Comedy of the Commonplace: The Sitcom Genius of Peg Lynch

Television: A Burgeoning Technology

Television programs in the 1950s were mostly filmed and broadcast live. The majority of these live programs originated in New York City and were available in relatively high quality within broadcasting range. In addition, the networks had various affiliated stations linked by coaxial cable to receive their programming.

Kinescopes served areas outside network coaxial links; kinescopes could be shipped around the country to be aired by distant television stations. The term kinescope (from the Greek kinesis, movement, and scopein, to look at) originally meant a cathode ray tube, or picture tube, in early TV sets. Later, it described 16 mm film of a televised program. Kinescope recording involved pointing a camera at a television screen, where the live performance was being recorded, and storing it on 16 mm film. Kinescopes, although of low-grade quality, often fuzzy, could also serve as a record for sponsors and be played for occasional reruns. Later, with newer technology, recording could be done on 35 mm film, providing a better product for viewing.

Another aspect of television in the 1950s was that because shows were filmed live, often in front of a studio audience, and then aired live, actors might suffer some anxiety. While Peg Lynch as Ethel and Alan Bunce as Albert were relatively comfortable in this situation, some guest stars were not. Radio had allowed actors to read from a script; television did not. Live programming meant no re-takes, and miscues and mishaps were not uncommon. Peg Lynch recalled one instance where an actor simply walked off the set during filming, leaving her to ad lib and improvise. She said she was grateful he had only a small role.

Ethel and Albert’s popularity and fan base continued to grow, as evidenced by abundant newspaper reviews and magazine treatments; these she documented, along with her personal life and travels, in numerous scrapbooks that are on exhibit in Knight Library’s Special Collections and University Archives. Peg Lynch received huge amounts of fan mail, in which many writers relayed their sense of personal connection to the show; she managed to answer them all. Many considered her a friend and carried on an extensive correspondence with her.

After the last Ethel and Albert televised episode aired in 1956, Ethel and Albert resumed their lives again on radio as The Couple Next Door. By the end of her radio and television career, Peg Lynch had produced some 11,000 scripts.