Dr. Wertham brought up the show Captain Video & His Video Rangers a couple of times in yesterday’s portion of Chapter 13 of Seduction Of The Innocent so I thought I’d introduce you to the show with the episode I checked out to prove how tame it was compared to Wertham’s ramblings. Or maybe I got the wrong episode? I doubt it would help. The first science fiction TV show, the serialized adventures of Captain Video and his friends first aired in 1949 and continued to air until 1955. The show was broadcast on the DuMont Television Network, and was sponsored by Post cereals, since at the time companies would sponsor a show like they did in the radio days rather than the multiple product commercial breaks we see today.
Set in the future unless it isn’t (long story), the main feature follows Captain Video’s attempts to bring peace and order to the outer space colonies. For some odd reason they padded out the show with a secondary serial made out of old cowboy movies DuMont had access to, hosted by one of Captain Video’s allies showing us some “special secret agents” on Earth…who were in the Old West for whatever reason. Sadly (unless you’re Dr. Wertham) only a few episodes still exist. Tonight we’re looking at episode 5, as the Video Rangers attempt to prove the validity of an intergalactic mail service to the colonies, which for reasons lost to the lost episodes a villain named Chauncey Everett is trying to take control over. It’s not a good quality video but it’s survived, which makes it better than most others.
It’s too bad that a show with a strong history (the first TV sci-fi show) was lost to time, especially considering these were serialized stories and this ends on a cliffhanger. How many art pieces, books, movies, shows, comics, and video games have been lost to the ages? It’s like nobody realizes when a new format is created that efforts to preserve them should be made. This has important sci-fi and television cultural significance, yet only a handful of episodes were saved by the UCLA Film Archives, and have made their way to other YouTube outlets. It’s a huge loss. How did it happen? According to Wikipedia:
DuMont’s film archive, consisting of kinescope (16 mm) and Electronicam (35 mm), was destroyed in the 1970s by Metromedia, the broadcast conglomerate that was the successor company to DuMont, thus dooming nearly all of its pioneering TV series to oblivion. To date, the person or persons responsible for ordering the destruction of the kinescopes and other recordings remains unknown.
Probably out of fear of angry letters. Why would you destroy old shows instead of repackage and re-air them, even in a time before home video and during the formation of cable channels hungry for content? The show has another honor to its name, the first TV show to be made into a 15 chapter movie serial, 1951’s Captain Video: Master Of The Stratosphere, in which Video and friends faced a threat from planet Atoma. Yes, Atoma. Like Atomic. It was the 1950s. Fawcett Comics, the creators of the original Captain Marvel, produced a line of comics based on the show. And it has been reference in the first episode of The Honeymooners and by others who remember growing up with the show.
However, this wasn’t necessarily a children’s show. It aired at 7 PM on Monday through Saturday (to over 1,000 episodes…down to 24–even Doctor Who got off better than that), only getting a Saturday morning spin-off, The Secret Files Of Captain Video, in 1953, only lasting 20 episodes. But of course there is that one group who thinks anything they don’t like and has any kind of fantasy has to be for kids. Science fiction took a lot time to shake off that stupid notion, and comics are just doing so, with video games still trying to prove there is something for everyone, and others thinking anime (Japanese animation) is the only animated production that isn’t for kids alone. I sometimes wonder about grown-ups, and I’m supposed to BE one.
Does the show deserve better? Given its cultural significance, heck yes it does! Some things only gain a reward when it’s too late to receive it. Does it deserve a remake? I don’t think modern TV could reclaim that spirit because modern Hollywood doesn’t know how, and outside of a neat homage I don’t know that it would capture an audience nowadays anyway. Still, it needs to be remembered for its part in television history. It deserves that much at least.