August 19, 1954
“Radio – Television”
By Burr Tillstrom
As told to Win Fanning, Post-Gazette Radio & TV Writer
Today we break precedent to present, almost in its entirety, a letter from the producer of a television program. It is a long letter, and to us a very sad one. It spells the temporary (we hope) departure of a good “friend” from network TV. Nothing so far produced on either commercial or so-called “educational” TV has touched the truly educational quality of “Kukla, Fran & Ollie.” We can only hope that our fellow lovers of KFO will express themselves to the networks in sufficient number to force the return of KFO to the National (and Pittsburgh, of course) airlanes.
August 19, 1954
According to some of the newspaper clippings that have come to our office during the past two months, the future of “Kukla, Fran & Ollie” is pretty cloudy and a little confused. I’ve read that we are to be a part of “Tonight,” “Home,” “Today,” the “Spectaculars,” or that we were moving to a local show, or that we will not be on television at all.
Since most of these reports have been based on rumor and conjecture, I thought it would be good to try to bring you up to date and to clear up the record from the Kulapolitan side of the story, at least.
A year ago when we began our second season of a half-hour show, once-a-week, I had grave doubts about the wisdom of continuing in that format. But, as Buelah Witch says, “A contract in the hand is worth two in the bush!”, and so we went into the season hoping that we could hold our own on a once-a-week basis.
We learned to be just a little sharper, to focus ideas, to time songs and situations in a cleaner way than was possible on the five-a-week schedule. But, unfortunately, this was not enough to satisfy us or (it appeared) our friends in the audience.
People all over the country continued to ask when we would “be on every night again,” and even more important, Fran and all the other backstage Kuklapolitans began to wonder what Kukla and Ollie did during the week . . . In other words, Kukla and Ollie almost ceased to exist for us except on Sundays, and even then, the format began to be too rigid for a real visit.
And so, after meeting with Fran, Beulah Zachary, Lew Gomavitz, Joe Lockwood and the other members of our production staff, I decided, last April, that “Kukla, Fran & Ollie” must somehow return to a daily spot on television or else go off the air. As you know, “KFO” has always been a work of love for all of us, and we couldn’t deliberately put the show in a position which would eventually destroy the fun for us and for our friends.
When the show was cut, two years ago, I was strongly against the change, but there were contracts involved and it seemed that a daily show was out of the question. In order to stay on the air at that time, I believed that we should at least try the half-hour format. Well, we’ve tried and it isn’t the answer.
From the beginning, “Kukla, Fran & Ollie” has been different from any other show, and if it is to remain a part of American television scene, it must preserve that difference which is part of its integrity.
“KFO” is not a spectacular, nor is it a situation comedy. It is not a CHILDREN’S SHOW, nor is it a CULTURE-CONSCIOUS PROGRAM for intellectual adults. It has a magic of its own which enchants not only the friends who watch it, but all of us who are responsible for its creation. It seems to attract all ages and all kinds of minds. We’ve never expected the largest audience in television, but we’ve had a consistently loyal and strong audience of moderate size. (As a matter of fact, when we ended our five-a-week show, two years ago, we had one of the top ratings for a strip.)
Kukla, Fran and Ollie have quiet voices and gentle ways. If we have any purpose on the American scene, it is to satirize in a a kindly way, our lives, the lives of people everywhere, to kid some of the little annoyances and foibles that often grow out of proportion in the world today. We can comment on what we see, and give our impressions of what we think and feel about contemporary happenings and people. We don’t try to EDUCATE, we don’t claim any overwhelming philosophical undertones. WE ONLY HOPE TO ENTERTAIN. (Our capitals—Editor).
And so, our position is this: If there is room for our kind of entertainment on television, then “away we go.” If not, then “KFO” will not be on the air.
Before I left on vacation, I made all of this very clear to all the networks. In other words, I told them we were available on some sort of daily basis. I had a most friendly meeting (in the interest of our possible participation on “Tonight.”)
I made it clear that we would move to New York if it was necessary. We also discussed a much more remote possibility on “Home.” As of this date, I have heard nary a word. However, I have had good news from our oldest friends in the business—WBKB, here in Chicago.
“Red” Quinlan who used to be Audio Man in “KFO” when we first started is now vice president of WBKB. John Mitchell who was station manager in those early days is now vice president of WABC-TV in New York. During the past year, both John and Red, together with Mr. John Balaban, have discussed with me our returning to WBKB on a daily basis, and when I returned from my vacation, we decided to explore this possibility further and at the moment are hoping to return to our original 7:00 p.m. spot for a 15-minute show nightly.
For the immediate future, this does not promise a large network, but we have hopes that we will be able to recapture many of the stations which have been so friendly and loyal during the past seven years. All the members of the Kuklapolitan organization feel that it’s far better to return to a strip basis even on a small network than to try to maintain a large network with the wrong kind of show.
Fran and the Kuklapolitans join me in all best wishes.