In Depth

Ad Agency Created Art

Thompson Pioneered Quality Programming

In an article published March 7, 1955, Jack Gould, The New York Times’ first TV critic, wrote,
“The notion that an advertising agency must be a corporate dolt in television theatrical matters is not standing up too well in one quarter. The J. Walter Thompson Co., one of the largest agencies, is quietly walking off with some major honors for distinguished TV drama. It’s time the Thompson boys received their due.”

Most viewers, Mr. Gould noted, probably didn’t even know JWT existed.

“But, as it happens, the Thompson staff is playing a direct and most stimulating role in the artistic and creative realm of TV, a role that, in the long run, could be as important as anything to happen in video this season.”

He went on to praise two live TV dramas: “Patterns,” Rod Serling’s now-classic story that had debuted two months earlier on “Kraft Television Theatre,” and a production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie” that had appeared the week before on “Pond’s Theater.” The shows were produced by JWT for its respective clients, the Kraft Food Co. and Pond’s facial and hand creams.

Mr. Gould praised JWT for “showing heartening respect for the importance of the play as such.”

“The agency is experimenting; it is trying new things in many directions. Within the framework of commercial television it seems to have found a place for the vital ingredients of creative excitement, which in the long run should prove as sound advertising as sound theater.

“Unless memory fails, an advertising agency as such never has won a Peabody Award for programming contribution. There may not even be provision for such a prize, in itself a significant and undesirable omission if agencies are to have incentive to lift their artistic sights. If the J. Walter Thompson Co. continues its present constructive course in TV theater, some sort of citation will be clearly merited.”

JWT—and Kraft—did indeed continue their dedication to quality TV drama. Kraft announced it would award $50,000 to the writer of what was judged to be the best original play on the “Kraft Television Theatre” during the 1955-56 season.