Sunday, November 27, 2005

Ralph Edwards R.I.P.

Television pioneer Ralph Edwards died November 16, 2005 of congestive heart failure at the age of 92. For those of you who don't know woh Ralph Edwards is, he could be condsidered the father of reality television alongside Allen Funt (of Candid Camera fame) and Art Linklater. Among the shows he created were Truth or Consequences, This is Your Life, and The People's Court, the former two being some of the earliest examples of the reality format. For a man born on Friday the 13th, Edwards could not be described as unlucky.

Ralph Edwards was born on June 13, 1913 near Merino, Colorado. When he was 12 his family moved to Oakland, California. Edwards got his first job in radio in Oakland when he was all of 16. When attending the University of California in Berkley he worked at KROW and KFRC in San Francisco. It was in 1940 that he had his first big hit in radio, the show Truth or Consequencs. The format of the series was simple audience parcipitation. Contestants would have to tell the truth or face the consequences (usually some silly stunt or another). Truth or Consequences was wildly successful. In 1950 Hot Sprints, New Mexico voted to change their name to Truth or Consequences, after the famous show. Truth or Consequences may also have been the first reality show on television. It was also NBC's first commercial TV show. On July 1, 1941, the FCC approved commercial television broadcasts. That same month Truth or Consequnces aired on NBC-TV. World War II interrupted commercial television broadcasts and hence the first run of Truth or Consequnences, but it would return to television in 1950 for an unprecedented 38 year run.

Edwards's other famous creation, This is Your Life, debuted on radio as well. It ran on NBC from 1952 to 1961. This is Your Life featured guests who were tricked into being on the show, then being invited to reminisce about their lives with old friends and co-workers. The show featured guests who were celebrities as well as ordinary people. Among the famous people who appeared on the show were Gloria Swanson, Nat King Cole, Debbie Reyolds, Marlyn Monroe, Andy Griffith, and many others. The show has been revived a few times.

On btoh Truth or Consequnces and This is Your Life, Edwards was the host, although he would eventually hand the hosting chores off to someone else (in the case of Truth or Consequences, it was Bob Barker. He did not host his third famous creation, People's Court. Debuting in 1981, People's Court was one of the earliest shows which featured individuals going before a judge to solve their problems. Edwards also had a hand in many other shows, among them Name That Tune, Supeiror Court, and Wide Country.

Ralph Edwards was a true pioneer in the field of broadcasting. As I said earlier, alongside Allan Funt and Art Linklater he could be said to be the father of reality television. Truth or Consequences was among the earliest audience participation shows, while This is Your Life was one of the earliest shows to focus on the average person. I have never heard what Edwards thought of the current crop of reality shows, whether he liked them or not, but having grown up watching Truth or Consequences and This is Your Life, I think they were on the whole superior to the current crop of reality shows. While I do not know if I would like either show now (tastes do tend to change over the years), it does seem to me that they focused on fun and enjoyment rather than exploitation as many shows do today. Indeed, This is Your Life could even be uplifting. That is more than I think can be said for Fear Factor....

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