The fourth network from the early days of television in the United States, though actually the third to come to the air in 1946. note It eventually failed , as its problems included an FCC ruling restricting it because of part-ownership by Paramount (who also operated their own TV network on the West Coast); not having an associated radio network to bring over programs and performers (and absorb costs); a forced over-dependence on UHF stations in an era when all-channel tuning wasn't required on TV sets (and it wouldn't be until 1964); and aforementioned part-owners Paramount doing little to help the network to overcome these problems, and creating new ones of their own, partly because they feared the impact television would have on their main movie business. note
Today, DuMont is more of a footnote than anything else, usually brought up as a shorthand for "long-dead television network" and known for little else among the general public. The best-known series associated with the network are Captain Video and Cavalcade of Stars, the latter of which gave America Jackie Gleason, Art Carney and 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 Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen and respect from direct competitor Milton Berle.
Most, if not all, of DuMont's programs were produced on small budgets out of necessity rather than a conscious decision (again, Paramount refused to help and had stopped financially supporting the network in 1941), but the network 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, with a lot of now-famous faces gracing the lineup. DuMont's endearing charm, "gung-ho" attitude, general quirkiness, and abundant imagination resulted in being awesome on its best days and So Bad, It's Good on its worst even when nothing seems to go right, especially on a live show, they're at least trying... which is a lot more than can be said of some shows or networks today.
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. They also started the modern practice of selling advertising time to several sponsors per show due to their difficulty in attracting enough sponsors for their programs. note
Ironically, Paramount's former theater division, United Paramount Theatres note , purchased ABC in February 1953, and the steady revenue stream from movie theaters helped it quickly leapfrog DuMont to become the third network.
1953: The ABC-DuMont mergerLeonard Goldenson, president of UPT, struck up a deal with DuMont managing director Ted Bergmann a merged network called ABC-DuMont until at least 1958. The deal honored DuMont's network commitments and in exchange gave the network $5,000,000 cash, guaranteed advertising time for DuMont television sets, and a secure future for the network's staff.
The merged network owned stations in five of the six largest markets (the exception being Philadelphia) as well as ABC Radio and DuMont's de facto monopoly station in Pittsburgh (WDTV). However, it also had to sell a New York station (WABD or WJZ, both of which were network flagships) and two others (most likely ABC's two smallest O&Os, WXYZ and KGO) to meet the FCC's limit of five stations per owner.
...Except Paramount vetoed the plan almost out of hand due to antitrust concerns, as the FCC had ruled a few months earlier that Paramount controlled DuMont - and there were still doubts as to whether UPT had really separated from Paramount.
1954-56: The downfallIn late 1954, DuMont sold WDTV, which it used to get clearances in other large markets, to Westinghouse note for $9.75M. Although the sale gave DuMont some much-needed cash, it also set off the chain of events that led to the network's demise, as it no longer had its bargaining chip. By February 1955, DuMont execs realized that the network wasn't going to survive and opted to shut it down, leaving WABD and WTTG to be operated as independent stations.
Most of the lineup was dropped beginning in April; Sheen aired his last episode on the 26th and moved to ABC, where he remained until 1957. August brought even more problems by way of Paramount - the company, with the help of other stockholders, seized control of DuMont Laboratories in a boardroom coup and kicked out network creator/president Allen B. DuMont. 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 to keep the lights on were sporting events per prior commitments, 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 and the remaining network-owned stations (WABD, New York and WTTG, Washington) spun off into the DuMont Broadcasting Corporation.
1956-86: The aftermath (including the Metromedia years)In September 1958, after purchasing two New York radio stations (WNEW and WHFI), the DuMont Broadcasting Corporation was renamed the Metropolitan Broadcasting Company to distance itself from the failure of the DuMont network, with WABD renamed WNEW. The next year, John Kluge bought Paramount's shares for $4,000,000 and became Metropolitan's chairman; Kluge renamed the company "Metromedia" in 1961, although the "Metropolitan" name remained for the broadcasting division until 1967.
As the years progressed, Metromedia purchased more TV and radio stations as well as producing and distributing many series, most notably Truth or Consequences and The Cross Wits, plus the 1972-86 era of The Merv Griffin Show. They also distributed many of Aaron Spelling's series in syndication during the era.
After Paul Winchell sued Metromedia over the rights to his children's series Winchell-Mahoney Time, company management opted to destroy the tapes a mistake of epic proportions that resulted in Winchell being awarded $17.8M in compensation and punitive damages. note
In 1984, Kluge bought out Metromedia's shareholders and took the company private.
On March 6, 1986, nearly 30 years after DuMont folded, the Metromedia TV stations and Metromedia Producers Corp. were purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation for $3.5B and became the FOX network, with the Fox Television Center right where WABD (now WNYW) sits the former DuMont Tele-Centre (the Metromedia Telecenter during that era, and a set of exterior doors on the building have even retained the 1970s "double M" logo on the handles). Fox's TV division also took over production of Metromedia Producers' Small Wonder, their only series at the time.
PostscriptIt should be noted that Allen B. DuMont, the creator of the network, seemed to realize the benefits of keeping his network's programming library as intact as possible, and admirably did so despite the general practices of the era and the network's own escalating money issues. note That was for naught, however, as several of the kinescopes (both 35mm and 16mm ones) were destroyed by 1958 to reclaim the tiny amounts of silver that were within, and by the early 1970s the remaining library wound up in the hands of ABC, who ultimately loaded most (if not all) of the lot in three trucks and dumped it in New York City's Upper Bay to make room in their warehouse for more recent videotapes. This wasn't revealed until 1996, when comedian Edie Adams told a Library of Congress panel on video preservation what she discovered when she went to look for the Dumont programs starring her late husband Ernie Kovacs. As such, only an estimated 350 complete shows by the network survive; The Other Wiki has a list if you're so inclined, which also includes video links. Life is Worth Living was archived separately by Archbishop Sheen, and St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, New York inherited his collection, which is believed to be of its entire run, but that has not been confirmed. It is the only DuMont program suspected to be intact in its entirety.
While the network was mostly forgotten, there were a few later references of note:
- In TRON, the crucial turning point is facilitated by an aged, near-abandoned information guardian named DuMont.
- The 39th Primetime Emmy Awards in 1987 were the first to be broadcast on the then-fledging Fox network. Jay Leno joked during the proceedings that the show would be presented on the DuMont network next year, presumably unaware of the common history of both networks.
- The Grand Finale note of Ellen was presented as a Serious Business documentary by Linda Ellerbee about the fictional DeGeneres' long career. Clips were shown of Ellen hosting the DuMont game Who's the Commie? (with announcer John O'Hurley) in 1954, 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!"
- Mention is also made of how Commie and Ellen were implicated in the quiz show scandals, heavily suggesting it was a local WABD/WNEW series that replaced Sense and Nonsense (a 1951-54 kids show) and ended circa 1959 despite Ellen eventually being cleared of any charges (the "Commies" were actually generous people who liked jazz).
- The Family Guy episode "Death is a Bitch" quoted at the top of this page. For context, Death had to crash with the Griffins for a while to recover from a sprained ankle and he's trying to entertain himself while couch-ridden.
Also, DuMont has no relation (that we're aware of) to DuPont, despite the rather similar logo.