Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Sears Radio Theater


Sears Radio Theater was a weeknight 1-hour radio drama series that debuted at the end of the 1970s, in the twilight of the the golden era when radio dramas were not endangered but doomed. Starting in February of 1979 a rotating set of hosts: Vincent Price, Andy Griffith, Lorne Greene, Cicely Tyson and Richard Widmak ushered in the last of radio theater. But as John Dunning wrote in the book The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, "It succeeded only in proving the sad fact that radio's day in the sun was over."

The first season on CBS ran into August airing comedies, mysteries, love stories, drama action and westerns  then went into re-runs. It was the last attempt to revive radio theater as serious ratings-producing network fodder. It failed. But it wasn't for lack of trying. Both Norman Corwin and Arch Oboler write scripts. Sears underwrote the first season of 130 episodes with a budget of $1.2 million dollars that's a $3.5 million budget today if you correct for inflation.

In 1980, Sears dropped out and the program moved to the Mutual Broadcasting System as Mutual Radio Theater. Richard Widmak was replaced by Howard Duff and then by Leonard Nimoy. The Mutual Network broadcast Sears re-runs until September of 1980. Then they tried their hand at a half-season of new episodes. Not even the digital deli has a good accounting of those last scripts. [source] In December of 1981 Mutual threw in the towel for good.

It was a very tumultuous time for Mutual. They unprofitable, and recognizing the problem, they were sold by Amway in 1983 to Doubleday broadcasting. The program seems to have come about int eh first place due to the influence of old radio talent, writers, programmers and other taste makers. These were people who knew better.. but were blinded by idealism.. possibly even romanticism for the golden era. But they were not alone. At it's peak the series was heard on 320 stations.. at the time it was over a third of the entire Mutual network.