Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Big Top

Just spent the last twenty minutes reading a web site devoted to "The Big Top," a CBS-TV network program that was broadcast in the 1950's. It was a circus-type program, done live from an armory in Camden NJ every Saturday noon. In those days, "live" meant, well, live; while you were doing something in front of a camera, people were watching you at the same time in their homes.

As I remember the show, it had the "spec," the opening parade of performers, followed by circus acts of all types. There was even a circus band and Sealtest ("Get the best, get the best, get Sealtest") was the sponsor. It must have been a bear to broadcast, as the whole thing was actually a tv show which had a start and end time, camera angles and such. A much younger Ed McMahon was one of the clowns in his first national tv exposure; in those early (1953) days, anything on national tv would be your first exposure.

"The Big Top" was a big show, the kind of challenge that broadcasters rise to; in its day, perhaps the Mount Everest for producers and directors alike. ABC, always the fourth of the three networks, had "Super Circus," which seemed like the poor cousin, the not-quite-there version. It was on a stage with a studio audience and had three glass candy jars on stage; at one point, three or four children could stick their hands in the jars and take as many pennies, nickels or dimes as they could grab. The acts were ok, but you never had the feeling you got from "The Big Top": This was a Real Circus, this was in a large armory, this had a ringmaster on the floor rather than on the edge of a stage.

They did it right. Too bad they don't do it anymore.

7 Comments:

Blogger Cold Josh Vail said...

Tom, you must be older than me, as I do not remember that show.

July 20, 2006 5:58 AM  
Anonymous ruthc said...

I, too, remember that show---and I've hated the circus because of it ever since! You see, I was a very little girl who could not tell time. I wanted to watch the next show and knew that if I stayed put I could. But when the performers were on the flying trapeze or high wire I was so scared.
To this day I can't bring myself to go to the circus.

July 21, 2006 2:31 PM  
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