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.
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:
- Days of Wine and Roses
- Heart of Darkness (1958)
- Judgment at Nuremberg
- The Miracle Worker
- Requiem for a Heavyweight
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
- 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.)