Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Bell Telephone Hour

The Bell Telephone Hour was a musical-themed television series which aired on NBC from 1959 to 1968. It was telecast in color. Adapted from the radio series of the same name which ran on the NBC radio network from 1940 to 1958, The Bell Telephone Hour showcased the best in classical and Broadway music each week.

For much of the early part of its run, the show didn't have a weekly time slot; it usually had to share with another program, meaning it aired every other week.

By the mid-1960s, however, it had received a weekly time slot, usually on Friday or Saturday evenings. It became noted for its Christmas specials frequently featuring opera stars as well as stars of musical theater and ballet. In the fall of 1965, the show was switched to an earlier time slot - Sundays at 6:30 P.M. In 1967, the format changed from a videotaped and mostly musical presentation to filmed documentaries about classical musicians made on location. One of the most notable documentary programs combined a tour of the Prado, in Spain, with performances by such noted Spanish musicians as Andrés Segovia, Alicia de Larrocha, and Victoria de los Angeles. Another was a profile of Cleveland Orchestra conductor George Szell. This one was not a biography of Szell, but a documentary showing how he worked with the orchestra.

One of the last, and most notable episodes done in the videotape format, was "First Ladies of Opera", featuring Joan Sutherland, Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi and Birgit Nilsson, all on one program.

The name of the program was derived from its sponsor, Bell Telephone. Throughout its run, on both radio and television, the studio orchestra on the program was conducted by Donald Voorhees.