DuMont Television Network - History - The End

The End

During the early years of television, there was some measure of cooperation among the four major U.S. television networks. However, as television grew into a profitable business, an intense rivalry developed between the networks, just as it had in radio. NBC and CBS competed fiercely for viewers and advertising dollars, a contest neither underfunded DuMont nor ABC could hope to win. According to author Dennis Mazzocco, "NBC tried to make an arrangement with ABC and CBS to destroy the DuMont network." The plan was for NBC and CBS to exclusively offer ABC their most popular series after they had aired on the bigger networks. ABC became, in effect, a network of re-runs, and DuMont was shut out. ABC president Leonard Goldenson rejected NBC executive David Sarnoff's proposal, but "did not report it to the Justice Department".

DuMont survived the early 1950s only because of WDTV in Pittsburgh, the lone commercial VHF station in what was then the sixth-largest market. WDTV's only competition came from UHF stations and distant stations from Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; and Wheeling, West Virginia. No other commercial VHF station signed on in Pittsburgh until 1957, giving WDTV a de facto monopoly on television in the area. Since WDTV carried secondary affiliations with the other three networks, DuMont used this as a bargaining chip to get its programs cleared in other large markets.

Despite its severe financial straits, by 1953 DuMont appeared to be on its way to establishing itself as the third national network. DuMont programs aired live on 16 stations, but it could count on only seven primary stations—its three owned-and-operated stations ("O&Os"), plus WGN-TV in Chicago, KTTV in Los Angeles, KFEL-TV (now KWGN-TV) in Denver and WTVN-TV (now WSYX) in Columbus, Ohio. In contrast, ABC had a full complement of five O&Os, augmented by nine primary affiliates. ABC also had a radio network (it was descended from NBC's Blue Network) from which to draw revenue and affiliate loyalty. However, ABC had only 14 primary stations, while CBS and NBC had over 40 each. By 1953, ABC was badly overextended and on the verge of bankruptcy.

By this time, DuMont had begun to differentiate itself from NBC and CBS. It allowed its advertisers to choose the locations where their advertising ran, potentially saving them millions of dollars. By contrast, ABC operated like CBS and NBC, forcing advertisers to purchase a large "must-buy" list of stations.

ABC's fortunes were dramatically altered in February 1953, when the network was bought by United Paramount Theatres, which had recently spun off from Paramount Pictures. The merger provided ABC with a badly needed cash infusion, giving it the resources to provide a national television service on a scale approaching that of CBS and NBC. Through UPT president Leonard Goldenson, ABC also gained ties with the Hollywood studios that more than matched those DuMont's producers had with Broadway.

Realizing that the ABC-UPT deal put DuMont on life support, network officials were receptive to a merger offer from ABC. Goldenson quickly brokered a deal with Ted Bergmann, DuMont's managing director, under which the merged network would have been called "ABC-DuMont" until at least 1958 and would have honored all of DuMont's network commitments. In return, DuMont would get $5 million in cash, guaranteed advertising time for DuMont sets and a secure future for its staff. A merged ABC-DuMont would have been a colossus rivaling CBS and NBC, as it would have owned stations in five of the six largest U.S. television markets (excluding only Philadelphia) as well as ABC's radio network. It also would have inherited DuMont's de facto monopoly in Pittsburgh, and would have been one of two networks to wholly own a station in the nation's capital (the other being NBC). However, it would have had to sell a New York station — either DuMont's WABD or ABC flagship WJZ-TV (now WABC-TV). It also would have had to sell two other stations to get under the FCC's limit of five stations per owner.

However, Paramount vetoed the plan almost out of hand due to antitrust concerns. A few months earlier, the FCC had ruled that Paramount controlled DuMont, and there were still some questions about whether UPT had really separated from Paramount.

With no other way to readily obtain cash, DuMont sold WDTV to Westinghouse Electric Corporation for $9.75 million in late 1954. While this gave DuMont a short-term cash infusion, it eliminated the leverage the network had to get program clearances in other markets. Without its de facto monopoly in Pittsburgh, the company's advertising revenue shrank to less than half that of 1953. By February 1955, DuMont executives realized the company could not continue as a television network. It was decided to shut down network operations and operate WABD and WTTG as independents. On April 1, 1955, most of DuMont's entertainment programs were dropped. Bishop Sheen aired his last program on DuMont on April 26 and later moved to ABC. By May, just eight programs were left on the network, with only inexpensive shows and sporting events keeping what was left of the network going through the summer. The network also largely abandoned the use of the intercity network coaxial cable, on which it had spent $3 million in 1954 to transmit shows that mostly lacked station clearance.

In August, Paramount, with the help of other stockholders, seized full control of DuMont Laboratories. The last non-sports program on DuMont, the game show What's the Story, aired on September 23, 1955. After that, DuMont's network feed was used only for occasional sporting events. DuMont's last broadcast, a boxing match, aired on August 6, 1956. The date has also been reported as April 1950, September 1955, or August 4, 1958. According to one source, the final program aired on only five stations nationwide.

DuMont spun off WABD and WTTG as the "DuMont Broadcasting Corporation". The name was later changed to "Metropolitan Broadcasting Company" to distance the company from what was seen as a complete failure. In 1958, John Kluge bought Paramount's shares for $4 million, and renamed the company Metromedia in 1960. WABD became WNEW-TV and later WNYW; WTTG still broadcasts under its original call letters.

For 50 years, DuMont was the only major broadcast television network to go off the air, until UPN and the WB networks shut down in 2006 to merge and form the CW network.

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