The Independent Producers and the Early Days of Television
Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen
For years the independent producers forecasted the oncoming of television.
Mary Pickford and Sam Goldwyn's public predictions began no later than 1934.
Their views spread amongst the independent population, and in a short time,
figured into the United Artists studios policy, serving as the infamous
deal-breaker that provoked Disney's exit from United Artists in 1937.
"Remember that term," Gunther Lessing
confided with Disney employees in the 1930s regarding television. "It's
going to play a big part in this studio someday."
Moreover in the early days as the television medium was being defined, SIMPP
considered it an important task of their members to be involved in the process
that would ultimately determine whether the future of TV was seen as an
appendage of broadcasting (radio-with-pictures) or as an extension of motion
pictures (movies-in-the-home). Obviously the producers had their own set of
aesthetic and economic opinions with a particular abhorrence of the reediting
mutilation common in commercial television programming, not to mention their
vehemence toward sponsor interruption that lowered their films' entertainment
Pay TV - Years Before Its Time
To overcome this, SIMPP favored subscription telecasting—fundamentally
similar to the modern pay television service—which the independent producers
referred to as "Pay-As-You-See" TV. Several subscription services
seemed practical, though primitive, including Phonevision, Telemeter
(coincidentally 50 percent owned by Paramount Pictures), and Skiatron's
Subscriber-Vision. SIMPP was pleased with the commercial possibilities of some
of these systems, especially the ones that transmitted a scrambled signal to a
decoder attached to a home television set. When the decoder was not in use, the
channel would show trailers for the movies to be purchased. SIMPP believed that
each territory should have at least one station devoted to Pay-As-You-See TV,
opening up a market for quality, uninterrupted film viewing in the living room.
In June 1951, the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers petitioned
the FCC to immediately "license worthy systems of subscription television
so as to afford the public a more abundant opportunity to enjoy quality feature
length motion picture, educational and cultural programs." Ellis
the petition in person, hoping to revolutionize the limitations of the
television medium and provide a way for producers to receive a percentage of
in-home movie-watching revenue.
Unfortunately the FCC was not willing to provide the go-ahead. The FCC and
Congress backed off of subscription television, afraid of inciting public
indignation that television sets were purchased with the understanding that TV
was free. Though SIMPP's efforts were unsuccessful at the time, as the
television market matured over the years, subscription television eventually
became a reality as envisioned by the independent organization.
For more of the Independent Producers' views on television see the following:
Pickford on television: Mary
Pickford, "The Big Bad Wolf Has Been Muzzled," from HR,
circa 1934, reprinted in Wilkerson and Borie, The Hollywood Reporter, the
Golden Years, pp. 234-236.
"Remember that term": Tytle, One of "Walt's
Boys," p. 113.
SIMPP subscriber television: "SIMPP Okays Pay-at-Home TB:
Asks FCC To License System," HR, June 28, 1951, pp. 1, 10;
"Indies Yen TV's Potential B. O.," DV, June 28, 1951, pp. 1,
10; "SIMPP and Television," MPH, July 7, 1951, p. 1; "Pay
Vision Gets Spur From SIMPP Stand," MPH, July 7, 1951, p. 17. Also,
in the mid-1950s, Walter Wanger was among the filmmakers who sat on the board of
directors for a closed-circuit, large-screen operation called Box Office
Television: see Bernstein, Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, p. 315.