This article is about the radio and television series. For other TV series sponsored by Ford Motor Company, see Ford Festival, Ford Startime, The Ford Show, and Ford Star Jubilee. For the site of the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, see Ford's Theatre. For the rock band see Ford Theatre (band)
Ford Theatre, spelled Ford Theater for the radio version and known as Ford Television Theatre for the TV version, was a radio and television anthology series broadcast in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. At various times the television series appeared on all three major television networks, while the radio version was broadcast on two separate networks and on two separate coasts. Ford Theatre was named for its sponsor, the Ford Motor Company, which had an earlier success with its concert music series, The Ford Sunday Evening Hour (1934-42).
Ford Theater as a radio series lasted for only two seasons. Its first season was broadcast from New York City on NBC with such actors as Ed Begley, Shirley Booth, Gary Merrill, Everett Sloane and Vicki Vola. This season ran from October 5, 1947 to June 27, 1948. Due to poor ratings, Ford moved the show to Hollywood and CBS for the second season, where top Hollywood actors headed the casts. This season, which lasted from October 8, 1948 to July 1, 1949, received much higher ratings. However, with television rising in popularity, Ford decided to end its radio show and focus solely on television.
The first Ford Theatre on U.S. television appeared on October 17, 1948, near the dawn of regularly scheduled prime time network programming. It was an hour-long drama, broadcast live, as was most television of the era. This series used primarily Broadway actors. The program began as a monthly series, switching to bi-weekly a year later, in alternation on Friday nights at 9pm Eastern time with the 54th Street Revue. During this period, programming included adaptations of Little Women, with June Lockhart and Kim Hunter, and One Sunday Afternoon, with Burgess Meredith and Hume Cronyn. During the following season, the final season for the program on CBS, the alternation in the same time slot was with Magnavox Theater.
A half-hour filmed Ford Theatre returned to the airwaves on NBC for the 1951-52 season on Thursday nights at 9:30pm Eastern. At this time production was moved from New York to Hollywood, and featured actors based there rather than on Broadway. Some of these programs were comedies instead of dramas. Performers appearing during this era included Frank Bank, Scott Brady, Claudette Colbert, Charles Coburn, Ed Hinton, Peter Lawford, Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell, Karen Sharpe, Ann Sheridan, Barry Sullivan and Beverly Washburn. Also appearing for the first time together were Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis, in an episode entitled "First Born", which first aired on February 3, 1953. In October 1954, Ford Theatre became the first network television series to be filmed regularly in color. During this period, Ford Theatre finished in the Nielsen ratings at #30 for the 1952-1953 season, #7 in 1953-1954, #9 in 1954-1955 and #13 in 1955-1956.
After four seasons on NBC, the program was shown for a final season on ABC during the 1956-57 season. The time slot was changed to Wednesdays at 9:30pm. The last prime time broadcast of Ford Theatre was on July 10, 1957.
In 1954, Billboard voted it the best filmed network television drama series.