Professor Yes 'N No
First episode: circa 1952
Last episode: ???
WFIL-TV, Philadelphia (26 weeks)
"Welcome to our version of the little red schoolhouse!"
Bill, sitting totally alone in a classroom setting, makes a series of academic statements to the viewer at home. The viewer at home must fill out a postcard with the numbers #1-15. For each statement Bill makes, the viewer writes "Yes" (true) or "No" (false). The viewer has until midnight the following day to send their postcard to their local station, with the winner receiving a grand prize. Prizes were coordinated not by the series, but by each station, so some cities may have only had one winner, while other cities may have had 2nd prizes, 3rd prizes, etc.
Although there are 15 statements for the viewer to contend with, Bill only makes 13 of those statements. Number 8 is dubbed into the show by each local station as part of a commercial for the local sponsor (although the producers apparently alerted the station about if the answer had to be "yes" or "no"), and Number 15 is a statement written by viewers themselves, essentially as a tiebreaker; the creativity of the statement will determine the winner.
This is one of the more fascinating and certainly one of the most obscure series on Bill's resume. When Matt first started The Bill Cullen Homepage, we didn't know it even existed. Ever since, we've been learning bits and pieces, mostly three brief mentions of it in major 1953 publications:
New York Times (June 27): "Mr. Cullen is seen in strategic locations throughout the nation (but excluding New York) on Yes or No, a filmed 15-minute quiz."
Time Magazine (August 16): "He has a filmed TV question and answer show called Professor Yes 'n' No that is seen in 30 cities."
TV Guide (November 26): "Three years ago, though he had tenanted University of Pittsburgh classrooms only briefly, he rented a cap and gown and put a half-hour quiz show, Professor Yes 'n' No, on film. It was sold to a number of local stations." [NOTE: TV Guide is mistaken. For certain, the show started production later than 1950.]
No other articles that we've found from that era, including some major profiles of Bill, make mention of this obscurity. Fred Wostbrock had a picture in his amazing collection, but we still didn't know anything about the show itself for years.
The earliest printed mention of this show we've found is an August 1952 report that says the series is being filmed "for a fall debut," so that locks down the start of the series...almost. A December 1952 article in The New York Daily News says that the show will be premiering in Bill's hometown of Pittsburgh on January 4, and that it will expand nationally if the local run is a success. The show's debut in Pittsburgh was quite an event in the area, with Bill returning home to be the guest of honor at a cocktail fundraiser for Variety Club, culminating with a screening of the first episode. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic glowed with rave praise for the program, marveling, "The program is no more obnoxious than the next."
Professor Yes 'N No was created by Alan Trench, a significant name in Bill's career. A dozen years or so earlier, Trench, an ad salesman from radio station WWSW, came into a garage to get his car serviced. The garage owner, William Cullen, introduced Trench to the mechanic, his son Bill, and asked if there was a job available for him at WWSW.
According to a March, 1953 Variety article, Professor Yes 'n' No was among the first programs distributed by Screen Gems when they entered the syndication business. Interestingly, that article also mentions that the series was originally seen locally on the Dumont affiliate in Philadelphia and that twenty-six episodes had been produced "so far".
References to the show appear in print as late as December 1954, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Professor Yes 'N No was in production for that entire time. In the days before syndicated shows were transmitted to stations via satellite, they were mailed to stations in process called bicycling. An episode would be sent to the station along with a checklist of mailing addresses for other TV stations. When a station aired the program, they would mail the tape to the next TV station on the list. If that sounds like a slow process, it absolutely was. It's possible that the 26 episodes produced in Philadelphia were the only 26 episodes ever, and that they just criss-crossed the country for the better part of two years.
The only episode we know of is the single episode that exists in the UCLA archive in excellent condition. It must have come directly from the syndicator because there are no local ads.
Screen Gems and Tragborn Productions (Trench's Pittsburgh-based production company) charged a sliding-scale fee to stations for airing the show. According to Billboard, the fee was "75% of the station's 15-minute time charge." In the smallest of markets, stations could buy the show for as little as $30!