Cult TV

Cult TV Essentials: Captain Video and His Video Rangers

Captain Video and His Video Rangers was an American science fiction television series, which was aired on the DuMont Television Network, and was the first series of its kind on American television.

The series aired between June 27, 1949 and April 1, 1955, originally Monday through Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, and then Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET. A separate 30-minute spinoff series, The Secret Files of Captain Video, aired Saturday mornings, alternating with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, from September 5, 1953 to May 29, 1954 for a total of 20 episodes.

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Set in the distant future, the series followed the adventures of a group of fighters for truth and justice, the Video Rangers, led by Captain Video. The Rangers operated from a secret base on a mountain top. Their uniforms resembled United States Army surplus with lightning bolts sewn on.

The Captain had a teen-age companion who was known only as the Video Ranger. Captain Video received his orders from the Commissioner of Public Safety, whose responsibilities took in the entire solar system as well as human colonies on planets around other stars. Captain Video was the first adventure hero explicitly designed (by DuMont’s idea-man Larry Menkin) for early live television. “I TOBOR” the robot was an important, semi-regular character on the program, and represents the first appearance of a robot in live televised science fiction; the character’s name was actually supposed to be “ROBOT I”, but the stencil with its name was applied to its costume backwards.

The show was broadcast live five to six days a week and was extremely popular with both children and adults. Because of the large adult audience, the usual network broadcast time of the daily series was 7 to 7:30 p.m. EST, leading off the “prime evening” time-block. For the last two seasons the show still aired at 7 p.m. ET, but was 15 minutes long. The production was hampered by a very low budget, and the Captain did not originally have a space ship of his own.

Until 1953, Captain Video’s live adventures occupied 20 minutes of each day’s 30-minute program time. About 10 minutes into each episode, a Video Ranger communications officer showed about 7 minutes of old cowboy movies. These were described by the communications officer, Ranger Rogers, as the adventures of Captain Video’s “undercover agents” on Earth.

A spinoff series, The Secret Files of Captain Video, ran from September 5, 1953 to May 29, 1954 on alternate Saturdays with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Each of these 20 30-minute broadcasts told a complete story.

Captain Video’s early opponent was Dr. Pauli, an inventor who wore gangster-style pinstripe suits, but spoke with the snarl of a movie Nazi or Soviet. Like the last few theatrical serials, the television series’ plots often involved inventions created by Captain Video or the evil genius, Dr. Pauli, but obviously made from hardware store odds and ends, with much double-talk regarding their fantastic properties. The series was originally broadcast from a studio in the building occupied by Wanamaker’s department store, and the production crew would simply go downstairs for props, often just a few minutes before air-time. Originally, only three Rangers were seen on camera: The Video Ranger; Ranger Rogers, the communications officer; and Ranger Gallagher. (These were also the only Rangers seen in the 1951 film serial version of the series.) As the budget increased, a larger roster of Rangers was briefly seen on TV.

Captain Video eventually had the use of three different space ships. In the first ship, the X-9 (later replaced briefly by the X-10), the crew at takeoff lay upon tilted bunk beds on their elbows, a posture based upon space-travel theories of the time. Later, the V-2 rocket-like Galaxy had an aircraft-style cockpit with reclining seats. The Captain’s final spacecraft, after early 1953, was the Galaxy II.

The other space-adventure series of the period were Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (DuMont), also broadcast live from New York City, and Space Patrol (ABC), broadcast live from Los Angeles. There were some suspicious plot similarities between the three — at times, Space Patrol seemed to be doing a West-Coast recreation of Captain Video’s latest adventure.

Al Hodge, who had created the role of Britt Reid, The Green Hornet on radio, is the Captain Video most original viewers of the series remember (1950–1955). However, the original Captain Video was Richard Coogan, who played the role for 17 months. The Video Ranger was played during the entire run by teen-aged Don Hastings, who later became a soap opera star.

During commercial breaks, DuMont aired special “Video Ranger messages”. These ranged from public service spots on morality and civics to advertisements for Video Ranger merchandise.[2] Many premiums were offered by sponsors of the show, including space helmets, secret code guns, flying saucer rings, decoder badges, photo-printing rings, and Viking rockets complete with launchers.

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