Fireside Theatre was one of the earliest filmed dramatic shows produced especially for television. However, for its first three months this series was a showcase of new program ideas, some live and some on film, which were being tried out for possible inclusion on the network schedule. These included dramas, comedies and musical revues. The very first episode was a situation comedy, “Friend of the Family”, starring Virginia Gilmore, Yul Brynner
and Peter Barry. One of the musical revues was Leonard Sillman’s “New Faces”. Win Elliot was the original announcer for the show, but he left after eight telecasts, after which there was no regular announcer or host for the next few years.
In the fall of 1949 Fireside Theatre switched to filmed stories, mostly dramas, featuring a wide range of actors and actresses (generally not big names). According to TV Guide these were “quickie” films, each one ground out in two or three days at the Hal Roach studios in Hollywood. Most of them were produced by Frank Wisbar. During the 1959 -1950 season the majority of these little dramas were 15 minutes long (there were two per week), but beginning in the fall of 1950 and for the rest of the series each telecast was a self-contained 30-minute presentation.
In the fall of 1952 producer Frank Wisbar began appearing at the start of each week’s telecast, in an effort to give the series greater continuity. From 1953 to 1955 actor Gene Raymond was the host, in addition to appearing in many of the dramas. For the 1954 – 1955 season an effort was also made to develop a regular repertory company of actors and actresses, including William Bendix, George Brent and Dorothy Malone.
The hostess who is most identified with the show in viewers’ minds – Jane Wyman – made her first appearance in 1955. The movie actress also starred in many of the episodes during her association with the show. The program was renamed in her honor (eventually it became simply The Jane Wyman Show) and special theme music was written for her. Well-known actors and actresses were engaged for the weeks when Miss Wyman did not star, among them Keenan Wynn, Peter Lawford, Dan Duryea, Ozzie Nelson, John Ireland, Gene Lockhart, Imogene Coca, Gene Barry, Joseph Cotten and Vincent Price
, plus many lesser-known Hollywood standbys. The program continued until the spring of 1958, when it was finally retired – to begin a very long run in syndication.
Fireside Theatre, with and without Miss Wyman, was one of the most durable dramatic anthologies of the 1950s. Though generally not rising to the star-studded heights of Studio One or Robert Montgomery Presents, it did produce hundreds of fine dramas and also proved the practicality and value of a filmed series for the TV medium.