaping many of the episodes. The tape technique was harder to spot because the broadcasts still appeared live, but there are at least partial tapes (of excellent, pristine, quality) in the CBS vaults of P90 episodes of "Days of Wine and Roses (1958)," "The Old Man (1958)," "Judgment At Nuremberg (1959)," "Alas, Babylon (1960)," and the final 'Playhouse 90' from 1960, "In The Prescence of Mine Enemies." Clips of these actual tapes were featured in the 2002 CBS special "50 Years of Television City in Hollywood.". See more »
"Playhouse 90" came as the grand finale of that elusive TV genre which precedes even my 44 years on this earth: the dramatic anthology. Prior to this one, anthology programs had existed on the infant medium for almost a decade. The networks had KRAFT TELEVISION THEATRE, FORD THEATRE, GOODYEAR PLAYHOUSE, and STUDIO ONE as early as 1948. They all had the same common goal: presentation of self-contained, live, dramatic stories, their quality rivaled only by the best of the Broadway stage. (It was no coincidence that many of these dramas were produced in New York.) While all previous series were only 30 and 60 minute episodes, P90 introduced something new: its show was done in the "Television City" studio in Hollywood, and it was a lavish, unheard of, *90* minutes. In those days a live play could exist on a sound-stage without a studio audience with intimate, claustrophobic, camera set-ups, and present over a span of 90 minutes, "The Plot To Kill Stalin;" "Bomber's Moon;" "Bitter Heritage;" "Requiem For A Heavyweight;" "No Time At All," "The Comedian," "The Helen Morgan Story," "Judgment At Nuremberg," and "The Miracle Worker" straight through, without second takes, and on a week-by-week basis!! Stories were adaptations by Hemingway and Faulkner, as well as originals by Reginald Rose, J.P. Miller, and Rod Serling- all with stellar actors and directors. Eventually some productions were filmed in kinescope or on location as TV-movies, but the productions I'd kill to see are the ones which initiated the first ever videotape. Because videotape was not up and running until late 1957, the P90 archive of plays is uneven. Most of the museum archive is still on kinescope (which you can see at one of the two MT&R television museums on the coast of your choice), but the good news is that many plays from the last two years of the series were captured on glorious black-and-white videotape- the medium which comes closest to simulating the original live broadcast. A CBS special in 2002 dusted off some of these tapes and aired- probably only for the second time ever- clips of 1958's "The Old Man" and "Days of Wine And Roses," 1959's "Judgment at Nuremberg," and the final P90 from 1960, "In The Prescence of Mine Enemies." I suspect, sadly, that these show quality tapes are probably tied up in copyright laws and cannot be shown publicly. The series was a short, brilliant blaze of Emmy-winning glory, and came to a crashing halt in 1961- one year before I was born. I miss it.
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