Texaco Star Theater (Milton Berle)
Texaco Star Theater was one of the first successful examples of American television broadcasting, remembered as the show that gave Milton Berle the nickname "Mr. Television.” On television, continuing a practice long established in radio, Texaco included its brand name in the show title. When the television version launched on June 8, 1948, Texaco also made sure its employees were featured prominently throughout the hour, usually appearing as smiling "guardian angels" performing good deeds of one or another kind, and a quartet of Texaco singers opened each week's show with the theme song.
They didn't settle on Berle as the permanent host right away. He hosted the first television Texaco Star Theater in June 1948 but was originally part of a rotation of hosts (Berle himself had only a four-week contract). Comedian Jack Carter was host for August. Berle was named the permanent host that fall.
He was a smash once the new full season began, Texaco Star Theater hitting ratings as high as 80 and owning Tuesday night for NBC from 8–9 p.m. ET. And, as the show landed a pair of Emmy Awards in that first year (the show itself, for Best Kinescope Show; and, Berle as Most Outstanding Kinescoped Personality), Uncle Miltie (he first called himself by that name ad-libbing at the end of a 1949 broadcast) joked, preened, pratfell, danced, costumed, and clowned his way to stardom, with Americans discovering television as a technological marvel and entertainment medium seeming to bring the country to a dead stop every Tuesday night, just to see what the madcap Berle might pull next.
With Berle at the helm, Texaco Star Theater was credited heavily with driving American television set sales heavily; the number of TV sets sold during Berle's run on the show was said to have grown from 500,000 his first year on the tube to over 30 million when the show ended in 1956. Texaco Star Theater was also the highest rated television show of the 1950–1951 television season, the first season in which the Nielsen ratings were used.
As phenomenally popular as Texaco Star Theater was, it was hardly an undisturbed appeal. "Berle presented himself as one part buffoon and one part consummate, professional entertainer—a kind of veteran of the Borscht Belt trenches," the Museum of Broadcast Communications would observe decades after the show left the air. "Yet even within his shows' sanctioned exhibitionism, some of Berle's behavior could cross the line from affability to effrontery. At its worst, the underlying tone of the Berle programs can appear to be one of contempt should the audience not respond approvingly. In some cases, this led to a surprising degree of self-consciousness about TV itself—Texaco's original commercial spokesman, Sid Stone, would sometimes hawk his products until driven from the stage by a cop. But the uneven balance of excess and decorum proved wildly successful."