1 9 5 2 – 1 9 5 7 (USA)
The star of this early prime-time US television show was a bishop in the Catholic church, Fulton J. Sheen, who – speaking directly into the camera – delivered weekly lessons in morality, which were delivered like sermons, although certainly in a less-formal way.
Bishop Sheen made his television debut with the Du Mont network on 12 February 1952. The program then moved to the ABC network on 13 October 1955 and remained there until it closed on 8 April 1957.
Bishop Sheen (who had previously had a regular show on the radio) delivered his talks in a charming and well-spoken manner. He ended each telecast by saying, “God love you”.
As the Bishop spoke, he often punctuated his remarks by scrawling on a blackboard to emphasise a point, and as he continued speaking, one of his stagehands (who he called ‘angels’) would wipe the blackboard clean.
At DuMont’s Adelphi Theater, the most famous “Angel” was blackboard-cleaning cherub “Skippy” – in reality, stagehand Walter Colgan (whose father, John, was the lighting technician for the show).
In the Cold War days of the 1950s, many of Sheen’s talks were concerned with “the evils of Communism”.
In one of his most publicised programmes (in 1953), Sheen read the burial scene from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and substituted the names of Caesar, Cassius, Marc Antony and Brutus with the names Stalin, Beria, Malenkov and Vishinsky (leaders in the Soviet Union), saying Stalin was like Caesar (who had been murdered by his underlings).
Sheen ended the reading with Shakespeare’s phrase “must one day meet his judgement”.
Quite by coincidence, Stalin suffered a stroke the next day, and a week later he was dead – making Sheen’s telecast seem almost prophetic.
Life Is Worth Living became one of television’s most popular American programmes in the early 1950s and had a large audience, making it the most successful religious programme in TV history.
Four years after the ABC series ended, Sheen returned to television with a syndicated show called The Bishop Sheen Program, which ran from 1963 until 1968.