‘Captain Video and His Video Rangers’ was yet another television series from what we know as the first Golden Age of Television. True to that time, it aired from 1949 (June) to 1955 (April). This show was in the genre of science fiction and telecasted by the DuMont TV Network. It’s also said to be the first-ever science fiction TV show on American television.
Captain Video and His Video Rangers even have a spinoff series called ‘The Secret Files of Captain Video’.
While the show itself was very much low-budget, it turned out to be a really popular prisoner of science fiction series. Its popularity might be the reason why we later had shows like The X-Files or even Star Trek and Star Wars.
The main character of the show was, of course, the brave Captain Video, who was said to be the Guardian of the Safety of the World. His trusted sidekick was a teen called the Ranger, and they fought with villains all over the galaxy. The most major villain was Dr. Pauli from the Astriodal Society. Both the Captain and his sidekick were also accompanied by the Video Ranger army, all working together to preserve the peace. The action of the show was set in the faraway future.
While the set as well as the proper were quite basic and even primitive, viewers of all ages loved this series. The show would also go on to inspire more space heroes such as Rocky Jones and Commando Cody. Even though the background might have been laughably unrealistic at certain points, the dialogue and stories were evidently enough to keep an audience hooked.
‘Captain Video and His Video Rangers’ also put together several staples of children’s shows for that time. This included having moral lessons, showing cost-effective film clips, etc. While these might be cringe worthy when viewed in the present, the public’s interest in space and the new medium of television combined to make the longest-running sci-fi show for early television. It might not be in the top science fiction shows of all time, but its performance was still impressive for its time.
The creator behind Captain Video and His Video Rangers was DuMont Vice President James L. Caddigan. The setting of the show was in 2254, and the undertaking was nothing short of ambitious. This was before filming and taping had become common for television, so each episode was broadcast live. Along with this, there was also the problem of technical demands for the props and sets. Plus, it was a continuing serial that came on every single evening (in the 7:00 to 7:30 pm slot).
The design of the show was aimed at taking full advantage of all the new technology within the television industry. This included superimpositions, luminance key effects, dissolves, and so on. Many of the effects were quite crude, especially by today’s standards, but they did the job back then. Mostly, the real requirement was showing Captain Video in some strange, fanciful worlds and enabling him to time travel along with exploring space. Fans of the science fiction show ‘The Outer Limits’ might be interested in watching some episodes of Captain Video.
Since editing a video tape wasn’t an option with these first television shows, the scripts had to be written with a lot of exposition. The action and dialogues also had to allow enough time for the crew to set up scenes during short action bursts. Getting all this done in half an hour was no easy challenge.
Creator Caddigan justified the use of clips in the channel’s film library by pointing out that sustained action was lacking in the show. For instance, during a typical episode, the conflict will subside a bit and Captain Video (with Richard Coogan as the actor) will turn on the Remote Tele-carrier. Another device would be that the show’s scene would turn to the Ranger Headquarters, showing what the other Rangers were up to. Cowboys like Sunset Carson or Bob Steele were usually in such clips. The clips themselves are mostly action-oriented and helped the show to pick up a little. AT the same time, the production crew would be quickly changing sets, preparing special effects, and anything else that was required.
The other scene breaks would be filled with what were called Ranger Messages. Since this was technically a children’s program, the focus of these messages was on the youngest members of the audience. However, most other shows at the time would talk about children-centric issues like crossing the road safely. Ranger Messages, on the other hand, would talk about more global subjects. This included nondiscrimination, freedom, and the Golden Rule of treating others as you want to be treated. While these messages might be sophisticated enough to appeal to adults, the changes between Western scenes and space was a bit too much for older viewers. Overall, the show was popular with mostly children. By 1951, it was carried by no less than 24 station, with over 3.5 million viewers.
Perhaps one of the most attractive features of this show was how it heavily involved its audience. Viewers would frequently write in to argue about developments in the plot, suggest ideas for new inventions, and demand to bring back characters that were supposedly dead. Children could also join a Video Rangers club, buy merchandise, and read comics based on the show.
There’s still a lot to discuss about the show ‘Captain Video and his Video Rangers’. It’s evident that the show tried to impart certain messages to the youth, especially as the plots drew distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ forms of science.
Even with the popularity of this show, it didn’t have as many ratings or merchandise as its competitors. The economic situation of the television industry at that time meant that the DuMont network came to an end. Eventually, Captain Video was cancelled due to not getting enough income to justify renting the coaxial cable. The show stopped airing on 1st April 1955, and its parent network also saw an end the same year. There are still some episodes available for viewing online today, though, so vintage sci-fi buffs might want to give them a go.