|Mary Kay and Johnny|
|Created by||Mary Kay Stearns|
|Starring||Mary Kay Stearns|
Christopher William Stearns
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||300 (estimate)|
|Running time||15 mins (12 minus ads) . (1947-1948; 1949)|
30 mins. (25 minus ads) (1948-1949; 1950)
|Original network||DuMont (1947-1948)|
NBC (1948-1949; 1949-1950)
|Original release||November 18, 1947 -|
March 11, 1950
Mary Kay and Johnny is an American situation comedy starring real-life married couple Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns. It was the first sitcom broadcast on a network television in the United States. Mary Kay and Johnny initially aired live on the DuMont Television Network before moving to CBS and then NBC.
A review in the March 6, 1948, issue of the trade publication Billboard began, "This program comes close to being a model tele[vision] show. In detailing the adventures, mainly domestic, of a young married couple, Johnny and Mary Kay Stearns have come up with charming and fresh material, which always takes into consideration that there are cameras taking everything in." Later in the review, however, the author wrote, "At times the show got just a bit too cute" with the female star squealing too much and the story falling into familiar family sitcom patterns.
In addition to the Stearnses, the cast included their son, Christopher Stearns, as himself. Mary Kay's mother was played by Nydia Westman, and Johnny's friend Howie was played by Howard Thomas. Jim Stevenson was the announcer.
The first 15-minute episode debuted on the DuMont Television Network on Tuesday, November 18, 1947. The Stearnses created and wrote all the scripts. The program was broadcast live, most of the action taking place on a set representing the New York City apartment of the title characters, a young married couple.
Mary Kay and Johnny was the first program to show a couple sharing a bed, and the first series to show a woman's pregnancy on television: Mary Kay became pregnant in 1948 and after unsuccessfully trying to hide her pregnancy, the producers wrote it into the show. On December 31, 1948, the Stearns' weeks-old son Christopher appeared on the show and became a character.
After a year on DuMont, the show moved to CBS for half a year, much of the time being broadcast every weeknight, then ran for another year each Saturday night on NBC, where it debuted on October 10, 1948. It broadcast the final episode on March 11, 1950.
At a time when there were no TV ratings (the A.C. Nielsen Company would not begin measuring TV ratings until 1950), Anacin decided to take a chance and sponsor the show. This decision worried the advertising executives at Anacin, who thought that they might be wasting money by sponsoring a show with a sparse audience. A simple, non-scientific scheme to gauge the size of the audience was hatched. During one commercial spot, Anacin offered a free pocket mirror to the first 200 viewers who wrote in requesting one. As a precaution, they purchased a total of 400 mirrors in case the audience was twice as large as they expected. Although the free mirror was offered only during that one spot, Anacin received nearly 9000 requests for mirrors.
Before 1948, Mary Kay and Johnny was broadcast live and not recorded. In early 1948, still broadcast live, the show was also recorded on kinescopes so that it could be shown, with some delay, on the West Coast. The entire series from then until 1950 was recorded in this way. Many episodes survived in full as late as 1975, when DuMont's corporate successor, Metromedia, disposed of what was left of the DuMont archive in the East River,[note 1]
The fate of the NBC episodes is unknown, although they also were known to have been getting rid of their older recordings in the early 1970s and disposing the ones they could not get the stars of the shows to take. Fragments of the show's last few episodes survive, most on 16-mm film; these are not commercially available, though TV Land used a clip in an episode of Inside TV Land called "Taboo TV".