Captain Video! Master of space! Hero of science! Captain of the Video Rangers! Operating from his secret mountain headquarters on the planet Earth, Captain Video rallies men of good will everywhere. As he rockets from planet to planet, let us follow the champion of justice, truth, and freedom throughout the universe!
Captain Video and His Video Rangers premiered on June 27, 1949 on the DuMont Network, and was the first science fiction, space adventure program on television. It created many of the staples of children’s programming, such as the inclusion of inexpensive film clips and pointed moral lessons, Captain Video capitalized upon the public fascination with science and space to create the longest running science fiction show in early television.
Set in the year 2254, the show was an ambitious undertaking--it was live, technically demanding, and aired as a continuing serial every evening from 7:00 to 7:30 P.M. Since the show was done live, there was no chance to do any editing or addition of special effects after the show was filmed. This often resulted in the scripts having to contain long bits of exposition to allow time to set-up any sort of special effect.
The lack of sustained action was the reason for using clips from the DuMont film library. In a typical program, as the conflict subsided for a moment, Captain Video (played by Richard Coogan) would turn to his Remote Tele-Carrier, or inexplicably the show would switch to Ranger Headquarters, which would then show the exploits of the other “Video Rangers” (often cowboys such as Bob Steele and Sunset Carson in Western films). These clips always involved action sequences and helped to pick up the pace of the show and as well as allow time for the production crew to change sets and set up special effects. Other breaks between scenes were filled with Ranger Messages. While messages on other children's programs would focus on children's issues such as safely crossing the street, Ranger Messages dealt with more global issues such as freedom, the Golden Rule, and nondiscrimination.
As the "Master of Science," Captain Video was a technological genius, who invented a variety of devices including the Opticon Scillometer, a long-range, X-ray machine used to see through walls; the Discatron, a portable television screen which served as an intercom; and the Radio Scillograph, a palm-sized, two-way radio. With public concerns about violence in television programming, Captain Video's weapons were never lethal but were designed to capture his opponents (a Cosmic Ray Vibrator, a static beam of electricity able to paralyze its target; an Atomic Disintegrator Rifle; and the Electronic Strait Jacket, which placed captives in invisible restraints). In testimony before Senator Estes Kefauver's subcommittee probing the connection between television violence and juvenile delinquency it was noted that the word "kill" was not even used on the show.
Although Captain Video fought a wide array of enemies, the most clever and persistent was the deranged scientist Dr. Pauli. The battles were originally earthbound with Captain Video circling the globe in his jet the X-9 to thwart the plans of Dr. Pauli who joined forces with other villains, such as the evil Heng Foo Sueeng. However, in response to other science fiction competitors, in 1951 Captain Video began to patrol the universe in his brand-new spaceship Galaxy and battle aliens under the auspices of the Solar Council of the Interplanetary Alliance. He encountered such notable villains as Clumsy McGee, who was an inept Martian, Norgola (played by Ernest Borgnine) who turned the sun's energy into magnetic forces, and Torbor the evil robot.
The audience was exceptionally involved in the show, often writing to oppose plot developments or to suggest new inventions. For example, Tobor and Dr. Pauli were destroyed when their schemes backfired, but the opposition of the viewers was great enough to bring them back in later episodes. Young viewers were also encouraged to join the Video Rangers Club and to buy Captain Video merchandise, including helmets, toy rockets, games, and records. In an early bit of corporate synergy, Ed Norton on the DuMont-produced The Honeymooners was a huge Captain Video fan. A fifteen-chapter movie serial, Captain Video, Master of the Stratosphere, was the first attempt by Hollywood to capitalize on a television program.
Captain Video and His Video Rangers finally left the air on April 1, 1955, shortly before the DuMont network itself went out of business. Only six kinescope films remain of the more than 1,500 episodes that aired.