Thursday, May 10, 2012

Paramount's 100th Anniversary Part Three

While dates vary according to the sources, in the mid to late spring of 1912 Paramount Pictures was founded as Famous Players Film Company. The company would grow until at one point it was the largest motion pictures concern in the world. It not only produced some of the greatest films of all time, but owned a large chain of theatres. In many ways the company invented Hollywood, as one of the first studios to emphasise stars and to develop the studio system. Paramount Pictures became well known for its comedies and released some of the greatest animated cartoons ever made by way of Fleischer Studios. The Supreme Court's decision in the case United States v. Paramount Pictures Inc. would force the company to divest itself of its theatre chain. Due to this and other factors, Paramount Pictures Inc. would find itself struggling to survive in the Fifties and Sixties.

Much of the reason Paramount Pictures Inc. grew into one of the biggest of the major studios, perhaps surpassed only by MGM during the Golden Age of Hollywood, is that the company was often willing to take risks the other studios would not. Indeed, Paramount Pictures Inc. was the first studio to become involved in the medium of television. Paramount was actually on the ground floor of what would become one of the most powerful television networks in the world, when it was only a fledgeling radio network. In 1929 Paramount obtained 50% interest in the brand new Columbia Broadcasting System. Paramount would not own part of CBS for long. In 1931, with the studio hit hard by the Great Depression, Paramount sold its 50% interest in CBS back to the network.

Despite the fact that Paramount gave up its stake in CBS, it would still play an important role in the history of television. It was in 1938 that Paramount bought a stake in television manufacturer DuMont Laboratories for $200,000 in cash and loans. In 1939 Paramount started an experimental station in Los Angeles which would later become KTLA and an experimental station in Chicago that would later become WBBM-TV.  In 1940 DuMont would build its own experimental station in New York City, W2XWV. W2XWV was only New York City's second television station (after NBC's W2XBS, now WNBT) and would eventually become WABD. DuMont's experimental station W2XWV was its first step in its planned television network.

That network would become a reality. It was on 15 August 1946 that DuMont launched what Newsweek at the time referred to it as "...the country's first permanent commercial television network." Regardless, DuMont would have a troubled history. DuMont's association with Paramount would hamper its growth. The FCC had ruled that any given company could only own and operate a maximum of five stations. Because Paramount owned two stations of its own and owned shares in DuMont, the DuMont Television Network was restricted to owning only three stations. Sadly, Paramount refused to sell its shares in DuMont, which would have allowed the DuMont Television Network to own the maximum of five stations.

Strangely enough, even though Paramount owned shares in DuMont, it went ahead with plans to create its own television network. It was in January 1949 that the Paramount Television Network was launched. Like the DuMont Television Network, the Paramount Television Network would effectively be hampered by the shares the studio owned in DuMont. Because of the FCC rule that any given company could own only five stations, the Paramount Television Network was restricted to two.

In the end neither the Paramount Television Network nor the DuMont Television Network would survive. As to the Paramount Television Network, it would schedule far fewer hours of programming and have far fewer affiliates than even DuMont and ABC, the smallest of the four major television networks. The Paramount Television Network would stagger along until 1953, when it finally ceased operations. Even given the disadvantage of being able to own three stations, there was a time when the DuMont Television Network could have beat ABC to become the United States' third network. Unfortunately, a spectre from Paramount's past would insure this would not happen. It was in 1953 that Paramount's old theatre chain, the now independent United Paramount Theatres, merged with ABC. Following the merger of United Paramount Theatres and ABC, ABC-UPT proposed a merger with DuMont that would have created a network to rival CBS and NBC. Paramount vetoed the plan, as it could have raised doubts as to whether United Paramount Theatres had really separated from Paramount.

Ultimately ABC's merger with United Paramount Theatres gave ABC the cash to finally compete with CBS and NBC. Constantly short of cash, the DuMont Television Network struggled to survive until August 1955 Paramount and other stockholders seized control of the company. It broadcast its last regularly scheduled programme, What's the Story, on 23 September 1955. Afterwards only sporting events would air on the network. Even this would not last. On 6 August 1956 DuMont made its last broadcast, that of a boxing match.

As history shows, DuMont would not be the last television network in which Paramount was involved. In 1974 then Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Pictures Barry Diller proposed the idea of a fourth broadcast network to Paramount's board. The planned network, the Paramount Television Service (PTVS) would broadcast only one night a week. Plans were made for PTVS to launch in April or May 1978. Unfortunately, the Paramount Television Service would never come into being. Only six months before the new network was set to launch, Paramount aborted the project.

Paramount would successfully launch its own network in the Nineties. In 1994 Chris-Craft Industries would join forces with Paramount Pictures to create the United Paramount Network (UPN). Unfortunately UPN's survival would be complicated by the fact that Warner Brothers would launch its own network, The WB, at the same time. In the beginning UPN was slightly ahead of The WB in ratings, a situation that would change when UPN made some tactical errors in programming. In 2000 Viacom, Paramount's parent company, would buy out Chris-Craft Industries' shares in UPN, giving Paramount sole control over the network. In 2005 UPN would cease to be a Paramount company. In that year Viacom, which owned both Paramount and CBS, split into two companies--Viacom and CBS Corporation. Viacom retained ownership of Paramount and CBS Corporation retained ownership of UPN. Regardless, UPN did not last much longer as it was. In 2006 Warner Brothers and CBS Corporation shut down both UPN and The WB in order to start a new network, The CW. Regardless, in its nearly eleven years of existence, UPN proved more successful than either DuMont or the Paramount Television Network.

Strangely enough given its importance in television broadcast history, beyond programmes produced for the Paramount Television Network, Paramount would not be heavily involved in the production of television programmes until the late Sixties. In the Fifties Paramount made very little effort to produce television shows. In 1952 Paramount produced the syndicated series Cowboy G-Men in conjunction with the Mutual Broadcasting System, using the name "Telemount" for the television production company. In 1957 Paramount produced the sitcom Sally, which aired on NBC. Once more this was done under the name Telemount. Paramount would not produce any more television programmes until the late Sixties.

In the end it would be a corporate takeover that would result in Paramount re-entering television production. In 1966 Paramount Pictures was sold to Gulf + Western Industries Corporation. In 1967 Gulf + Western bought Desilu Productions from Lucille Ball. The legendary television production company had not only produced I Love Lucy, but such classic shows as Our Miss Brooks, The Untouchables, Star Trek, and Mission: Impossible. Gulf + Western would re-incorporate Desilu Productions as Paramount Television. Paramount Television would continue producing those Desilu shows still on the air, including Star Trek and Mission: Impossible (both of which would become important franchises for Paramount). In the following years Paramount Television would produce such shows as The Odd Couple, Happy Days, Cheers, MacGyver, the various Star Trek series, and NCIS.

Unfortunately, Paramount Television would not remain with Paramount. When Viacom was split into Viacom and CBS Corporation in 2006, it was CBS Corporation who retained ownership of Paramount Television. Initially called CBS Paramount Television, it would be renamed CBS Television Studios in 2009. Paramount would return to television. Paramount would join forces with Trifecta Entertainment & Media to distribute what remains of the Paramount and Republic film libraries. In 2009 Paramount, MGM, and Lionsgate together launched the Epix premium cable channel.

Even as Paramount Pictures ventured into television in the Fifties, the studio was going into decline. The company cut costs and even released its stars from their contracts. While it would be the last studio to do so, Paramount would even sell much of its library of films made between 1929 and 1949.  In 1958 talent agency MCA bought 764 titles from Paramount for $50 million, a deal that included many of the studio's classics, including such films as Death Takes a Holiday (1934), Double Indemnity (1944), many of the Marx Brothers' movies, and many of Bob Hope's movies. In 1962 MCA bought rival studio Universal Studios. As a result Universal has controlled the rights to the majority of the Paramount films made between 1929 and 1949.

While the sale of Paramount's library of films from 1929 to 1949 to MCA would provide the studio with a good deal of cash in the short run, in the end it was probably a mistake. By 1965 alone MCA had grossed a reported $70 million on the films in the Paramount library simply by selling the right to show the movies to local stations alone. Universal would make even more money from Paramount's 1929 to 1949 library with the advent of VHS tapes and later DVDs. MCA and later Universal would not simply make money from the Paramount library through television syndication, VHS tapes, and DVDs. The films in the Paramount library would also provide the basis for TV series and remakes. In 1962 Revue Studios (MCA's television production company) debuted a TV series based on the classic Paramount feature Going My Way. Universal would remake a few classic Paramount films. The Magnificent Fraud (1939) was remade as Moon Over Paradour (1988).  Death Takes a Holiday was remade as Meet Joe Black (1998). While Paramount's sale of its 1929-1949 library to MCA gave it a good deal of cash, it could have made much more money at a time when the studio really needed it had it simply held onto its library and marketed it to TV stations itself.

Paramount Pictures would continue to decline until the late Sixties, when at last the studio began to recover. Starting in the late Sixties and continuing into the Seventies, Paramount would release a number of hit movies, including Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Odd Couple (1968), The Italian Job (1969), The Godfather (1972), and Chinatown (1974). The company would also profit from finally entering television production. Over the years Paramount Television would produce several hit TV series, from The Odd Couple to NCIS. Paramount Pictures would continue its success into the 21st Century, releasing such films as Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), Footloose (1984), Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), Ghost (1990), Forrest Gump (1994), Titanic (1997), and Dreamgirls (2006). Paramount was able to make a good deal of money capitalising on old television shows it had inherited from Desilu. Both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible became movie franchises for the studio. The Untouchables provided the basis for the 1987 movie of the same name.

Of course, through the years Paramount Pictures would undergo changes in ownership. In 1966. Gulf+Western acquired Paramount. Paramount Pictures would prove so important to Gulf+Western that in 1989 the conglomerate renamed itself Paramount Communications. In 1994 Viacom took over Paramount Communications. In 1999 Viacom would also acquire the television network CBS. Viacom would split into two companies in 2006--Viacom and CBS Corporation Inc. CBS Corporation would gain control of companies once controlled by Paramount, namely Paramount Television and UPN.

At 100 years of age Paramount has had a long and often illustrious history. Following its founding in 1912 the company became the most powerful studio in Hollywood in little over a decade. In the process Paramount virtually created the concept of the movie star and helped create the studio system that dominated the movie industry in the Golden Age of Hollywood. From the beginning it was one of the first studios to specialise in feature films. During the Great Depression Paramount would go bankrupt, but it would continue to produce some of the greatest films ever made. Eventually Paramount would recover from bankruptcy, to become once more one of the most powerful studios in the world. Paramount would venture further into television broadcasting than any other studio. And while its fortunes would decline in the Fifties and Sixties, it would once more become one of the biggest studios in the world.

In the end Paramount would survive while other major studios from the Golden Age of Hollywood would not. While the company would not always adapt to the changing times (the sale of its 1929-1949 library was a grave error in retrospect), the company always displayed a resiliency that many of its competitors did not. After all, it took  resiliency to recover from bankruptcy in the Thirties and later to recover from a decline that lasted from the Fifties into the Sixties. At the same time Paramount would show a willingness to take risks that many of its rivals did not. While its ventures into television broadcasting would not always prove successful, they were daring moves on the part of the studio nonetheless.

Ultimately, it can be argued that Paramount Pictures produced more classic films than any other studio, even MGM. It produced the first Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Wings (1927). It also produced some of the greatest films from some of the best directors ever to live, including Cecil B. DeMille, Ernst Lubitsch, Josef von Sternberg, Mitchell Leisen, Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, and Alfred Hitchcock. The studio would become known for its comedies, producing everything from the sophisticated comedies of Preston Sturges to the farcical "Road to..." films to the slapstick of Jerry Lewis' movies. Having survived into the 21st Century, Paramount Pictures continues to create hit films, from Star Trek (2009) to The Adventures of Tintin (2011). It is safe to say that Paramount Pictures could well survive for another 100 years.

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