The Edsel Show
By the mid- to late-1950s television was dominating the American living room. Sponsorship was a networks’ key form of programming support, and there were plenty of big companies willing to spend the money to get their names out there. Texaco, Colgate, Kraft, and many other corporations, sponsored entire programs that came with naming rights. Texaco Star Theater hit living rooms once a week from 1948 to 1956, but plenty of other advertisers sponsored one-shot specials.
The Edsel Show was a one-hour special broadcast on CBS on October 13, 1957. It was designed to promote Ford Motor Company’s new car, the 1958 Edsel. It preempted The Ed Sullivan Show, reaching a significant audience (reportedly some 50 million viewers). The variety show featured Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Rosemary Clooney, Bob Hope (as a mystery guest), as well as Lindsay Crosby (son of Bing), who performed with the Four Preps.
The special catapulted Bing’s career – he soon after signed a contract with ABC for two specials a year.
The Edsel Show was also CBS’ first entertainment program recorded on videotape. The show was performed live for the East coast and was rebroadcast in the Western part of the US a few hours later. Previously live shows would have to be recorded off a monitor screen onto film – a process called kinescoping – which resulted in a less than desirable second airing.
What the show didn’t do, however, was sell cars.The Edsel itself never gained much popularity. Some say it just came out a few years too late, while others say Ford over-hyped the product. Nonetheless, Ford had invested millions of dollars in the development, manufacturing and marketing of the car, which it abandoned after the 1960 model.
In her book, Girl Singer (1999), Rosemary Clooney described an embarrassing incident that occurred the afternoon of the show:
The only Edsel I ever saw was the one they gave me to drive while I was rehearsing. I came out of the CBS Building, up those little steps to the street where my purple Edsel was waiting, like Narmandie in drydock. Mr. Ford was right behind me, heading for his Edsel. I opened the door of my car and the handle came off. I turned to him, holding it out to him. “About your car…”
The show was interrupted by just a few 2+ minute ads about the Edsel. Here’s one of them:
Enough about the car, though. Take a look at this clip from the special:
There are dozens of videos on YouTube showing clips, comparisons (kinescope vs videotape) and advertising from The Edsel Show. Take some time on a Saturday afternoon to watch history being made.