Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You vill buy zee color teevee and you vill vatch!

From the Guardian UK comes an article by Corey Doctorow that has something to do with the BBC and some British agency called Ofcom and DRM and the auctioning off of British spectrum…

Right? Fascinating stuff?

But in the course of the commentary, he also tells the story of the transition in the US from B&W to color television. Even Werner Von Braun is involved!

And of course the space geek in me can’t let the Von Braun bit slide by without comment. Before I paste some of the article and share a video, I will say that the Von Braun part seems apocryphal. There is no doubt about his Nazi past but Disney's efforts to burnish his image as he took charge of the development of the Saturn V rocket would seem to require a little bit more documentation that Doctorow provides. Still, its an interesting story…

In the mid-1950s, NBC (a broadcaster whose parent company, RCA, made colour sets) began the process of rolling out colour broadcast apparatus across the nation.

But there was a problem: there was practically no colour programming. Broadcasters didn't want to commission colour broadcasts to transmit to a nation of black-and-white sets; viewers didn't have any reason to switch their sets to colour if everything being aired was in black-and-white.

There was one source of ready-made colour material that could have gone out over the airwaves: Hollywood had been shooting feature films and accompanying short subjects in colour for decades and had amassed a prodigious back-catalogue of material that might have jumpstarted the colour TV transition.

There was another problem, though: the studios hated TV, feared it, and would like to have seen it dead and dusted. It was the competition.

Until Walt Disney decided to build Disneyland, that is. To raise the $17m he needed to embark on a mad scheme called Disneyland, the company raised millions by opening their vaults to ABC.

In 1961, the Disney show moved the NBC, where its mission became the promotion of colour TV. The programme was eventually retitled Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, and each episode featured subjects that were apt to make the black-and-white viewer feel like she was missing out on something special, indeed.

The video below is a great example of the programing that they created. It features The Spectrum Song as performed by Ludwig Van Drake who Doctorow describes as a “remix of the Nazi war criminal and rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, whose reputation Disney had helped to rehabilitate with TV specials that presented the former SS Sturmbannf├╝hrer as a cuddly, daffy scientist who would help America win the space race.”

A great, pure sales pitch for color TV, hidden in an animated Nazi duck scientist. Again, it’s a gol’dang weird world.

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