Friday, February 16, 2018

The Variety Show Skirmishes of 1963



In the fall of 1963, the big TV news was that three bonafide movie stars were going to host weekly variety shows — Judy Garland, Jerry Lewis and Danny Kaye. By the end of the season, only one of them would still be on the air — the other flamed out spectacularly and the third, after being wrecked by network interference, started again from scratch and found itself in its outstanding final episodes. Along the way, there were ego clashes, blown-out budgets, behind-the-scenes drama, creative upheaval, flat-out sexism and a final gesture of defiance centered around the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Sources:
Rainbow’s End: The Judy Garland Show, by Coyne Steven Sanders
Television Variety Shows, by David Inman
“Over the Rainbow, and Then Some!,” James Kaplan, Vanity Fair, May 2011
“The Danny Kaye Show,” Encyclopedia of Television, Museum of Broadcast Communications
JFK’s Final Days: November 19, 1963, Presidential History Geeks
“The Great Garland Gamble,” Dwight Whitney, TV Guide, October 19, 1963
“Judy Garland and the Show That Failed,” Vernon Scott, TV Guide, May 2, 1964
“Danny Kaye: Satisfied with Perfection,” Richard de Roos, TV Guide, February 1, 1964
“The Seven Faces of Danny Kaye,” Dwight Whitney, TV Guide, January 9, 1965
” ‘The Danny Kaye Show’ Is Not Returning in 1967 After 4 Seasons,” Richard K. Doan, TV Guide, December 17, 1966
“How Jerry Lewis Got What He Wanted,” Richard Gehman, TV Guide, June 15, 1963
“What Happened to Jerry Lewis,” Richard Gehman, TV Guide, December 14, 1963

Friday, February 9, 2018

1952: The 60-Second Election



In 1952, Republican Dwight Eisenhower squared off against Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the presidential election. Eisenhower, who had been commander of allied forces in Europe during World War II, was enormously popular but not much of a public speaker. So a combination of talents from America’s largest advertising agencies, including the man upon whom the “Mad Men” character Don Draper was roughly based, convinced Eisenhower and his advisers that the best way to reach American voters was the same way they received selling propositions about what soap to use, what car to drive, what cigarette to smoke — by a TV commercial. Eisenhower reluctantly agreed — and political campaigns were changed forever.
Sources:
“Political Advertising,” adage.com, September 15, 2003
“Eisenhower, an Unlikely Pioneer of TV Ads,” Michael Beschloss, The New York Times, October 30, 2015
“8 of Adlai Stevenson’s Awful 1952 TV Campaign Ads,” Chris Higgins, mentalfloss.com, February 20, 2012

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Jack Benny-Johnny Carson Connection


In 1949, Jack Benny took advantage of new capital gains laws and moved his popular program from NBC to CBS, an immense boost to that network in ratings and prestige. At about the same time, a senior at the University of Nebraska named Johnny Carson was putting together his thesis, “How to Write Comedy for Radio,” a tape-recorded presentation filled with examples of Jack Benny’s work. Carson couldn’t have known it at the time, but within a few years Benny would become one of Carson’s biggest boosters – they formed a kind of mutual admiration society that would last until Benny’s death in 1974. Benny had been one of America’s dominant comedy voices during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s – and by utilizing tricks he’d learned from Benny, Carson, as host of “The Tonight Show” for thirty years, would become one of America’s dominant comedy voices during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
Sources:
Johnny Carson, by Henry Bushkin
“Red Skelton Butts Scenery, Sprains Neck,” Rome (GA) News-Tribune, August 18, 1954
“Comics’ Comics,” TV Guide, January 15, 1955
“Johnny Carson: Young Man with a Grin,” TV Guide, September 3, 1955
“Johnny Carson Defined Late-Night TV,” The Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2005

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Quiz Show Scandals: "Twenty-One"

We end our two-part look at the quiz show scandals with the most infamous example of all -- the NBC program "Twenty-One." Contestants on the show were deliberately given answers to questions, directed to lose games and were even coached on how, for maximum dramatic effect, to hesitate when answering a question. The show's most popular contestant, Charles Van Doren, was celebrated for his intellect and humility and rewarded with a job on NBC-TV. But he ended up revealing his role in the hoax during a dramatic congressional hearing, and his reputation was forever tarnished.

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Quiz Show Scandals: "The $64,000 Question"

We end our podcast's first season with a two-part look at the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. Part two drops next week.

During the summer of 1955, a new TV show kept people in front of their sets on hot Tuesday nights. “The $64,000 Question” was a big-money quiz show that made its contestants instant celebrities and the show even displaced “I Love Lucy” as the nation’s top TV program. What nobody realized at the time was that the show was planned, paced and cast like a drama, and a contestant’s success depended not on the questions he or she answered correctly, but on a sponsor who would drop you when you ceased to be useful.



Sources:
TV Game Shows, by Maxine Fabe
“The Cop and the $64,000 Question,” TV Guide, July 9, 1955
“A Summer Show Hits the Jackpot: $64,000 Prize, Carefully Picked Contestants Keep Nation Glued to Its Television Sets,” TV Guide, August 20, 1955
“Come and Get It: TV Giveaway Shows Lure Viewers with Bigger and Bigger Jackpots,” TV Guide, December 31, 1955
“The Quiz Show Scandals: An Editorial,” TV Guide, October 24, 1959
“Letters,” TV Guide, November 21, 1959

Friday, October 13, 2017

In Godfrey We Trust

In the late 1940s and early '50s the biggest moneymaker on CBS radio and television was Arthur Godfrey -- at one point he reportedly brought in 12 percent of the network's income. He had an unpretentious style of communicating with his audience, and a smooth manner of selling products that sponsors loved. But in 1953, at the height of his popularity, Godfrey suffered a huge, self-inflicted blow to his stature when he fired one of his regulars, known as "the little Godfreys," live on the air. The incident haunted the rest of his career.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Rise and Fall of "Dragnet"

In the summer of 1949, "Dragnet" premiered on NBC radio. It was a show that sounded like no other thanks to creator-star Jack Webb's obsession with authenticity. "Dragnet" then moved to TV and ran for most of the 1950s. Its theme song and opening disclaimer -- "The story you are about to see is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent" -- became part of pop culture history. During the turbulent late 1960s, "Dragnet" was revived, and it hadn't changed -- but the world had, and authority was something to be questioned rather than celebrated. We look at the influence of "Dragnet" and Webb's evolution into an outspoken advocate of police officers.