December 05, 2017
Hall of Fame

Charles Cappleman: Hall of Fame Tribute

Jon Matsumoto

Countless numbers of people have contributed to the growth and development of CBS since the dawn of commercial television in the 1940s.

But not many individuals have had a longer and more varied impact on the venerable network than Charles "Cappy" Cappleman.

This past July, Cappleman retired from CBS — 50 years after he joined the company back in 1954. During his five-decade tenure with the "Eye" network he held numerous leadership roles and helped bring CBS from its black-and-white days to its ultra high-tech present.

Certainly the company's Television City production complex in Los Angeles wouldn't be what it is today without Cappleman's influence. Until well into the 1960s, this West Coast production facility was a seasonal operation that shut down for about 13 weeks during the summer. As assistant director of design and production operations, and then as director of special projects (sales), Cappleman helped bring in year-round daytime programming at Television City.

"When I came to CBS all the daytime was done out of New York," recalls Cappleman, “I looked at this and decided we would really have a much more stable income both for the company and for the employees if we did more game shows. So that's when I started pitching for game shows [in Los Angeles]. When that started it provided the stability of year-round employment. Based on that we were able to attract people like better carpenters for the show because they knew they were going to have year-round jobs.”

Game shows like The Price Is Right and soap operas such as The Young and the Restless have formed the backbone of CBS' daytime programming out of Television City.

"I've told Bill and Lee [Phillip] Bell [the creators and producers] of The Young and the Restless that over the past 30 years, they've helped [a lot of CBS employees] pay for orthodontists for their kids and to pay off second mortgages," notes Cappleman.

Cappleman's last title at CBS was executive vice president, West Coast operations and engineering. Having relinquished his duties managing Television City's day-to-day operations and numerous studios, he served a professor emeritus-type of role during his final months at the network.

At the end of his long and rewarding tenure at CBS, Cappleman still relished the opportunity to keep CBS's Los Angeles operations humming along with some of the most cutting-edge equipment available.

"At a broadcasters convention earlier this year I found out that Sony had come out with a little box that was like the size of a thick briefcase," he reveals. “It was a video switcher, an audio mixer; it had editing capability in it. All you had to do was plug a camera into it. It was basically a TV studio in a box. You could put it on a streaming video. You could feed it to a projector. You could feed it to a house cable system. In the past you needed a truck with all this stuff in it. The fact that they have it down to a briefcase that sells for about $25,000 is unbelievable.”

Born July 30, 1926 in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and raised in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, Cappleman initially studied electrical engineering in college at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute between 1945 and 1947. But having briefly attended radio-operator mechanic school in Roswell, New Mexico, the inquisitive young man was interested in radio and the entertainment business as well.

While at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Cappleman worked for various radio stations announcing, producing, directing and writing. In 1948, he was a disc jockey at a station in Richmond, Virginia, playing what were then called "race records" (records by black artists) and progressive jazz. Most of his listeners assumed he was African-American.

Cappleman went on to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Drama and Speech from the Richmond Professional Institute at the College of William and Mary in 1951. That year he also attended the NBC Summer Radio-TV Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago.

"Nobody really knew what to do about television in those days. But I could see that television was coming along and I wanted to learn how to direct," he says of his drama and television-related studies.

Between 1952 and 1954, Cappleman served in the U.S. Air Force as a first lieutenant during the Korean War. His skills were put to good use as he directed training films and worked in an outfit that built the Air Force's first television unit at the Lockheed Air Terminal in Burbank, California. In addition, the group toured all over the country showing the Air Force how they could use television.

"I got out of the Air Force and walked in the door at CBS and applied for an assistant director job. But they had a stage manager job open. So I took that," recalls Cappleman.

As a floor manager and then as manager of stage operations, he worked on pioneering shows like The Red Skelton Show, Playhouse 90 and The Ed Sullivan Show.

A people person, Cappleman counts the many human connections he made during his 50 years at CBS as one of the great rewards of his career. He also learned a great deal about life from some of these people, some of whom were famous and some not.

"I would like to think that we all learned from Red Skelton," he reflects. “He used to talk philosophically with the crew, though he would never call it that. This poor man had a lot of troubles in his life. He lost his son and I think he lost a wife. He said, ‘If you worry about everything that could possibly happen to you you'll go nuts. Don't worry about the little stuff.’ Then Carol Burnett came along [with The Carol Burnett Show in the late 60s]. She had pretty much the same philosophy, which was try to look for the joy in life. She thought since we were in the entertainment business what we did [at work] ought to be fun. So I don't get hung up on the little things.”

In 1959, Cappleman was promoted to assistant director of design and production operations. Besides luring game shows to Television City, which was established in 1952, he also helped update the network's West Coast studios to accommodate this type of programming.

In 1960, he provided the production elements for the political primaries and conventions. Five years later, he served as the pool production supervisor for NASA space shots, acting as the point person between NASA and the broadcasting pool.

"[With the NASA project] I worked with nine bosses, three radio networks, four television networks, the Voice of America, nine crews, nine locations, nine different union contracts," recalls Cappleman, who is married with four grown children. “I took care of the housing, feeding everyone and those types of things. Because school was out we took our kids to the Space Center in Houston. They got to walk on the simulated lunar surface four years before Neil Armstrong got to do it. It's all been a lot of fun.”

After working as the director of special projects (sales) between 1966 and 1969, Cappleman was appointed director of program production services. His job was to oversee the production of shows at Television City, including such landmark programs as All in the Family and The Carol Burnett Show.

Since 1977, Cappleman has held a number of titles, including general manager of Television City, vice president of production facilities at Television City, vice president of operations at CBS, and executive vice president, West Coast operations and engineering at CBS.

Some of his responsibilities during this period have included overseeing the "below-the-line" facilities, production operations and personnel of CBS Studio Center, a motion picture studio in Studio City, California, and Television City.

As for his induction into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Hall of Fame, Cappleman modestly says:

“I don't really understand it. It's not what I've done; it's what the people have done around me. I simply let them do their jobs. I found out a long time ago that if you hire the right people, tell them what you expect of them, and leave them alone, they'll do a much better job then if you try to micro­manage them. I miss these people the most because we built a fantastic staff over the years.”

This tribute originally appeared in the Television Academy Hall of Fame program celebrating Charles Cappleman's induction in 2004.

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