New York Herald Tribune
23 October 1955

I Like It on Celluloid!

By Phil Silvers

Phil Silvers faces new recruits in “You’ll Never Get Rich.”

The question most often put to me since the start of our CBS-TV series seems to be: Do you prefer live television to film? Because I happen to be doing a filmed show, it would seem that I am being somewhat more than tactful when I answer that I like filmed comedy better. But it happens, really, to be the truth. At least in my case. The reasons are many and I’d like to offer a few here.

First off, there’s the practical consideration of time differences around the country. If our show were live, it would reach the West Coast around 5:30 in the afternoon. At that hour I’d be competing with the likes of Pinky Lee and Howdy Doody. I don’t kid myself. We’d get a small share of the total viewing audience at that hour. Doing it on film, the show can be inserted at an evening hour more advantageous to us in the fearful fight for ratings.

Sgt. Bilko (that’s Phil) occasionally finds time for a date.

Then there’s the matter of an actor’s ego. If you know actors, you’ll know what I mean. I’ve often thought what a shame it is that certain comedy shows I’ve seen—some of Sid Caesar’s, some of Jack Benny’s, some of Gleason’s—are lost forever. They were all live and cannot ever be re-presented unless the actual telecast were done again. A filmed series can be put away against the time when perhaps a small segment of the national audience will clamor for the revival of an especially hilarious show. I’ve seen many TV filmed comedy that was better destroyed. But I’m hopeful that a handful of the “You’ll Never Get Rich” programs can stand revival eight or ten years from today.

We do our show from New York and it gets a little wearying listening to some people complaining that maybe Hollywood is a better place to shoot TV film—they have the “technical know-how, the space,” etc. I must remind all of them of a movie called “Waterfront.” It was filmed right here in the East and it merely walked away with about half a dozen Academy Awards. So where does that leave this argument?

I find another reason why I’m happy we’re shooting in Manhattan. I think Hollywood has a tendency to lean towards type casting, even in the making of TV films. Why must Franklin Pangborn always be the harassed hotel manager? Or Murray Alper the cab driver? Seems to me there’s more flexibility in casting here in New York. Nat Hiken, our director-producer, has, for example, put Walter Cartier and Willie Pep and Maxie Shapiro in many of our important episodes. These fellows are ex-prizefighters but they’re refreshing Army types on our show. They’ve made Nat’s offbeat casting come off successfully. For instance, on one of our shows, Walter Cartier is cast in a role even more important than mine. On the basis of his excellence in the part, we let eastern talent departments of several movie studios look at the film. If Cartier is cast importantly in Columbia’s “The Harder They Fall,” then Hiken’s off-beat casting is another reason I prefer to shoot film in the east.

Silvers’ weekly portayal of Sgt. Bilko is a welcome addition to the TV schedule.

When you work on film, you get a chance to iron out mistakes. For our first show or two, we used an orchestra in the studio playing musical bridges leading from one scene to another. When we got to cutting and editing in the laboratory, we found that in many instances the cuts were almost impossible because the show had been scored. We’ve changed all that. We eliminated the orchestra in the studio and we now score our programs after they have been shot. Doing a filmed series permitted us the luxury of correcting a mistake before the premiere.

There’s a selfish reason I like films, too. What good is success and money if you can’t enjoy it? Filming TV comedy gives me most evenings to myself. Before its postponement because of a threatened hurricane, the Marciano-Archie Moore fight was scheduled for a Tuesday night. We’re on Tuesdays and I couldn’t have seen it were we doing a live series. I consider it important to me to see heavyweight championship fights.

I hope I’ve made it clear why I prefer film. It suddenly occurs to me that I am in the slightly terrifying position of having no alibi at all if we conk out with this show. We’re filming it which I prefer. We’re doing it from New York which I also prefer. I think Nat Hiken is the most creative comedy writer in America. I believe CBS has given us every complete cooperation. I think our technical crew is tops. If we’re a flop, don’t put the blame on Mame. Put it where it belongs, maybe on Phil Silvers.