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Series / Playhouse 90

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A dramatic Genre Anthology series which aired four seasons on CBS from 1956 to 1961. It was considered a serious and prestigious production. The title has nothing to do with The '90s; rather, it refers to the length of an episode: ninety minutes including commercials. (At the time, most live drama series were an hour long.)

Eleven of the 134 episodes were written by Rod Serling. Twenty-seven were directed by John Frankenheimer (who at one time was directing every third episode). Directors were permitted to choose their scripts, which was a rarity for programs of this type. Among the actors who had roles in multiple episodes are Peter Lorre, James Mason, Jack Palance, Mary Astor, and Sterling Hayden.

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Scripts for the series include adaptations (of novels, stage plays, and films) as well as original works; some of the latter were in turn adapted into theatrical films.


The following works originated as Playhouse 90 scripts and have their own trope pages:

Other episodes of Playhouse 90, and the series as a whole, provide examples of:

  • Based on a True Story: Several episodes are inspired, with varying degrees of embroidery, by then fairly-recent historical events. These include "Seven Against the Wall" (based on the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre), "The Plot to Kill Stalin," and "The Killers of Mussolini."
  • Broadcast Live: The series started out doing live broadcasts, then experimented with pre-recording certain scenes that would be too difficult to present live, and finally switched to entirely pre-taped programs.note 
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  • Death by Adaptation: Anselmo and Rafael are killed off in the adapted version of For Whom the Bell Tolls.
  • During the War: A frequent topic, in part because many of the creators were veterans. At least fifteen episodes are set during World War II or in the immediate aftermath.
  • Genre Anthology: An early example, focused on drama.
  • Musical Episode: On Christmas Day 1958, George Balanchine's production of The Nutcracker ballet was broadcast under the Playhouse 90 banner. The series was otherwise almost exclusively a showcase for straight drama. ("The Nutcracker" was also the only episode in color.)

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