Although there is continual public muttering about the quality of children's TV shows on the air, the great fuss has been raised recently over shows which have either gone off the air or been shortened. Because young audiences are comparatively inarticulate, many good programs are dropped without public incident. But last month there was a historic outcry when the National Broadcasting Company cut Burr Tillstrom's Kukla, Fran and Ollie from a half hour to 15 minutes daily. In one week 3,000 letters protesting the truncation of the show poured into the network. The New York Times ran letters full of spluttering rage. "Who are the myopic numskulls with more authority than brains who would cram more baggy-pants comics, so-called, plunging necklines, horse operas and feeble crooners down our long-suffering gullets?" "The frustration of knowing what's right and looking at what's wrong - does this have to continue?" "NBC seems intent on taking away anything literate they may have stumbled onto in their early days." Playwright Robert E. Sherwood protested to NBC "the mutilation of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. . .The loss of this rare and remarkable program would be a calamity." Other fans offered to start a public sponsorship fund to preserve the half-hour format.
The reasons for dropping the Kuklapolitans are complicated by the economics of telecasting and the intricacies of network management. Despite the program's undeniable artistic excellence, it has not had a consistent commercial appeal to its sponsors. Advertising men give a variety of reasons for this. One is the odd fact that its audience is split approximately 60% into adults and 40% into youngsters from 4 to 10 years old - a difficult sales target for advertisers. Another is the fact that the program's novelty has worn off, although it is still extremely popular. A third is the youth and experimental aspect of the television industry in which sponsors do a great deal of shopping among various shows. Since it first went on network in 1948, Kukla, Fran and Ollie has had a succession of sponsors including RCA, Sealtest, Ford, National Biscuit, Pontiac, Procter & Gamble and LIFE. Today only National Biscuit and RCA remain.
In the midst of the Kuklapolitan turmoil it was announced that the sponsor
had removed from TV another outstanding children's program, the Sunday
afternoon Gabby Hayes Show, which dramatizes U.S. history.
Surveying such developments - and lamenting the passing of Mr. I. Magination
- New York Times Critic Jack Gould wrote, "An advertiser understandably
may want to reach only the largest possible audience, but a broadcaster
. . . has many different obligations, among them serving the minority.
Without continuing efforts to that end the broadcaster's concept of majority
rule in programming is only an illusory jest and a form of cultural totalitarianism.
. . Television cannot afford to forget the experience of radio, which carried
worship of ratings and polls to such an extreme that it finally had to
go out and buy audiences with the cash of giveaway shows."