Follow TV Tropes


Series / Captain Video

Go To

"Even outer space had maniacs. I learned this from a show called Captain Video, featuring a man named, oddly, Captain Video, a space pioneer in charge of an extremely low-budget spaceship that appeared to be made from materials that you might find around a TV studio. For example, the device he used for communicating back to the Earth was obviously a regular telephone; Captain Video held the handset as though it were a microphone and talked into the listening end."
Dave Barry, Dave Barry Does Japan

Live-action TV show (full title Captain Video and His Video Rangers) produced and aired on DuMont from 1949-55. Due to the limitations of technology at the time, Captain Video, like most shows of The '50s, was done live (i.e. what the cameras saw went out to the viewers).

The show followed the adventures of Captain Video, an agent of good who was billed at the opening of each show as the "Master of Time and Space" and an "e-lec-tronic wizard" who helped maintain peace on Earth and abroad, aided by the Video Rangers.

It was the first science-fiction TV show, something that was perpetually at odds with its strapped production budget. It's still occasionally mentioned by humor writer Dave Barry (see above), who was a huge fan as a kid, and especially loves to bring up the Captain's communicator just being a regular phone, which he attempted to disguise by talking into the listening end like a microphone. In fact, many of the Captain's things were simply whatever was handy. In The Forgotten Network, a book about DuMont, it's mentioned that the uniform Captain Video wears is modified Army surplus, and one of his weapons (a rather fearsome-looking gun) was made from a car muffler.

The list of writers for the show is pretty much a who's who of classic sci-fi: Isaac Asimov, James Blish, Arthur C. Clarke, Damon Knight, Robert Sheckley and Jack Vance are among those who wrote for the series.

Captain Video provides examples of:

  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: "Video Ranger messages" would air during the commercial breaks. When those weren't used to hawk Captain Video merchandise, they would be public service announcements on civics and morality. One example called for viewers to fight against racist and religious discrimination, which was rather forward-thinking for an early 1950s TV show.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Featured some scenes that were, in fact, supposed to be in space ships, in which the characters would wear crash helmets and goggles...since that's apparently all you need to survive in the depths of space if you have some kind of accident.
  • Breakout Character: Tobor was a recurring character in the series but grew in popularity as he was the first robot on television and he soon had to own film and unproduced tv series.
  • Captain Space, Defender of Earth!: Captain Video himself.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Fawcett Comics had a six-issue series in 1951.
  • The Film of the Series: More specifically, a serial. Columbia Pictures did a 15-chapter serial called Captain Video: Master of the Stratosphere in 1951. Despite a larger budget, it looked as cheap as the TV series. It was the only serial ever based on a TV series.
  • Fishbowl Helmet: The spacemen's helmets looked like inverted fishbowls. With this show's budget, they probably were.
  • Kid Sidekick: The Video Ranger.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Pauli
  • Not Quite Dead: Dr Pauli was killed off four times, only to be brought back each time due to fan demand.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The show was broadcast for most of its existence from a studio in the New York Wanamaker's department store building; the production crew often went downstairs a few minutes before airtime to get materials for the props.
  • Once an Episode: See Stock Footage below
  • Sdrawkcab Name: It featured a robot named Tobor. The stencil on its body was meant to read "ROBOT I" but was accidentally applied backwards, making it look like it read "I TOBOR".
  • Space Cadet: The Video Ranger
  • Splash of Color: In the serial, Captain Video and his Video Ranger often visit the planets of Atoma and Theros. Since the scenes for both were filmed at Bronson Canyon, they were distinguished by color tinting in the original prints: the Atoma scenes were pink and the Theros scenes were green. The rest of the scenes were in black-and-white.
  • Stock Footage: Probably the most bizarre part of each episode was the Video Ranger Broadcast, a Show Within a Show in which viewers saw some of Captain Video's agents at work on various parts of Earth. While a necessity (the footage ran for several minutes, allowing the actors to change outfits and/or get to another set, as well as providing cheap padding), it wouldn't have been nearly as bizarre had the footage not always come from cowboy films. This was a leftover from the initial concept of the series, which was to be a western movie slot hosted by Captain Video; by the time the show was retooled into a sci-fi program, DuMont had already paid for the rights to the films and the perpetually cash-strapped network didn't want the money to go to waste, hence the bizarre interludes.
  • Styrofoam Rocks: A struggle between the spunky sidekick and Villain of the Week tipped over one of the 'rocks', leaving its hollow construction facing the camera while the two actors 'subtly' tried to put it back while carrying on their fight.
  • Tin-Can Robot: Tobor.