Coming to the Small Screen: Ormandy on Television
Ormandy on TV Ormandy's Hopes for Television
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Eugene Ormandy  Carbon copy of typed letter, to Julius Seebach  18 September 1956

During the period of enormous growth for television in the late 1950s, Ormandy often wrote at length to orchestra staff, producers, and friends of the potential for serious music on television and the place the Philadelphia Orchestra should hold in programming for the new medium. While he clearly wanted to increase the television presence of the Philadelphia Orchestra, there were certain contexts and presentations he considered inappropriate. The word "dignified" appears frequently in these letters. The orchestra was to be kept at a safe distance from jazz performers, circus acts, and other popular entertainers that might not share the orchestra's seriousness of purpose.

The networks saw things differently. Symphony orchestras were a hard sell with viewers, so the networks attempted to broaden the public appeal of Ormandy and the orchestra by having them share the stage with popular entertainers. While Ormandy agreed to work with comedians Jack Benny and Danny Kaye, both of whom were accomplished amateur musicians, other offers were dismissed out of hand. In 1960, Roger Hall wrote to a CBS executive that he felt "strongly that the mating of Mr. Ormandy and Captain Kangaroo is somewhat out of character."

In his correspondence during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Ormandy anticipates a bright future for the arts on network television. He refers to the "trash" and "junk" on television and how the average viewer is weary of what the networks are offering. In a 6 April 1960 letter to David McElroy, he claims that American viewers are "becoming satiated with westerns, detective dramas, and other violent plays, and they are now ready to listen to the well-known music of the great masters presented in visual form, as well as audio." In these letters, Ormandy is certainly idealistic, if not a bit naive.

By the mid-1960s, it had become clear that the American public in fact preferred popular forms of entertainment and that telecasts of classical music appealed only to a small niche market. Ormandy must have come around to this realization and accepted it, because the orchestra ended its aggressive pursuit of the networks with the departure of Roger Hall in 1963. While occasional network television appearances continued through the remainder of his career, Ormandy's attention shifted to proven strengths: recording and touring. He was able to focus national attention on the orchestra through premiere performances—such as the 1965 premiere of Deryck Cooke's edition of Mahler's Tenth Symphony—and tours of Latin America and Asia, including a landmark tour of China in 1973.