Emmys Flashback: In 1954, 'Twelve Angry Men' Debuted Live on CBS
The hourlong telecast on the network's 'Studio One' scored three wins for Robert Cummings (who played Juror 8), writer Reginald Rose and director Franklin Schaffner.
While it's most associated with the Oscar-nominated 1957 film — and more recently for being parodied on a 2015 episode of Inside Amy Schumer — Twelve Angry Men actually started in 1954 as an hourlong live broadcast on CBS' Studio One. Written by Reginald Rose (who later adapted it for Broadway and the big screen), the story came out of his own experience sitting on a jury in a manslaughter case. "It was such an impressive, solemn setting in a great big wood-paneled courtroom, with a silver-haired judge. It knocked me out. I was overwhelmed," Rose recalled. "We got into this terrific, furious eight-hour argument in the jury room and I thought, 'Wow, what a setting for a drama!' "
Much of the action takes place in a deliberations room, where 12 male jurors heatedly debate the guilt of an 18-year-old boy from a slum who's accused of stabbing his father to death. (In the Amy Schumer parody, also shot in black and white, they are arguing over whether the comedian is "hot enough to be on TV.")
The key role of Juror 8 — whose persistent doubt about the boy's guilt sets the plot in motion and who is played by Henry Fonda in the film — was portrayed on the telecast by Robert Cummings, who would go on to win the Emmy for best actor in a single performance at the 7th Primetime Emmy Awards, held March 7, 1955, at the Moulin Rouge Nightclub in Hollywood. Rose, who died in 2002, also took home an Emmy, as did Franklin Schaffner, who won the first-ever Emmy for best direction. The award launched a successful career for Schaffner, who went on to helm such classic films as 1968's Planet of the Apes and 1970's Patton, for which he won the Academy Award for best director. And bringing things full circle, Patton's George C. Scott won an Emmy for playing Juror 3 in Showtime's 1998 remounting of Twelve Angry Men.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.