Garroway at Large was the definitive program series emanating from the Chicago School of Television during the late 1940s and early 1950s. An intimate, low-budget musical variety program, this critically acclaimed series allowed its host, Dave Garroway, to wander the NBC studio "at large" during the actual telecast. In the process, the show combined a number of elements later defined as being in the Chicago style--i.e., improvisation, scriptlessness, interpretive cameras.
Dave Garroway began his career in broadcasting in 1938 when he landed a sixteen-dollar-a-week page position at NBC-New York. Enrolling in the network's announcer school, he placed an unimpressive twenty-third out of a class of twenty-four but did manage to find work as a special events announcer at Pittsburgh's KDKA. In September 1939, he joined the announcing staff at NBC-Chicago's WMAQ radio outlet.
From the opening strains of "Sentimental Journey" to his trademark expression of "Peace," Garroway's "hip" esoteric broadcasting persona developed and crystallized on Chicago radio. His local 11:60 Club, jazz music and conversation at midnight, led him into network radio with his Sunday evening Dave Garroway Show and his daytime Reserved for Garroway. From there he moved quickly into network television. Garroway at Large premiered on 16 April 1949, within four months of NBC television beginning operations in Chicago.
Taking advantage of Garroway's intellect, unique personality and relaxed, intimate broadcasting style, Garroway at Large scripts were more conceptual than specific and placed minimal emphasis on elaborate production. Under the watchful eye of producer Ted Mills, writer Charles Andrews and directors Bob Banner and Bill Hobin, the show worked to create illusions and gently shatter them with the reality of the television studio. In the best tradition of Chinese Opera, commedia dell'arte, or the Pirandellian manipulation of reality, Garroway would wander in and out of scenes or from behind sets stopping to hold quiet conversations with occasional guest celebrities, the home viewing audience, technicians and cast members (vocalists Connie Russell, Bette Chapel and Jack Haskell, comic actor Cliff Norton and orchestra leader Joseph Gallicchio). Using raised eyebrows, slight gestures and knowing shrugs, he communicated eloquently and brought a "cool," glib and wry offbeat humor to prime time television.
Garroway at Large broadcast its last show from Chicago on 24 June 1951. On 14 January 1952, NBC's Today show premiered in New York with Garroway as host. Garroway at Large was revived but working under the production pressures of New York, the show lost much of the charm of the Chicago version and left the air after one season.
Through the 1950s, Garroway's workload increased to between 75 and 100 hours per week. In addition to his efforts on Today, he had hosted NBC's Wide, Wide World (1955-58) and NBC radio's Monitor series. An exhausted Garroway left the Today show in 1961 and, while he continued to appear on television in various shows and formats, he never again achieved comparable success or popularity. Dave Garroway died on 21 July 1982 at the age of 69.