Sunday, August 21, 2016

You Are There (TV)

You are there(1953-57)
Created by
Goodman Ace
Presented by Walter Cronkite
IMDB Entry

In the early days of TV, the networks took their obligation to inform very seriously.  It wasn’t just news – it also included an obligation to teach history in an entertaining form.  You Are There was how CBS managed to meld history and entertainment, using a conceit that was brilliant.

The show covered historical events in what was (at that time) a modern manner.  It was set up as a news report from the event.  Walter Cronkite – not yet the CBS anchorman – would start the report by setting the scene.  Then, he’d go to reporters “at the scene.”

The entire thing was done as a straight news report without a hint of irony.  The reporters would give their report as if they actually were on the scene, speculating on what might happen and being surprised by events. 

The shows were a mixture of actors playing the roles, as well as stock footage.  The various reporters might show up on the scene – in modern clothes – and introduce it.  It would show the action, then return to Cronkite in the studio for a wrap-up.

Topics covered included the Hindenberg disaster, the Boston Tea Party, The Hamilton-Burr duel, the death of Socrates, they Dreyfuss Case, Benedict Arnold’s treason, and Napoleon’s abdication.  As the titles indicate, the show ranged throughout history to bring a sense of being an eyewitness to history.

Like many shows of the time, some of the actors and directors went on to have long careers.  Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer did a handful of shows, and actors who appeared included E. G. Marshall, DeForest Kelley, Whit Bissell,* Claude Akins, Dabbs Greet, Richard Kiley, Lorne Greene, Ray Walston, Jerry Paris, Tor Johnson, Fred Gwynne, Beatrice Straight, James Gregory, Charles Durning, David Jannsen, John Banner, John Cassavetes, Robert Culp, Peter Cushing, James Dean, Eartha Kitt, Burt Mustin,** Patrick McGoohan, Mildred Natwick, Rod Steiger, Joanne Woodward, Barbara Billingsly, Ray Collins, Simon Oakland, Frank Cady, Russell “The Professor” Johnson, William Schallert, Robert Vaughn, and Richard Dreyfuss***

I remember watching it at some point – either in the final season or in reruns.  I became interested in American history when my parents took me to Gettysburg, so this was right up my alley.

The show was created by radio legend Goodman Ace for the radio, though he had little to do with it on the air.

In 1971, it was decided to do a new version, in color.  Once again, Cronkite was the host, but it only lasted one year.

It was one of the joys of early TV and especially memorable is Walter Cronkite intoning “You are there” each episode.

*A very familiar face in 50s monster movies.

**Playing, unsurprisingly, “An Old Man.”

***I wasn’t going to list so many, but damn, that’s a lot of familiar names.  The show was the Law and Order of its time in giving actors employment.


Dwight Brown said...

" In 1971, it was decided to do a new version, in color. Once again, Cronkite was the host, but it only lasted one year."

Okay. I'm confused; I have vivid memories of occasionally* watching "You Are There", in color, on Saturday morning television after 1971. Did they re-run it? Am I confusing it with a different series?

* "Occasionally" because, while I absolutely loved the show (and would buy a DVD set today), my father believed that his children should spend their Saturday mornings cleaning up the yard or doing other useful tasks around the home, instead of watching Saturday morning television.

powers said...

Compelling TV series. I was too young for the 50s version but did purchase the dvds available which unfortunately does not include all episodes.

I was able to see the '71 version & loved it."The Alamo"with Fred Gwyne as Davy Crockett,and Amelia Earhart with a young & just starting out Richard Dreyfuss as a Naval radio operator both vividly stick out in my mind.
Sadly,I don't believe any episodes from this version are available at all.

I would love this series to be rebooted.We now have learned so much more information about historical events then we previously were aware of that a new show could cover past events we "thought we knew all about"in a new light.

Also,with the tremendous advancements in visual FX that can create awesome looking Virtual Sets,they could recreate stunningly realistic depictions from the earlier eras.

It was a fantastic and fun way to learn history and could be once again.

cka2nd said...

I could swear I saw a rebooted version of this in the 80's or 90's with a reporter on the streets of Constantinople after it fell to the Ottomans in 1453. I remember a small group (that limited TV budget) of Ottoman troops - perhaps Janissaries, but I don't know for sure - marching into the now fallen city, making a series of 90 degree turns, first one way, back to front, and then the other way, and repeating it. That image has always stayed with me. I also remember a group of peasants being interviewed in the fields of the much-shrunken city; according to Wikipedia, "The city was severely depopulated due to the general economic and territorial decline of the empire, and by 1453 consisted of a series of walled villages separated by vast fields encircled by the fifth-century Theodosian walls." and that description jibes with my memory of the introduction of the interview, with the reporter noting that the peasants, or their leaders, had made a deal with the Ottoman Sultan to stay out of the fight.

I might have tried watching another episode or two, but I remember being underwhelmed by the overall program because it was done in the style of and with the mindset of mainstream TV news, which I've been critical of for going on 40 years. I imagine I'd feel the same way if I saw some of Mike Wallace's early 1960's "Biography" TV shows, which I remember watching (Eva Peron!) in syndication during the 1970's.