Look in to the early history of puppetry on television and you’ll keep coming across the name of one very important, very influential show – Kukla, Fran & Ollie.
Puppets were incredibly popular in the early days of television and Kukla, Fran and Ollie was no exception. The series was created by puppeteer Burr Tillstrom and ran from 1947 (it originally debuted under the name Junior Jamboree) until 1957 on NBC and later ABC. Originally watched by more adults than children, at the height of the show’s popularity it reportedly received 15,000 fan letters a day and was one of the highest rated shows on TV in it’s day.
The puppets in Tillstrom’s Kuklapolitan universe stood out because they were among the first to adapt to the unique strengths of television; their humour was rooted in satire and wit rather than slapstick comedy. Thanks to the reach of television as a mass medium, the series inspired an entire generation of puppeteers including Jim Henson.
The Kuklapolitans pioneered a number of important television firsts, including the first ship-to-shore telecast and the first network colour television broadcast, hosting series on all four major network of the era (NBC, CBC, ABC and PBS) and even went on to star in Broadway show (probably the first Broadway show ever based on a TV program).
19/08/06 Update: Links updated!
11/4/14 Update: I’ve added an embedded clip from an episode of Kukla, Fran & Ollie above.