Running across this series was something of a surprise for me, because it actually answers a question I’d never really thought to ask: What was the first Science Fiction Adventure series on American television? It turns out that the answer is a little known show that aired on the Dumont Network from 1949 to 1955 entitled Captain Video and his Video Rangers.
What’s that? You’ve never heard of it either? Well, there may be a good reason for that. You see, the show was aired live, and though there were apparently kinescopes made of the show, most of them were destroyed, along with a huge part of the Dumont Network’s video archives in the 1970s, just before the home video boom made such recordings so much more valuable. Today, only 24 episodes of the show are known to exist today, and they are held at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, which is the only place that you can view them, and only five episodes have been made available to the public.
One can only assume, however, that the show was quite popular in it’s heyday, as it lasted for six years, running originally Monday through Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, and then Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. ET. Also, there was a separate 30-minute spinoff series, The Secret Files of Captain Video, which aired on Saturday mornings, alternating with Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, from September 5, 1953 to May 29, 1954 for a total of 20 episodes.
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.
Of course, in keeping with the low budgets of most Dumont shows, the sets were extremely cheap, and, in one of the oddest cost saving moves I’ve ever heard of, about 10 minutes into the show, the captain would take time out from his adventure in order to check on the doings of his rangers here on earth, at which point, the show would abruptly switch to showing clips from old cowboy movies!
Talk about padding out your episodes.
Anyway, here’s one of the very early episodes of this groundbreaking series:
It really is a shame that this show is largely lost (like so much of our early television heritage), because I suspect if it were better known it would probably be something of a cult hit. What do you think?