1928: First Television Drama

1931SeptTVNews1

Today, we take a look at one of the more pleasant events that took place on September 11, namely, the first television drama, which was aired 88 years ago today, on September 11, 1928.

28. On that date, radio station WGY in Schenectady, New York, carried the audio, with the visual broadcast carried by W2XAD, of the play The Queen’s Messenger by J. Hartley Manners. The play was chosen since it had only two characters, but still pushed the limits of the medium. Despite only two characters in the play, four actors were used, along with three cameras. Two of the cameras were focused on the main actors, and to remain in focus, the actors had to maintain a very exact position. The other camera focused on the hands of two other actors, who served as doubles and handled the props. When one character sipped a glass of wine, the hand doubles first poured into a glass in view of one camera. Then, another camera cut to the main actor’s face as they sipped from an identical glass. ┬áThe hand doubles, along with the props, are in the foreground of the picture above.

The “cameras” actually consisted of stationary photocells, and the subjects were lit by a “flying spot” projected through a spinning disc.

1931SeptTVNewsMakeupIn the photo above, the director, in the white shirt, can view all of the actors, and switches from camera to camera, viewing the end result on the monitor. Considerable experimenting had to be done with makeup until the choices shown here were settled upon. In addition to using colors that provided suitable contrasts, another problem was maintaining focus as one part of the face moved.

The entire process is described in detail in an article in the September-October 1931 issue of Television News.  The article also recounts a second production done a couple of years later, after which time the technology had advanced to a point where a more traditional stage could be used.

Outside the studios for the 1928 broadcast, the station had a series of radios and televsion receivers to allow as many members of the press as possible to watch. The broadcast was repeated, first during the day, probably for the benefit of the press, and then again at night for more distant televsion entusiasts to be able to pick it up. The station reported reception reports from as far west as the Pacific coast.

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