An Evening with Fred Astaire
is a one-hour live television
special starring Fred Astaire
, broadcast on NBC
on October 17, 1958. It was highly successful, winning nine Emmy
awards and spawning three further specials, and technically innovative, as it was one of the first major television shows to be recorded on color videotape
It was produced at NBC's Color City
studios in Burbank, California
A sound recording of the show was released as an LP
on the Chrysler Corporation label
Considered something of a comeback for the then 59-year-old Astaire, the special was his first starring role on television. It was directed and co-produced by Bud Yorkin and introduced Astaire's new partner Barrie Chase, whom he would later describe in Interview magazine in 1973 as perhaps his favorite dance partner. The Jonah Jones Quartet and David Rose and his Orchestra provided the music, and the Hermes Pan Dancers appeared in the ensemble dance numbers. The announcer was Art Gilmore, who at the time was the voice of the Chrysler Corporation, the show's sponsor. Typical for advertising of the era, Chrysler's 1959 model year Forward Look cars featured prominently in the show; Astaire's final words were "I only hope the show is as good as the cars."
The use of videotape
The program was highly innovative in its use of color videotape, a technology then in its infancy.
As with the first major television program to be recorded on videotape-- The Edsel Show in 1957, this was a straight recording of a live performance with no editing. Early videotape use was confined largely to rebroadcasting programs from the east coast three hours later in the west, and was a cheaper, better-quality alternative to the film-based kinescopes. The experimental low-band quadruplex recording system in use was troublesome and hard to copy. Furthermore, early video editing was a highly complicated matter that required the engineer to cover the two-inch tape with iron oxide solution to locate the magnetic tracks and then splice it with a razor blade.
Although it was recorded live, An Evening with Fred Astaire used a number of innovative production techniques that are now commonplace, such as chroma key, and dissolves between scenes.
In 1988, the show earned a further technical Emmy Award for Ed Reitan, Don Kent, and Dan Einstein, who restored the original videotape, transferring its contents to a modern format. (The three had also restored the oldest color videotape known to exist, the dedication of WRC-TV's new studio in Washington, DC on May 21, 1958.)
The show was rebroadcast twice, on NBC on January 26, 1959, and on CBS on December 20, 1964. It was thus one of the earliest shows to be rerun using color videotape. The 1964 rebroadcast used a different beginning and ending that eliminated the advertising for Chrysler; instead the opening and closing dances were shown uninterrupted.