Acting for television drama is a surprisingly challenging craft. The need to create an hour-long program each week means actors often work 12 hour days, 6 days a week. There’s no time for rehearsal and no tolerance for performers who don’t know their lines.
The most successful television actors convey an innate likability that can’t be faked. Only a small number of performers have the disposition, drive, and personality to succeed in this distinctive art form. This collection, from the archives of the “Pioneers of Television” series, includes some of television’s most beloved icons discussing the unique art of television acting.
More information about about this series can be found on Pioneers of Television.
Waiting for lighting, sound, and camera is a regular part of the actor’s day. Here, (R-L) Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, Lorne Green, and Pernell Roberts cope with the wait between takes.
Barbara Bain (seated) gets a makeup touchup on location on "Mission Impossible". Note the fishing tackle boxes that keep the makeup organized.
DeForest Kelley (seated) and Leonard Nimoy (standing) finish up in the makeup room in the morning before a "Star Trek" shoot.
Jack Webb (center) was the creator and star of TV’s "Dragnet". He knew precisely how to direct actors to deliver the staccato style that was the show’s trademark.
William Shatner (center) practices a stunt on the set of "Star Trek". Budgets declined in the series’ final season, and rehearsal time was minimal.
James Arness gets a catnap while waiting for the technical crew on "Gunsmoke". Despite the show’s top ratings, Arness didn’t have a trailer to retire to between scenes.
Creating believable Vulcan ears was a major challenge for the makeup artists of the original Star Trek. In this extreme closeup, the hidden seams are visible.
Stefanie Powers plays cards with the crew from "Girl from Uncle" in 1966. Working with the same crew for years often built lifelong friendships.
James Garner (black hat) on the set of "Maverick". To make this indoor set seem more realistic, the background buildings are two-thirds scale, to make them appear further away.
Jack Webb (in doorway) prepares for a scene from "Dragnet". Note the thinness of the set walls. Because of low budgets, the sets of many early shows were built from flimsy materials.
Jim Henson controls Ernie on "Sesame Street". Henson’s puppeteers were rarely covered, instead the TV frame cropped them out of view.
At an outdoor shoot for "Gunsmoke", an umbrella gives some relief from the sun between takes. But, when the camera rolls, the “shinyboards” (at right) focus the hot sun on the actor’s faces.
James Garner grabs a bite between takes of "Maverick". Often actors would get three meals in a production day, but the location of each meal was often improvised.
Acting for television drama is an art form unto itself—with a breakneck pace, and new lines to learn every day. Actors in pioneering TV dramas often worked 12-hour days in spartan conditions. These photos provide a backstage look at the television acting profession of an earlier era.