In the fall of 1951 the NBC-Television executive Sylvester "Pat" Weaver asked the well-known Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, "If you were approached to do some work for the United States Navy, we'd like your assurance that you wouldn't refuse to consider it." "Well, of course I wouldn't refuse to consider an offer from the United States Navy," Rodgers replied. It was six years after the end of World War II.
"The work" was writing the score for a 26-part television series titled "Victory at Sea." Rodgers initially feared he could not do the project justice but eventually agreed to take it on. He stipulated that, since the US government was involved, the first run of the series was not to make any money for either himself or NBC. The network agreed but recovered its production costs many times over through subsequent commercial airings, syndications and spinoffs. The latter included marketing Rodgers' recorded score through the network's parent company, RCA, and the production of a hit single, "No Other Love," which emerged from the score. The song was actually from Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical "Me and Juliet," but the music was based on the instrumental "Beneath the Southern Cross" from "Victory at Sea."
After first completing work on the 1951 Broadway musical production The King and I, Rodgers began composing the background music for the 13-hour "Victory at Sea" series. According to Rodgers, this period was challenging (especially as he had grown used to composing music by setting Oscar Hammerstein's already written lyrics) but was also one of the most satisfying times of his life.
Rodgers composed the musical themes while Robert Russell Bennett composed lengthy elaborations on his themes, orchestrated the music, and timed musical sequences to fit with the edited film. Sounds from nature were incorporated into the musical arrangements and airplane engines rendered in the key of F-sharp minor. The NBC Symphony Orchestra recorded the music with Bennett conducting.
The series was given a time slot of 3 to 3:30 p.m. and premiered on Sunday, October 26, 1952. Through globally-gathered documentary footage, it gave an overview of the war from the point of view of the men who fought its naval battles. For many who lived through the actual events the program was cathartic and provided what was for many a first opportunity to piece together a broad overview of that two-ocean war from which the nation had emerged only seven years prior.
"Victory at Sea" received immediate acclaim. It earned a Peabody, a special Emmy and numerous other awards. Its production team, led by Henry Salomon, created an enduring art form, the compilation documentary. It also earned Richard Rodgers the U.S. Navy's Distinguished Service Award in 1953.