DuMont Television Network: Why An Innovative Broadcast Network Failed


Credit: Logopedia

From early on, broadcast television has been a lucrative business. CBS and NBC both saw their beginnings before World War II, with ABC launching in 1948. The rise of television in the 1940s and 50s was a success, as resources were steadily moved from radio to television. But with the launch of CBS, NBC, and ABC came the launch of a short-lived network: DuMont Television Network. 

Like NBC and CBS, DuMont Television Network first became programming in the New York area pre-World War II. However, it wasn’t until after the war until the networks would pull together enough programming to fill up a weekly schedule. This practice started gradually in the latter half of the 1940s; in the 1946-47 season, NBC and DuMont were the only two networks with weekly schedules filled with an abundant amount of prime time programming. In fact, that year DuMont was the only station with regularly scheduled programming on Tuesdays, though they ceded Sundays to NBC. 

By the 1947-48 season, ABC and CBS had made television a four-network competition. While very few ratings are available from the 1940s, we do know that DuMont came in fourth and last place in every operating season of the 1950s. They never scored a show in the top 30 of any season. Ultimately, DuMont Television Network shut down in August 1956, unable to compete with NBC, CBS, and ABC. 

Its downfall has been linked to the likes of FCC rules and the expenses of maintaining a television network. However, FOX was able to successfully launch in the late 1980s, even if its rise wasn’t immediate. There are arguably other factors that went wrong with DuMont Television Network, and led to its relatively fast demise. 


Let’s take a look, for example, into DuMont’s 1946-47 schedule. They didn’t program on Sundays, leaving most viewers around the country no option other than NBC. On Mondays, they aired a boxing program, Boxing from Jamaica Arena, from 9 pm to 11 pm (prime time was four hours long back then, but not all hours were always scheduled). NBC aired their own boxing program, Boxing from St. Nicholas Arena, from 8:30 pm to 11 pm. This means NBC’s boxing program had a half-hour head start advantage. NBC’s was just one of several programs airing in prime time on Mondays, while DuMont’s aired after local programming. By the time DuMont’s Boxing from Jamaica Arena started, NBC likely already had boxing fans captivated with their own boxing program. Perhaps the Wednesday version of Boxing from Jamaica Arena did better given more favorable circumstances, but Friday’s Wrestling from Jamaica Arena, airing after a rotating western movie, probably did not compete well with NBC’s prime time-closing Boxing from Madison Square Garden. The next season, they turned the hours back to the affiliates while NBC’s Boxing from Madison Square Garden continued.

Cash And Carry. Credit: Eyes Of A Generation

DuMont’s schedule was also rather erratic in the 1946-47 season. On Wednesdays, they ceded half an hour of programming to the affiliates smack in the middle of prime time. Midseason, they abandoned half an hour of prime time on Thursdays and expanded on Tuesdays by moving the game show Cash and Carry. Notable for being the first game show broadcast across all of a network’s multiple affiliates, Cash and Carry was moved across the schedule in its one year on the air. This begs a question that will go unanswered: Cash and Carry have accelerated the game show format that dominated television in the 1950s, putting DuMont on the map? 

Network Ownership/Lack Of A Radio Division

It’s arguable that NBC was the earliest network to dominate television because of their previous grasp on radio. CBS had a similar advantage, launching radio at roughly the same time but making a more gradual transition into television. ABC, for its part, didn’t launch on radio until 1943, but nevertheless had a radio division to its name before getting into television.

DuMont was strictly a television company. The network was owned by DuMont Laboratories, a television set manufacturer. There was no way to promote the network across company-owned radio stations. Unlike the other networks, DuMont also couldn’t adapt their own radio shows into network television series. This was a common practice at the time that led to some of television’s earliest hit series. DuMont was at a profound disadvantage in that they were essentially attempting to start a television network from the ground up. ABC, CBS, and NBC all had the necessary means to pour resources into the new entertainment medium. DuMont only had the television set sales from their parent company. They did air TV shows that were adapted from radio at times. However, if DuMont is adapting a show that CBS aired on radio, chances are CBS saw no need for the TV show on their own schedule. 


DuMont’s ratings woes were not for a lack of trying. As mentioned earlier, they gave viewers the first game show broadcast nationwide in Cash and Carry. They also aired 233 episodes of The Plainclothsman, notable for being broadcast’s first police procedural series. Captain Video and His Video Rangers is credited as the first sci-fi series, airing well over a thousand episodes. While NBC was dominating the ratings wars with variety series, DuMont was relatively silently churning out the earliest predecessors to the likes of Law & Order and Star Trek.

DuMont is also notable for being the first network to air national broadcasts of NFL games, airing NFL on DuMont starting in 1951. At the time, the NFL was still a growing league, with the first ever Super Bowl more than a decade away. DuMont was arguably ahead of the curve on bidding on NFL games. However, in 1954, NBC started airing Canadian football games to an even greater reach due to how many more affiliates NBC had than DuMont. By 1955, DuMont only had the rights to a few games. Reportedly, the last-standing DuMont’s affiliate final broadcast ended up being a high school football game. 

NFL on DuMont. Credit: Free The Kinescopes! via YouTube

In the 1954-55 TV season, DuMont was very clearly circling the drain. After all, it’s hard to provide quality programming to a network with financial woes. They started to air DuMont Evening News Monday though Friday at 7:15 pm, their third news show as a network after previously canceling the first two. Of the seven new series that premiered in 1954-55, six were unscripted, demonstrating the network’s tight budget. In addition, their slate of returning series became increasingly uninspiring, with titles including Opera Cameos and The Music Show.

DuMont did not have a national schedule for the 1955-56 season, choosing instead to cease operations. The network was not profitable and found no path to profitability in a time period where NBC, CBS, and ABC were increasingly captivating audiences. Despite television as a platform continuing to rise, it would be roughly 30 years before someone else dared launch a new broadcast network. 

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